Tear gas used on toddlers at the Mexican border. War and violent conflicts continuing in more than twenty-five countries. A national climate report with dire implications. These things are inconsistent with Advent. How is it possible to focus on the ancient story of love and promise when the world seems bent on hatred and destruction? We are, as were Isaiah’s people, a “people who walk in darkness.” When might we “see a great light”?
Despair blankets much of the earth. Where do we find hope when all things point to destruction? What hope is there for a country whose government sanctions tear gas on children and tries to erase Trans* people? Where is the hope for countries who turn away refugees and asylum seekers and make it illegal to be queer? Where is the hope for cities with significant racial disparities? Where is the hope for the neighborhoods of unknown people and varying traditions? Where is the hope for households divided by politics, religion, fear, or hatred? What can possibly chase away the heavy, clinging despair?
Jeremiah told the ancient Israelites that the days of God’s righteousness and justice are surely coming. This was good news when Jeremiah first proclaimed it. It’s good news now, but I’m not sure people hear it or believe it. It’s hard to get excited about making the spiritual journey to Bethlehem when the world seems so focused on destruction. The nights are endless and cold and there is no sign of dawn on the horizon. And, yet, the seasons change and the liturgical seasons change. We are called to seek light even in the midst of the most oblique depths.
Jesus knew how easily we can lose hope for the world, for our country, for our communities, for our families, and for ourselves. He demonstrated how to keep hope alive by empowering the powerless and challenging those who claimed authority but did nothing to help those in need. Even in his last days, Jesus kept trying to tell the disciples that they could continue the work he had begun.
In Luke’s Gospel Jesus paints a very vivid picture of what will happen before his return. Most of what he describes is happening in the world right now, without question. There are signs of the earth’s distress and there is confusion among the nations as to how to deal with it. People live in fear of what is coming next. On the other hand, not very many of us are looking for clouds bearing the Christ who will bring redemption. Fortunately, Jesus doesn’t stop here. Signs of doom and gloom have always been around and people haven’t really paid them much heed.
Lest we get distracted by the very human ways of death and destruction, Jesus continues. The seasons will continue to change. Summer will gave way to fall. Fall will yield to winter. Winter will melt into spring. Spring will brighten into summer. Plants and trees will bloom, grow, and die. When these things happen, according to Luke, we will know that the Realm of God is near. And we should pay attention.
This is good news of truly biblical proportions. As long as we have life and breath and earth continues its journey around the sun, the Realm of God is near. When the world is shrouded in despair and the light of hope is not visible, followers of Christ are called to do as Christ taught. It is our job to bring the Realm of God into the here and now. We are the bearers of hope for those who live in the gloomy depths. We who embody Christ are the lamplighters and the hope igniters. In this there is redemption and the glory and power of Christ.
As we embark on this Advent journey and light the candle of hope, let us remember that human ways are not God’s ways. We can do better. We can denounce violence in all its forms and challenge those with authority who glory in fear and oppression. We can learn ways to live gently on this earth and heal the damage we have done. We who embody Christ can ensure that no one is erased or outcast or unseen. We can demonstrate the Love Jesus taught. We can do this here and now because the Realm of God is at hand. Let us all repent and make it manifest. This is hope. This is real. This is now.
If you are looking for sermon help, try here.
RCL – Year C – First Sunday in Advent -December 2, 2018
1 Thessalonians 3:9-13