Advent Reflections: Wild Grapes
[Editor's note: This Advent season, Bread Blog will be running a series of reflections written by lay members of New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C. This post is reprinted, with permission, from the church's 2013 Advent Meditations booklet.]
By Meg Hanna House
Isaiah 5: 1-7
A good vintner pays attention to her vineyard. She’s out there daily, observing the plants. Should she remove leaves to give the fruit more light? What should grow between the vines? The details matter, from the beginning of the season to the end.
Now imagine you put all this work into the vineyard, and when you harvest, you have wild grapes — small, hard, and sour. That’s what Isaiah says has happened with Israel. God “expected justice, but saw bloodshed; righteousness, but heard a cry.” Is our world today much different? God has lavished every care, but we have strayed and become like wild grapes — small, hard, and sour.
How can we yield sweet fruit?
I’ve been thinking a lot about dispositions these days — about how I approach people, tasks, events, even scripture. Am I open or closed? Do I pay attention to others or focus on myself? Most often I’m not aware of my disposition. I move through life riding on habits, both good and bad.
The Levites and priests seem determined in their dispositions as they approach John the Baptist. They want answers. But John’s answers must have frustrated them. They ask who John is; he tells them who he is not. They ask again, and John quotes Isaiah: “I am a voice of one crying out in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord.” They want to know: Are you qualified to be doing this? John again answers indirectly: There’s someone else, he says, “I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.”
As readers, we know what John is saying, and while I hope I would have cocked my head and tried to understand, I fear I would have been more like the priests and the Levites, seeking answers to fit my own set of rules for the way I want the world to work.
I would have needed a shift in vision, in my disposition, to begin to understand. And with all its perfect sevens and metaphors, today’s Revelation passage certainly tells about a shift of vision. It begins with a question similar to the one the priests and Levites ask of John the Baptist: Who is worthy? And no one can be found until the passage shifts our vision to the Lamb—to Jesus.
So how can we be worthy? How can we yield sweet fruit? Imagine we are in the vineyard. Imagine we are a branch growing and stretching our tendrils under God’s care. God’s gifts of sun and rain, of covenant, and of Jesus help us to unfurl, to open ourselves, to shift our vision to see others in a new light, to be ready to see what John the Baptist was ready to see — the “one whom you do not know, the one who is coming after me.”
Meg Hanna House is a member of New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, in Washington, D.C.
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