Fourth Sunday of Advent

This week’s readings are Isaiah 7:10-16 and “Joju’s Newborn Baby” from The Whole World Is A Single Flower.

Isaiah 7:10-16 (NABre)
“Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz: Ask for a sign from the Lord, your God; let it be deep as Sheol, or high as the sky! But Ahaz answered, “I will not ask! I will not tempt the Lord!” Then he (Isaiah) said: Listen, house of David! Is it not enough that you weary human beings? Must you also weary my God? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign; the young woman, pregnant and about to bear a son, shall name him Emmanuel. Curds and honey he will eat so that he may learn to reject evil and choose good; for before the child learns to reject evil and choose good, the land of those two kings whom you dread shall be deserted.”

Joju’s “Newborn Baby”

A monk asked Zen Master Joju, “Does a newborn baby have the sixth consciousness?”
“Like tossing a ball on swiftly-flowing water,” Joju replied.
The monk persisted, “What is the meaning of Tossing a ball on swiftly-flowing water?'” “Thoughts, thoughts, nonstop flowing.”

1. Does a newborn baby have the sixth consciousness?
2. Is Joju’s answer correct or not?
3. What does “Tossing a ball on swiftly-flowing water” mean?
4. “Thoughts, thoughts, nonstop flowing.” What does this mean?

COMMENTARY: When the baby cries, the mother gives it milk. Joju likes the ball but the ball already killed him. Put it all down! See clearly, hear clearly. The willow is green, the flower is red.

It was a difficult time in the Southern Kingdom of Israel. Its king believed that it, like the Northern Kingdom, would fall to the wider powers of the world. It was so terrifying a moment that when God directly offered the king a sign, the king wouldn’t listen. God offered a kong-an, and the king refused to answer. Perhaps smiling like a parent, God patiently ignored the panicked king and worked through the prophet Isaiah to say that the immediate crisis would be resolved before the time a newborn, named “God with us,” would learn to separate good from evil. In the midst of the drums of war, God chose a child to calm the nerves of the people.

What a disarming sign. What is it about a bAbby which is so compelling? We actually don’t know anything about this specific child spoken of by the prophet other than his name was Emmanuel, “God with us.” Children bring hope to their parents and the communities. While I am not a parent, when I am near a newborn I fee a sense of hope for the future which I cannot quite explain and which I do not quite feel in any other place. I hope that perhaps this child in my presence will learn the difference between right and wrong and good and evil, and will make the world a better place. In my life, newborn babies open my heart to God. In the same manner, this week Joju reminds a monk whose mind is full of questions that a child’s openness is the perfect example of how to be open to the world.

Speaking for myself, during these past four weeks of preparation and anticipation I have been unable to be open to what God offers in the child of Advent. To paraphrase the opening of Moby Dick, “Call me Ahaz.” With God offering yet another way to know the divine, I have been unable to see it. I have turned away, earnestly trying to use the tools and teachings I learned in seminary to explore these texts. I have examined them in an attempt to see how the language can be manipulated and misused. And yet I have been throwing out the savior baby with the stable water. Hope is a difficult place for me to go, and I have blindly missed Advent’s invitation for me to see the sign which God sends to the world. One of God’s signs and messages in Jesus is that there is indeed hope.

Holy God, open my heart to you during this last week of Advent. In my preparation I have walled off my heart from hope. Help me to dream of the Peaceable Kingdom. Help me to imagine a time when human rulers are genuine and hold justice as the highest virtue. Help me to use what I have learned in service of, not in place of, your vision. Most of all, thank you for the coming of Jesus. Amen.

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