1 Thessalonians 3.9-13
St. Luke 21.25-36
Morning. The 29th day of November. The alarm goes off. Still three-and-a-half hours before dawn and all I want to do is pull the covers up over my head and stay in bed for the whole day. It’s that time of year when the darkness rises, deepens, and overwhelms, and it seems no amount of light can push it away. The cold makes the bones ache for the days of the warm autumn past, and my soul yearns for the long daylight hours of midsummer. But I know the seasons will change; come December 21 and the winter solstice and to the better end of the year we’ll go – Spring and Summer will come again.
What won’t change is the human-induced darkness of these shortened days. We watch in horror the events of the middle east. Israeli settlers continue to encroach upon Palestinian territory and each side seems hell-bent on seeing how much violence can be wrought in a decades-old struggle for recognition, land, and safety, that firestorm there providing soul-searing heat but little light. And there’s so much more. There’s Iran and the fear of its having nuclear capability. Then there’s Iraq, destabilized since the American invasion, a land whose infrastructure, economy, and social-fabric have gone through the shredder of a war no one has yet made any sense out of. If that weren’t enough, Afghanistan is still in a state of chaos, still occupied by American forces trying to push back the Taliban. Then there’s so-called Islamic State, and the dogs of war are unleashed upon an already war-weary world, now in a new method of warfare, one defined by specific borders on a map but fueled by an ideology that has nothing to do with Islam but everything to do with inducing a mass psychosis – a psychosis that is infecting American presidential politics and the result, an American people bent by fear into making this nation no longer the land of the free and the home of the brave, but a nation that is fast becoming the land of unwelcoming and the home of the fearful.
Meanwhile a “gun battle rages,” as The New York Times put it Saturday, and three are killed and nine others wounded in a siege that lasts for more than five hours of a Friday afternoon in near-by Colorado Springs And one can read too in The New York Times of how Paris is dealing with its new sense of vulnerability, darkness having descended upon the City of Light. And in case you missed the National Briefing in the aforementioned newspaper, in Ohio a man was arrested and accused of murder in the fatal shooting of a five-month-old girl who was sitting “in the back seat of a car while her mother and grandmother drove to a grocery last month for birthday cake supplies.” And in Mississippi “A customer shot and killed an employee at a Waffle House restaurant on Friday after she asked him not to smoke” inside the eatery. And in Louisiana police have identified a suspect “in a shooting that wounded 17 people last Sunday at a playground.” (And people are afraid of Syrian refugees??)
Then into the midst of it all comes Jeremiah the prophet singing words of consolation for a change, singing words of consolation not only to the Judeans dragged into exile in Babylon, their city, their customs, their culture, and their temple destroyed but Jeremiah singing as well words of consolation to us this day. The days are surely coming – and in a song we don’t have in today’s lectionary but from the same section of consolation – the prophet proclaims a word from the Lord: “I have loved you with an everlasting love . . . again I will build you . . . Again you shall take your tambourines and go forth in the dance of the merrymakers . . . and a righteous branch [will] spring up from David and he shall bring justice and righteousness in the land.” And though the Psalmist in the Psalm appointed for today begins with a lament, she or he swiftly moves toward the hope of salvation – not a salvation that comes through our efforts but from God. Praise intensifies as the text closes, with the singer celebrating divine work. Hope exists in this Psalm even for those engaged in conflict and in need of guidance and forgiveness, a signal to us as well in our time of trial, ad signal of the promise of forgiveness and new beginnings.
And too St. Paul comes singing to a people under persecution for following in the way of Jesus. “May God strengthen your hearts,” he says, “as you await the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.” Words of hope for us as we with them endure a world gone mad.
“I have loved you with an everlasting love . . . again I will build you . . . Again you shall take your tambourines and go forth in the dance of the merrymakers . . . and a righteous branch [will] spring up from David and he shall bring justice and righteousness in the land.”
Next comes Jesus speaking of us here, to us now as much as to those who were experiencing in the days of Luke’s writing the final destruction of the Temple, experiencing the fall of Jerusalem. “Yes,” says Jesus, “People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world.” But assures us that the summer is already, this means the reign of God is close at hand.
But my broken self wants more. I want “city sidewalks, busy sidewalks full of holiday cheer,” or however the lyric goes. I want a Silent Night, a Holy Night instead of a sleepless night of dread. But all we get is Jesus calling us to “stand up and raise [our] heads, because [our] redemption is drawing near.” Our hurting selves and the world do need Christ to come – not just at Christmas, but to come again and redeem this mess. Give us something more than Valium, alcohol, and shopping.
Advent is a season of anticipation – not only for the yearly remembrance of God’s birth into history at Bethlehem – but Advent is also a time of anticipation for God’s sure coming again as the Son of Humanity who brings history to its close. It is a time to remember a promise made through Jeremiah, a promise made through the Psalmist, a promise proclaimed by St. Paul, a promise from God’s Word the Christ. God will come again as the Christ and all shall be well, all things shall be well, all manner of things shall be well. Perhaps not in our time – but in the meantime, we will light some candles in protest against the darkness. We will sing Alleluias and Hosannas to drown out for a few moments the discordant noise of this world’s violence. We will welcome in the poor for a meal, a small morsel to be sure in the midst of ongoing depravation, but we’ll do it anyway and cheerfully because it has been given to us to do. We’ll pray, we’ll hope, we’ll labor – as God’s people have always done – and will always do – until Christ’s new realm does come.
And that you have strength to pray and hope and labor, that you have strength to sing truthfully “Rejoice, rejoice believers, and let your lights appear,” that you have strength to stand up and raise your heads out from under the covers in this time of seasonal and worldly darkness, a bit of bread, a bit of wine, the true essence of God’s body and God’s blood. Strength for the journey, this sacrament, Christ’s new Advent for you, God’s promise that, “yes you will see” – perhaps not in this age, but surely in an age to come – you will see in your own bodies, as they are now or when they are glorified in your resurrection – you will see the day of earth’s redemption that will set you and all God’s people free. The Lord has spoken it and it shall come to pass as surely as it did one night in Bethlehem.
Even so, stir up your power O God and come. Quickly come, O Lord. Amen.