St. Paul’s 12-2-2018 – Advent 1
If you have eyes, ears, and/or any kind of awareness of your surroundings, you might be like me right now. Angry. Heartbroken. On the verge of hopelessness. What the heck is wrong with our country – the (not so) United States of America? What the heck is wrong with our world? How have we grown so far from simple acts of stewardship and care for our earth and neighbor? Why are we stuck arguing over lawful rights versus human rights? You know what makes it feel worse? THIS IS NOTHING NEW. Humans seem to be really good at being awful to each other. You know how I know that? Because in today’s text, Jesus is talking about the same stuff thousands of years ago.
In some ways, this text almost makes sense. Grappling with our present racist-misogynist-socio-economic-political situation seems an apt way to experience a serious House of Horrors. Only this isn’t something we can walk away from with a shuddering laugh, this is our real life.
I can also see this text making sense in another way. Jesus is in the last days of his life, stirring stuff up and preaching truth to power. In context, we would be reading this passage with sunglasses to shade us from the gleam of impending resurrection – Easter is coming. Yeah, we know bad stuff is going to happen, but Easter will too.
However, neither of those reasons really fit for now and they aren’t meant to. This passage is not for Holy Week, but for the first Sunday of Advent. Remember? Advent? The time when we get all excited for Christmas and sparkly decorations and family (maybe) and good food and PRESENTS… and… Oh yeah! Cute baby Jesus is born too.
By entering Advent with Jesus who is entering his last days in Jerusalem, we get to sit with his words in a new way. We get to read these words with honest eyes that aren’t shaded by anything other than the difficult stuff happening in our lives that we brought with us as we read the text.
Oh. And maybe that’s the point. The difficult stuff doesn’t change. Humans need a lot of help. But this is when the Son of Man appears. There will be signs… distress… fear and foreboding… No, this isn’t about the so-calledend times.This is about today. This moment. All is not lost. When we are the most distressed, the kingdom of God draws near.
Jesus speaks to his listeners then as he speaks to us today. Be aware, on guard, expectant. Do not let the shock-and-awe horror show of the 24/7 news cycle weigh us down into the pit of despair where all we can count on is immediate gratification and addictive coping mechanisms. Stand. Stand up and raise your heads with faith in the words of Jesus that will never pass away. Stand firm with faith in the ever-lasting, redemptive love of our Savior who chose to be with us in the worst of times, as a vulnerable, naked, poor baby. Jesus doesn’t promise an escape from the pain, fear, and awfulness of the world. Jesus promises to live through it, with us. We aren’t in this alone. God is with us, Emmanuel.
This is the true challenge of faith. Can we stand to face the injustices and pain of the world? Can we respond with faithfulness, loving God, self, and neighbor as Jesus taught us, rather than freeze in fear?
The secondary challenge of faith is remembering that it does not belong to a single one of us, but to all of us – the Body of Christ. This faith is ours.We are not alone because we stand together, bound by our faith, called by our God to be caretakers of our world and each other. We can cry, we can lament, we can fear. These are our human, God-given emotions. God also gave us the capacity to act in response. So as we cry out, let us stand together and act out the ways Jesus taught us to live.
Remember—The church has a season for helping us with all of this…. It’s called Advent. In Advent we dismantle our elaborate defenses, and, for a few weeks, or days, or moments, face up squarely to our deepest yearnings, our unresolved longings, and our rawest needs. But Advent is also about a confidence deeper than our needs, a hope more far-reaching than our desires, a future more comprehensive than our most poignant yearnings.
In our self-protection we habitually say to ourselves, to one another, and even to God, Never mind the quality, feel the width. Let’s just make ourselves busy and perhaps we’ll forget about it.In Advent, God says to us, Never mind the width. Your life isn’t about quantity of activity or length of days. Let go of the width. Feel the depth.
The answer to the agony of waiting in difficult times isn’t width. It’s depth. Right now, in this Advent moment, feel the depth of your life, and look into the deep heart of God.
Advent says, Yes, you’re hungry. Yes, you long for fulfilment and resolution and completion and consummation. Yes, you’re aching all over, yes, if you stopped your incessant activity and paused for one second to look in the mirror you’d be sobbing with disappointed dreams and deflated desires and unmet longings and dashed aspirations. Yes, life hasn’t turned out as you trusted it would, yes, it feels like everyone else has it easier than you, yes, it’s sometimes impossible to find the patience to keep going, yes, you feel if you for one moment admitted your grief it would crush you and incapacitate you and disable you from functioning in any respectable and grown-up and self- effacing way.Advent goes to the bottom of our waiting in difficult times.
