Come thou long expected Jesus
Born to set thy people free
From our fears and sins release us
Let us find our rest in thee
This has always been a country where conflicting opinions flourished.
We have never had unanimity of opinion but, in most cases, we have always found the means to get along. We have had very contentious Presidential elections that have been very closely fought. And yet when the election was over, we were able to come together and even if our candidate did not win, be assured that the winner would act in the best interest of us all and try to bring us together.
Without getting into the partisan politics of all of this…that does not seem to happen any more. It seems that we have reached a low point where we are losing the ability to tolerate any opinion unless it agrees with what we believe…and we are constantly in a choose your sides battle on everything. Mutual respect, consideration and understanding have been replaced by frustration, anger, brutality and the inability to consider any opinion other than ours. And I think it is crucial at this point in our life together (and we must find the means to live together) to think about how we have come to be in this predicament and what we in the church can do about it.
Our faith is built on love. It’s quite simple really. We were created by God because he loved and continues to love us and God expects us to love each other. So the question becomes, if we close ourselves off to anyone who does not agree with us…if we surround ourselves only with people who are like us and reject anyone who is “different” how is it possible for us to find the means to do what God has directed us to do…to love each other?
The season of Advent begins today. And as you know it begins the liturgical year for us in the Christian church. Our country is facing many conflicting events that are causing us great distress and anxiety. We are confronted by the horrendous spectacle of refugees from the poorest most crime ridden parts of Central America, basically mothers and their children really… who are desperate to find a safe and welcoming place to raise their families. Then we have the seemingly endless issues of discrimination against people of color and the injustices visited over and over again on them simply because their skin is not white . And here we are beginning Advent…a season of preparation for the arrival of a poor and lowly refugee family who in a building built for farm animals will give birth to the child who will bring light to this still very dark world. It is sometimes almost impossible to understand how we can love and adore one poor brown baby who will bring the light of God to our world and at the same time reject all of his millions of brother and sisters throughout the world.
Advent is derived from the Latin word Adventus which in ancient times referred to the ceremony surrounding an emperor’s arrival in a city. It has also come to mean the arrival of a new idea or event. Our collect for the day talks about “casting out the works of darkness and putting on the armor of light” as Christ is born among us and it also anticipates his coming again in “glorious majesty on the last day”. The reading from Jeremiah talks about fulfilling promises and the beginning of something new ”a righteous branch to spring up for David”. The Psalm and the new Testament reading from First Thessalonians speak of thanking God for the gifts we are given and the strengthening of our faith. And our Gospel lesson, takes us to a vision of the second coming when we will see “the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory” and advises us to “watch for the signs that will show that the Kingdom of God is near”.
That is an awful lot to pour into just one Sunday’s lessons
I come into contact daily with many people who are heart sick over the state of our society and what it means to confront all of this every day. I think many of us are frustrated, saddened and angry and are just giving up and no longer trying to make sense of it all. I am not one of those people…but I can tell you that I have stopped watching cable news on Television entirely and that I do not believe that the 24 hour news cycle is at all helpful in encouraging understanding between us.
And here is the reason I decided to speak with you about this today on the first Sunday in Advent:
I am afraid that many of us are confronting a crisis of faith. The issues of the day are important but faith, hope and love are much more important. I think we need to remember the lessons that our faith teaches:
-That we are all one.
-That there is no such thing as the “other”
-That Jesus said he would be with us whenever two or three are gathered together. -He never said when two are three are gathered together, the two would make the third an outcast… the “other”
-That we are ALL created in God’s image
-That there is only love: God’s love for us. Our love for God and our Love for each other.
When things were the darkest…Dr. King would talk about Hope and the need to keep it alive as in the words of the poet Emily Dickinson:
-“Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul
And sings the tune without the words
And never stops at all.
-And sweetest in the gale is heard
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.
-I’ve heard it in the chilliest land
And on the strangest sea;
Yet never in extremity
It asked a crumb of me.
I saw that poem for the first time in a hospital corridor during a desperate time when I was not only questioning my faith but I was beginning to lose hope. And those simple words caused me to stop…to question what was happening to me and to finally realize that where nothing material in my world had any permanence, my faith in GOD did and that the hope that God would protect me, keep me safe and help me to live another day because of the gift of his grace was the only thing I could really depend on and the only thing that would save me.
And it did.
Our faith is inextricably linked to hope. It cannot exist without hope. We cannot exist without hope. A loss of hope is the result of the loss of faith. And our faith is the one thing that we have that we can use to change the world.
We are told over and over again not to lose hope and we need hope the same way we need air. That only those who have gone on to eternal life have no need of hope because God has given them their reward and they need nothing more. We can be battered and broken by the continued barrage of insults, exagerations, lies, disrespect and horrendous behavior that is held up for us daily. Our inability to confront all of this can result in understandable, sadness, anger, frustration, pain and yes, fear. Fear of what we do not know. Fear of the future…Fear of what we think might happen And fear is a powerfully unmotivating force that accomplishes nothing more than to separate us and make it impossible to love each other.
And I think fear and hopelessness results almost entirely from a crisis of faith that is wearing us down and encouraging us to give up… And that is an understandable but altogether un-faithful response. Because Hope has always been the motivating factor in our changing the world. In the dark and fearsome holds of Slave ships, in the brutality and inhumanity of concentration camp barracks at Auschwitz and Buchenwald, wherever people have been brutalized and unjustly held against their will…people have held on to the hope that they might one day be free. If they had not…what would have been the purpose of continuing to fight against injustice…and what would we have lost.
So here is Advent and as the season begins, I think we need to do something radically new: We need to concentrate on rebuilding the normal and Godly inspired values in our own lives…not the lives of those we do not agree with….but our OWN lives. In spite of the ugly values constantly on display in the public square…we need to be scrupulously honest, we need to stand up for decency and goodness and kindness and generosity and understanding and forgiveness. And we need to love each other. In fact…loving each other may be the strongest weapon for good that we have to turn the tide of hopelessness negativity, sadness, frustration and fear that are impacting so many of us. With all of our help it will get better…and there are better days ahead if we will just open our hearts to God…and let our better angels lead us on.
So as Advent begins…let us
consciously slow down…
really LIVE each of the 24 days of Advent,
make ourselves ready for the birth of the child who will save the world,
continually prepare ourselves for his second coming,
find the means to love each other extravagantly, abolish the stranger, “the other” from our midst through God’s love.
This Advent season is all about Anticipation and Beginning and Hope and Faith and Love.
-The anticipation of the birth of the Christ Child
-The beginning of all that will bring about.
-The gifts of Hope and Faith that God gives us
-And the Love of Christ which makes it all such a wondrous gift of Grace.
So let us begin, let us pray for peace among nations and let us Keep Hope Alive.