“Restrained.” That word has been used often to describe the character of President Bush the Elder’s term in office. “Restrained.”
After the danger and drama of the Reagan years, 41 was tasked with the careful implementation of initiatives he inherited, some of them perilous. One of Bush’s biographers said it more clearly than anyone else, “President Bush was critically instrumental in end of the Cold War not being the beginning of a world war.” To what did the biographer attribute that amazing feat? Calm conversations with world leaders. A steady hand on the wheel. A refusal to react. In other words, Restraint.
Another commentator contends that a man like George H.W. Bush could never be elected president again. “His decency and restraint render him unpalatable in our political climate.” I pray he is wrong.
Regardless of what one may think of his presidency, most agree that he was a good and decent man, a man worthy of respect.
The dignity and restraint of the Bush presidency stands in stark contrast to another fraught political time in our history. “In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius . . .” The gospel reading for Sunday (Luke 3.1-6) plops us down in the middle of another dangerous and dramatic political era—the Middle East in the 1st century. After announcing the roster of world leaders (emperor, governor, rulers, high priest) Luke introduces us to John the Baptizer. It was in the shadow of men of enormous power and prestige that camel-clad John the Baptizer stepped on to the world stage.
In stark contrast to our recently deceased, civil and restrained president, John the Baptizer was a Tasmanian devil. He explodes from the pages of Luke’s gospel with an Isaiah prophecy that defies engineering expertise in any century. The Expected One will tear up the tarmac—every valley will be lifted up, every high place leveled. Roads will be rerouted and the whole landscape revised. And these will not be subtle, measured, restrained changes. John the Baptizer is not one to tinker. “All flesh shall see the salvation of our God!” John the Baptizer promises that the Expected One will not be restrained or calm or civil.
As a purse-lipped New England acquaintance often whispers, judgmentally, under her breath, “There is a time and place for everything.” If that is true, when is the time for restrained leadership, and when is it time to shake it up? Where is the place to take measured steps and what terrains need to be detonated? How do we know whether it is the restraint or the roaring, the measuring or the mixing-up that is of God or simply the whims of human hubris?
We think about these things here at Ascension. We long for our feet to follow God’s paths, our words to reflect God’s desires, our actions to bring hope to the nations. But how? And when? And who is arbiter of the designation: Godly restraint or self-serving mayhem?
Please join us Sunday. At 9:30 our children meet in the Children’s Music Room to sing. At 9:45 a.m. they move to Godly Play. We will invite them to leave their shoes outside the classroom for St. Nicholas to leave treats. (St. Nicholas’ Feast Day was yesterday, December 5). And, if any adults wish to leave their shoes outside the sanctuary doors, St. Nicholas might find them, too.
Before worship (9:30 a.m.) adults gather for our third Vitality Talk—a fast-paced, coffee-and-donut fueled conversation about strategic directions for Ascension. This Sunday we will reflect on a deepening relationship with one of our ministry partners, The Night Ministry.
Of course, we will Worship. Calmly. Quietly. One might even call it “restrained,” in a hopeful, Advent, Ascension sort of way.
And don’t forget. Sunday afternoon we revel in our Advent Christmas Concert—choirs, orchestra, carols. It is a wonderful, warm and inspiring afternoon of seasonal music.
Restrained. I was in my car Wednesday at midday listening to the end of the President’s funeral. I could hear the assembly rise to its feet for the recessional hymn. I held my breath as the opening chords of the Navy hymn soared through the speakers. “Eternal Father, strong to save, whose hands have stilled the restless wave . . .” Barreling down the expressway, tears running down my face, I sang with them—this slow, measured, respectful and honest hymn.
Today I give thanks for a leader of great restraint, praying that I might be granted such calm and dignified wisdom. And, in the same measure, I pray for John the Baptizer’s courage and clarity, his willingness to name names and level the disheveled.
Blessed Advent. The King is coming soon.
Pastor JoAnn Post