Advent 1, November 28, 2010
The Rev Deborah Magdalene
Something’s coming. Heaven is leaning in to earth, people are gazing expectantly at the stars, and the earth is paying attention to something intangible – something electric and fascinating – something full of promise and new life; beyond the reach of our own imaginations.
Something is coming that will change forever the way we perceive ourselves in the world. No longer will we be the center of our own universe. Gone will be feelings of anger and resentment, self-doubt and humiliation, and the pain of being betrayed by someone you trusted more than yourself.
No more will we have to expend energy to defend ourselves in a world that feels out of control. We won’t be encouraged to cheat, to take shortcuts, or to tell white lies. We won’t give up our faith out of distraction and boredom, but will believe once again that hard work and agape love really can change the world.
Something is coming that will validate every kind deed we have ever had the grace to perform as it reassures us that compassion is more powerful than tightfisted stinginess.
Something is coming that will forever keep us close to the heart of God, and that will help us to know that all the suffering we have ever experienced served a purpose unique to each of us. Because of our struggle we now have gifts of the Spirit that will forevermore enrich the Kingdom of God.
Something is coming that will turn terrorism and deceit into interreligious dialogue and farming cooperatives….or as Isaiah says, will “turn turn swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks; [where] nation shall not lift up sword against nation” and nevermore will we learn how to war. (Isa. 2:4)
The words of Isaiah help us to yearn for righteousness with every fiber of our being. He is speaking to a people who are beaten down by struggle and who wander aimlessly in the wasteland, forgetting who they really are. He lights a fire under them by simply naming the heavenly truths they yearn for.
If we lived every day with a full awareness of how deeply we hunger for a meaningful life for ourselves and our loved ones it would shatter our self-composure.
We are not built to withstand such vivid and high frequency yearning for long periods of time. We go into denial and busy ourselves with easier tasks. We have short attention spans for difficult issues. We turn on the TV, turn up the stereo and mute the dull throb of our own yearning for justice, fulfillment, and peace.
The theme of our readings for today is a vibrant and annoying wakeup call. It jolts us into readiness for the Advent of Lord, where we wait for a humble birth while focused on our need for a Savior.
In order to understand our Christian season of Advent we must remember that what we wait so impatiently for has already come. We are in a time of already/not yet. Christ is here and is coming. It’s a divine conundrum that calls us to examine ourselves and our faith.
The word ‘advent’ means ‘coming.’ But what is coming is not anything of this world. We live in a world of microchips and phone apps; of online ordering and unending lines at the Verizon store. We are not wired, so to speak, to look for the advent of a world beyond our imaginings.
What Isaiah writes about is the coming of a supernatural event. One that will make every hair on your head stand up at attention and will send chills rippling down your spine. There will be no credits or commercials at the end of this event, but the beginning of a world beyond our imaginings. The end will be the beginning.
Isaiah’s words are about the coming of a new age of consciousness….a cosmic trip out of the land of slavery and oppression into a time of everlasting felicity.
The voice of the prophet Isaiah cries out that God is coming to “teach us his ways that we may walk in his paths.” (Isa. 2:3b) He paints a picture of a New Jerusalem – one that rises out of the rubble of destruction and abandonment to become the center of the universe – a place where all nations of the world will come in humility to learn a new way of living.
The picture we have from Isaiah is of a Kingdom that rises as the highest place on earth; rising to a point where it touches heaven. Every nation in the world will flow gently and peacefully across paper-flat geography toward and up the slopes of this new kingdom on a mountain.
The Hebrew word, ‘naharu’ means to "flow like a river," and to "shine in joyful radiance." We can picture all of the world’s people flowing like a river uphill toward God’s light. The desire for supremacy and power is replaced with humble acceptance of a benevolent and creative majesty beyond their imaginings. It is this humility in the face of a love beyond understanding that causes them to shine in joyful radiance.
What they yearn for now is to be taught how to live with such unexpected fulfillment. “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” (Isa 2:3)
The psalm for today is called "A Song of Ascents," intended to be sung by a band of pilgrims climbing the heights of Jerusalem and entering "the house of the Lord." With the psalmist we are invited to know the dwelling place of God's presence, where war is transformed into dances of love.
A useful way of understanding a transformation of this magnitude is
through art. In 1957 a musical written by Arthur Laurents, with music by Leonard Bernstein, and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim opened on Broadway. The story was a reworking of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.” Set in the projects of New York City, “West Side Story” was a smashing success.
