Advent – God In The Midst of Time (Our Time) – December 2, 2018
My wife trimmed the rose bushes on Friday. Neither Carol nor I have been avid gardeners. We’ve put far more effort over the years into vegetable gardens than flower gardens. But we inherited some beautiful perennial flower gardens in our new home in Brookfield. And we’re blessed to have some beautiful rose bushes. At this point in the season the rose bushes look mostly dead. But this is the best time to prune them way down so that they may bloom more fully and beautifully next spring.
Envisioning and planning for that future growth and future flowering of the rose bush, by trimming the dead wood and old canes in the fall, strikes me as being a lot like the season of Advent. Advent is a season when we envision the blossoming of God – (God) who is eternal and beyond time and space – (blossoming) in the midst of human time and life. Of course we look anew with expectation for the celebration of God’s ultimate breaking forth in human history with the birth of God’s Son in Bethlehem on Christmas. In Advent we also look with hope and expectation for God’s breaking forth in human history at the end of human time, at the dawn of the age to come. This is the expectation and hope of Jesus’ return to fully and completely usher in God’s Kingdom on earth. But as we long and hope for God’s future coming we also look and work for glimmers of God’s Kingdom to come in the midst of human history right now. In the Lord’s Prayer we pray, “thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth” – today, in this world, in our lives, in us, in our time – “as it is in heaven.”
The prophets could cut through the dead wood of human despair in often desperate and difficult times to proclaim that breaking forth – that blossoming of God’s possibilities yet to come – for God’s people. And so today we hear the Prophet Jeremiah proclaim “in those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.” (Jeremiah 33:15) This hope for a future Messiah for God’s people was pronounced as Israel had been utterly destroyed as a nation, its leaders and nobles led off into exile in Babylon. And yet Jeremiah has the audacity to proclaim this future hope.
In today’s reading from the Gospel of Luke Jesus acts as a prophet and tells his disciples about what to do in the midst of terrible calamities still to come. “Now when these things begin to take place,” he tells them, “stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” (Luke 21:28)
As Charles Dickens wrote at the beginning of his Tale of Two Cities, “it was the best of times; it was the worst of times,” so as we look at our own times we can see both blessings and disaster. How can we look at the times in which we live and see without rose colored glasses the real brokenness and problems that surround us, but also see the possibility of God breaking forth in the midst of these times? What would God’s breaking forth in our times look like? That, it seems to me, is one of the key tasks in the season of Advent, to imagine what God’s breaking forth might look like in our times.
I think we had a good example of that kind of Advent envisioning with our own Presiding Bishop Michael Curry when he preached at the royal wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. It would have been easy for him to deliver a safe, sweet and sentimental sermon on love. But he surprised everyone by expanding the meaning of God’s love to not only represent the love of husband and wife, but the love of God breaking forth into the midst of a broken and fractured world.
“When love is the way,” said Bishop Curry, “then no child will go to bed hungry in this world ever again. When love is the way, we will let justice roll down like a mighty stream and righteousness like an ever-flowing brook. When love is the way, poverty will become history. When love is the way, the earth will be a sanctuary. When love is the way, we will lay down our swords and shields, down by the riverside, to study war no more. When love is the way, there’s plenty good room — plenty good room — for all of God’s children.” (Homiletics Online, December 2, 2018)
Daily poor people knock on the office doors of this church pleading for help: a food certificate, rent money, help with bills, etc.. Their stories are so frustrating. They can’t get ahead. They don’t have enough money to pay for their children’s food and to heat their house so they’re constantly forced to make awful choices of what to pay and what to leave in debt and they live in perpetual crisis. Justice for them would mean some means and opportunity to get on top of their self-perpetuating crisis, some means to earn a living wage. I’m not sure what needs to change to help the individuals I work with. Sometimes the change needs to come about in them. More often what is needed are less holed in society’s safety net for them to fall through. But whatever would allow them to get ahead would look to me a lot like the Kingdom of God breaking through in our world.
As a country we fear the refugees knocking at the door and banging on the walls at our borders, whether they be from Syria or Guatemala or Haiti or Yemen or any of dozens of countries. It seems to me that we need to envision something more creative than ways to keep them out. How might God break through in concrete ways so that people no longer have to flee to other countries for refuge? God’s breaking through would mean peace in warring Yemen and Syria, freedom from gang violence in Guatemala, the opportunity to earn a decent wage in Haiti. When there is justice and hope and the possibility for a fuller life for people there won’t be a need to flee. How can we as individuals and as a country work for those greater possibilities for healing in our world? That to me would represent the Advent good news of God’s Kingdom blossoming in our world.
What glimmers of hope can we see for God’s Kingdom breaking through the midst of our ever-widening divisions and increased polarization between Republicans and Democrats, blue and red, conservatives and liberals over issues of health care and taxation and global warming and use of resources and immigration, and gun control, and abortion, and the like? Can we envision the possibility of real dialogue? Can we picture a greater good that both sides might work towards? Can we imagine the other not as stubborn and wrong-headed, but as human and caring? What kind of Advent imagination can we bring to our very profound differences?
St. John’s Church is facing a time of leadership change as your Rector retires. There will be challenges of getting to know first an Interim Rector and then discerning the call of a new Rector and getting to know that new pastoral leader. It can be long period of a year or quite a bit more. Will our parish lose members? Will you like the new Rector? You could face this time with fear and trepidation or you could face this time excited about the possibilities that lie ahead. What wonderful new ways will God use this congregation? How can you grow in new ways? What new parish leaders will emerge? How can God continue to use this congregation to proclaim his love and mercy? Can you imagine the Advent possibilities of God breaking forth in new ways at St. John’s Church in the months ahead?
Advent is a season when we envision the blossoming of God – (God) who is eternal and beyond time and space – (blossoming) in the midst of human time and life. How can God’s life become flesh and blood reality in the midst of the brokenness of our world. As God took on flesh 2000 years ago in human history can you imagine ways that God’s life, God’s Kingdom, can break forth in your life, in our world, in our times, today?