1st Sunday in Advent
December 1, 2013
It was my Old Testament professor Jim Limburg where I first heard it: We preach with the newspaper in one hand and the Scripture in the other. He didn’t make it up, he was quoting a famous 20th Century theologian, I can’t remember which one. When you open the paper, you are still assaulted with horror stories: the wreckage in the Philippines from the biggest typhoon in history, disaster that is only beginning to unwind and aid that is only beginning to penetrate the chaos; The war in Syria grinds on, cutting people off from food and shelter, creating a generation of children who have witnessed things that leave our trained troops with nightmares and flashbacks, will those children ever find peace in their lives? Treaty talks with Iran compel us to trust a foe that has proved untrustworthy in the past, and could easily still have the power to destroy the world as we know it. Devastation seems to breed devastation, disaster to be the cause of more disaster.
Even in our own lives, we never know how or when devastation will strike. Jesus takes us from the cosmic to the personal in his discourse: relating how the flood swept away everyone who was busily living their lives, until none were left but a chosen few, and then reminding us that even while you are away from home or sound asleep, a thief can break into your safe world and sweep it away.
This season of Advent is the beginning of a new year in Church lingo. And it starts off with a bang. We begin by remembering that the world we live in is not safe, that the lives we live and breath are precarious and that every second of them is precious. As we prepare for the coming of God into our history in the person of Jesus, we remember that the world needs saving, that we need a Savior.
Listen to the words of the prophet again: “in days to come…the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established…all the nations shall stream to it…that he may teach us his way and that we may walk in his paths…they shall beat their swords into plowshares…nation shall not lift up sword against nations, neither shall they learn war any more.” Those days are still ahead for us, aren’t they? But it doesn’t mean that they are not coming. “Biblical visions come to us from the future, shaping our lives in the meantime,” says one of my commentators. Indeed, for the vision of Isaiah still leads us to read the papers with both grief and hope. In Paul’s vision of the life of God’s people, he urges us to wake up, the night of our despair is nearly over, he claims. Put on the armor light. What would that look like, to walk around shining with hope in a world of shadow?
Jesus, too, tells his followers to wake up. Jesus doesn’t tell his disciples about the horrors that continue to be news to scare them. And he doesn’t just want them to cling to their own personal belief to keep them safe from impending doom. He wants them to live in the hope that they are part of a community shaped by God’s saving acts, a witness to God’s continuing presence in a dark world, a world gone kind of nuts with hatred and greed and an insistence on its own dark intentions, heedless of the damage to others. He wants them to witness to the beginning of a new age in which believers will be gathered into his own loving arms, our hope for the future reign of God to be realized all around us.
We live in this world of the news, and at the same time we live already in the world that Jesus Christ has redeemed. It is not our own good work that gets us the comfort and safety of living every day under God’s gracious hand. It is not because of our prayers or our good intentions, either, because the fact is that we are no better than any others who fail to live up to God’s perfect law – putting God first in our lives and loving our neighbors as ourselves. It is purely and simply because God loves us that we can live in hope, and realize our lives are lived in the world of swords beaten into plowshares. We live in God’s promises, and we trust that every day is one day closer to those promises being fully realized in our world.
In your bulletin there is a slip of paper. And in the back of the sanctuary, there is a display with a globe and newspaper and a basket. It is a prayer station and the slip of paper is for you to write your prayers. This morning we invite your prayers for the horrors and pain that confront us every day in the news, the suffering of this world. Take a minute to close your eyes and imagine what you want to pray for in this world that we know. On your way out of church this morning, you may deposit your prayers in the basket provided, as a way of waking up to what needs to be redeemed in our world, and the hope we bear that God is already at work to bring in the new world where no one learns war anymore. (a few minutes of silence while people pray and write).
May the armor of light in which we walk light the world in which we live and move and have our being. And may the peace of God which passes all understanding live in your words and your works as we wait for the coming of the new age in the Babe of Bethlehem. Amen.