But Advent doesn’t stop there. Advent goes under and around our waiting. Advent also says, gently, cherishingly, and tenderly, No. No, this isn’t the way the story ends. No, God isn’t ignoring you or punishing you. No, this isn’t God’s last word on the matter. No, God hasn’t finished with you. No, this groaning, this aching, this longing won’t be your eternal condition. God came in Christ to be with you, to groan with your groan, to ache with your ache, to yearn with your yearning. God in Christ suffered on the cross to show you a yearning that’s greater even than your yearning, a grief that’s greater even than your grief, a longing that’s greater even than your longing. A longing for you. Christ rose from the dead to show you how the story ends, that all your pain and agony and tears will be taken up into glory, that all your sadness will be made beautiful, and all your waiting will be rewarded. Christ ascended into heaven to show you that you’ll spend eternity with God, that your hunger will be met in God’s banquet, that everything you long for will be exceeded and overwhelmed in the glory of the presence of God, and that when you see the marks in Christ’s hands and the Father’s broken heart you’ll finally realize how achingly, convulsingly hungry God has always been for you.
Just for this moment in Advent, dare to feel the depth. Never mind the width. If you’re tired of waiting, go deeper. Feel the deep texture of life. Eternal life isn’t an infinitely extended version of what we have now: it’s a deeper version of what we have now. If you want a glimpse of eternal life, even amid the sadness and the longing of waiting, go deeper.
Think about all those people you are envious of and who seem to have everything you don’t have? – Go deeper and see who they really are and what they truly long for, and feel your envy begin to melt into compassion. Go deeper into your fears and come out of the bottom of them, and let your hatred become hope. Go deeper into your loneliness and make a companion of the truth you find there. Feel the wonder of your createdness, sense the unlikely mystery of your being here at all. And receive all the rest as a bonus, a gift, a blessing.
Advent isn’t an escape. It’s an encounter with the time that’s deeper than our time, a time we call eternal life. It’s a discovery of a longing that’s deeper than our longing, the longing we call God’s waiting for us. It’s an experience deep down and through the bottom of our experience, a place where grief is no longer isolating but companionable, where alienating hurt becomes tender wisdom, where unfulfilled longing becomes the sculpting of a greater hole for grace.
It’s hard to do Advent all year round. It’s almost easier to be left alone in our waiting. But just this once, this Advent, take the risk on God that God’s taken on you. Feel the quality. Feel the depth. Go deeper and keep digging. Keep digging until you find you’ve dug deep into the heart of God. And there discover a real hunger, the deepest hunger of them all: God’s hunger – for you.
Close with….Inscription of Hopeby Z. Randall Stroope. It was based on words found scrawled on a cellar wall by Jews hiding from the Nazis in Cologne, Germany during the second World War.
I believe in the sun
even when it is not shining
And I believe in love
even when there’s no one there
And I believe in God
even when he is silent
I believe through any trial there is always a way.
But sometimes in this suffering and hopeless despair
My heart cries for shelter
and to know someone’s there
But a voice rises within me saying “hold on my child”
I’ll give you strength
I’ll give you hope
Just stay a little while
May there someday be sunshine
May there someday be happiness
May there someday be love
May there someday be peace. AMEN+
It doesn’t matter whether or not you can have faith;
whether or not you are cynical or despairing,
hope-filled or hope-less:
what matters to God is simply that you are here.
We are entering the time of Advent,
in preparation for Christmas.
Advent reminds us that if God is to be born again
in the most ordinary parts of our world and our lives
that we need prepare for it.
We need to make the space in our lives
where love might be born.
Welcome to this tiny corner of a harsh and dark world.
Together, let us practice being ready
in the faith that Christ will come.
In response to the promise of God,
let us give thanks
through the presentation of our gifts and offerings.
Go into the world and keep awake!
The time is drawing near when God’s hope will be revealed.
Go into the world and keep watch!
The signs of God’s light are breaking into the world.
Go into the world and nurture hope for justice and peace
this day and always.
Go into the world with the
Blessing of God Almighty…..