December 2, 2018

 

2018 Dec2IMAGINE! Advent 1 - Year C

A Sermon Preached by The Rev Karen Seigfreidt
 
Advent (which means “the coming”) consists of the four weeks preceding the celebration of Christmas. It is a time of waiting, wanting, imagining, and trusting in a promised future that seems very removed from our current circumstances. We began today’s service with the lighting of the first advent candle, a candle that symbolizes hope. Hope is the confidence that the future holds new possibilities that are not evident in the present. Without hope, the human heart would break. So the question becomes, what are we hoping for during this season of Advent? This is the subject of today’s sermon.


In 1971, John Lennon released a blockbuster song during the heart of the Vietnam War. It was a time when thousands of people on both sides of the conflict were being killed and maimed with no end in sight. Lennon, like millions of others, longed for time of peace and unity and asked his audience to imagine a different future. In this song, he called us to imagine a time when there were no longer divisions between people of different religions and different nationalities. He called us to imagine a time when greed and hunger were a thing of the past.


He called us to imagine a time
when possessions had little
power over us and the struggle between the
haves and the have-nots would end.


If you can imagine a time when nations no longer lift up swords against other nations; when the oldest of enemies become the best of friends; when the wolf shall live with the lamb, when there is peace on earth, then you are involved in the work of Advent. If you can imagine a time when humanity is at one, when there are no borders to protect or self-interests to fight for; when there is no discrimination between Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female, black or white, rich or poor, gay or straight, then you are involved in the work of Advent. If you can imagine a time when the underlying principle of economic development is the golden rule rather than personal profit; when politicians sacrifice their chances of re-election in order to work for the good of the commonwealth; when healing and compassion become the dominant themes such that the blind see, the lame walk, the poor are fed, and the oppressed are liberated, then you are involved in the work of Advent.


Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said that the celebration of Advent is possible only to those who are troubled in soul, those who know themselves to be poor and imperfect, and those who look forward to something greater to come. This was certainly the posture of John Lennon who longed for a different future as he wrote the song “Imagine.” This longing, this imagining, this hope for a new world order was certainly at the heart of the teachings of Jeremiah the prophet, Paul the apostle, and Jesus the Christ. Let’s take a look at their hopes for a different future as presented in today’s biblical readings.


About twenty-six hundred years ago, Jeremiah sat imprisoned in the court of the guard as the Babylonian forces sieged Jerusalem. Eventually, this invading army would destroy the temple, burn the city to the ground, murder innocent victims, and exile its leaders. This was one of the most devastating times for the Jews. It would have been natural for Jeremiah to sink into despair given the bleak situation.


Human beings despair when they cannot imagine God’s promise of an alternative future. In other words, people despair when they lack theological hope. But not so with Jeremiah the prophet. As he sat in prison, anticipating the fall of Jerusalem, he wrote a sermon called “The Book of Consolation.”  It was a sermon that imagined God creating a new future based on justice and righteousness. “The days are surely coming says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and Judah.” (Jer. 33:14)  This promise was to a restore a righteous branch that would eventually rule the nation.


It can be tempting to despair during those times of darkness, today being no exception. I recently read that the suicide rate and the number of deaths due to drug overdose are at an all-time high in our country. We are experiencing wars, earthquakes, floods, fires, economic disparity, migration, climate change, dysfunctional governments, racism, sexism, and all the other isms that corrupt and destroy the creatures of God. No wonder it appears that the darkness has snuffed out the light. But for those of us who can imagine a different future, for those who are working for justice, and for those who are able to recognize and give thanks for all of the blessings in this life, then it is a time of hope. And our hope is this: “The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” (John 1:5)  For Christians, this light is the Light of Christ, a light so bright and so full of life, that nothing can destroy it.


So if the Light of Christ is shining in the world today, why does it seem so dark? Trial, suffering, persecution, injustice, hatred, greed, woundedness, and dysfunctional human egos all spoil so much of what could be a deeper and fuller life. And while evil appears to dim the light that came into the world some 2000 years ago, nothing can erase the intervention of God in Christ. And so we wait for a second coming of Christ, a time when the human heart and mind are so filled with the Spirit of Christ, that love becomes the operating principle in our thoughts, words, and actions. It is this hope (for the second coming of Christ) that Paul called the Church in Thessalonica to patiently wait for. Let’s take a look at our second reading.


Paul’s time in Thessalonica was not ideal. He came to Thessalonica after a jail stint in Philippi. He was then forced to flee Thessalonica in the midst of an uproar. And yet in his letter to this particular church, Paul remains hopeful. His response to adversity was one of encouragement. Knowing that the newly baptized Christians would face persecution, he encouraged them to wait patiently and to abound in love for one another.


As our Presiding Bishop has said many times,


“LOVE is the most powerful
force for personal change and
for changing the world
around us.”


“Yes, we live in scary times. Yes, people are hurting. Yes, people are hurting one another. But anger is not the key; revenge is not the answer. The way of love—the love and power of God—is the key to our hope and to our future. The message of God is very simple. Love one another. Take care of one another. Take care of creation…love God. Do that and you will find your way.” For me, the second coming of Christ will be seen in all of its glory when love becomes the operating force. Can you imagine this future? If so, then continue the work of Advent.


Finally, in our gospel story,


Jesus longs for a new world
order and emphasizes that the
Kingdom of God is near. But in
order for this kingdom to come
into its fullness, there will need to
be tremendous changes that will
cause great consternation.


“It will seem like all hell has broken loose-sun, moon, stars, earth, sea, in an uproar and everyone all over the world in a panic, the wind knocked out of them by the threat of doom, the powers that be quaking.” (The Message, Luke 21:25) Today, we are experiencing some of this quaking as the war between the powerful and those on the margins ravages on. Some have responded to these jolts with fear, cynicism, or apathy. But for those of us who are committed to doing the work of Advent, Jesus tells us to remain alert, to stand up, to be on guard. We are not be weighed down by worry, dissipation, or drunkenness. Instead, we are to pray at all times, to have courage, and to recognize that when these things take place, “the kingdom of God is drawing near.” (Luke 21)


Last week, my neighbors sent me a picture of an “advent calendar” from Costco containing 24 cans of beer to be drunk before Christmas. This so-called “advent sentiment” at first made me laugh but then made me a bit sad. Our culture does not encourage us to lean into the future but instead seeks instantaneous gratification. It emphasizes a holiday experience that is manic, immediate, nostalgic, and based on over-consumption. No wonder the season of Advent is being replaced by beer drinking.

 

So how do we walk towards Christmas with a deep sense of knowing that God’s work is unfinished? How do we celebrate Advent with a desire to create a different future? For me and my house, we will keep on praying, speaking up, and contributing our money for just causes. We will not allow the political news to control our personal narrative or emotions. Instead, we will focus our internal spotlight on whatever is true, just, honorable, and worthy of praise.  We will proclaim the good news that is present in the world today and esteem those people who are currently working towards God’s future of justice and righteousness. And like the people of Thessalonica, we will work on personal holiness, refining our character that we may be “blameless before God.”


“You may say I’m a dreamer, but
I’m not the only one. I hope
someday you’ll join us, and the
world will live as one.”


(‘Imagine’ by John Lennon) Sermon ends with the playing of the song ‘Imagine.

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