The tale is of a love that transcends the human conditions of poverty and abuse; racism, jealousy, and even death. We watch, knowing that the end will be tragic, and yet needing to see the reenactment of this divine love between two innocents.
Tony, a working-class white boy is drawn into a state of alert readiness by a supernatural pulling on his heartstrings. The air has changed, his dreams are more vivid, and he wakes with a lump in his throat. He goes through the motions of his life as if it belongs to someone else. His friends don’t interest him anymore and he is buzzing with a new energy that he tries to understand through song:
“Could be! Who knows?
There's something due any day;
I will know right away, Soon as it shows.
It may come cannonballing down through the sky,
Gleam in its eye, Bright as a rose!
What comes is an unexpected, powerful, and forbidden love with Maria, the Puerto Rican immigrant sister of the leader of a rival gang. Like the Gospel story, the tale of powerful, life-changing love ends in death and disillusionment.
But in the death we see a mirror of our own foolishness and are left with a desire to stop hating each other and become more open to learning new ways of being with each other.
The advent of Jesus is a love story that doesn’t end. Like ‘West Side Story’ the Good News of Christ opens out hearts to the possibility of a life lived in an altered state of reality – one that expects miracles to happen and dreams to come true.
In the already/not yet world of today’s Christianity we live in a state of suspended animation. Christ has come. Christ will come again. We can withstand the strain of waiting, knowing how deeply we yearn for justice and reconciliation by turning our wills and our lives over to the care of a God who wants to guide us in every move we make and breath we take.
Because we believe that the resurrection really took place; that Jesus was able to conquer death and walk among us as a new creation; because we return to Scripture to remind ourselves that we were created for a purpose; because we are Children of the Resurrection we await the coming of Christ with assurance that it is while we wait that the miracles occur.
It is in this age of already/not yet that Christians have been saying their prayers and willing themselves to be led by a power greater than themselves; a power that sees possibilities for life where we see only defeat and death.
It’s this unexpected new life that comes to those who believe that grows the Kingdom of God among ordinary slobs like us. Who could guess that that such a motley crew would be destined for such happiness?
Like the Jerusalem Pharisees and the upstart Christian community, who both drew on the prophet Isaiah to support their point of view, God’s love unexpectedly opened the hearts of the most unlikely candidates for a new way of seeing the world.
God pulled believers in his Christ from the holiest of Jews and from the margins of Jewish society; then through the unbelievable miracle of his Son’s resurrection, reached outside the boundaries of Judaism to make disciples out of the Gentiles.
Faith in Christ:
It's only just out of reach, Down the block, on a beach,
Under a tree.
I got a feeling there's a miracle due, Gonna come true,
Coming to me!”
It’s this personal message of unexpected salvation that we all hunger for. There is a miracle coming, and it’s coming to me!
Jesus teaches about the necessity of watchfulness. “So as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.” In other words, all of a sudden, out of the blue, dark clouds and torrents of rain will descend on the unprepared and take us away forever. The only ones left behind will be like Noah and his family, saved from the deadly flood because they paid attention to God.
Unlike the ‘Left Behind’ series, the ones who are left after the apocalypse are the faithful remnant – Noah’s family, safe in their wooden boat. In the Gospel for today Jesus is predicting what will happen at the Second Coming.
He is not trying to scare the disciples, but is imploring them to pay attention and to work hard. Just because Jesus works as hard as he does doesn’t mean that we can slack off and not contribute to our own resurrection.
“Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming…you must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.” (Mat 24:42 & 44)
We keep awake through hard work and learning how to practice agape love. We focus on our need for a Savior with every breath we take. Is there something we can do to help Christ bring in the Kingdom? How will we know what to do? How do we make wise and loving choices in life? How do we stop hurting each other?
We must examine ourselves and our faith. Advent is a time to turn down the volume, build a fire in the fireplace and sit quietly in the presence of our Lord who is already here and not yet come.
“Could it be? Yes, it could.
Something's coming, something good,
If I can wait!
Something's coming, I don't know what it is,
But it is Gonna be great!”
Christmas comes whether we are ready or not. But the Incarnation of God’s own Self on earth becomes reality when we learn to embody our share of the Holy. The ‘something’ that is coming is none other than our own decision to make each day a testament of our faith; to pull out our Prayer Books and remember how to yearn for a better life. Holiness comes through our participation in God’s plan for this world, on this day, in this city, through the work of our hands and our hearts.
Maranatha. Our Lord has come. Come Lord Jesus.