Isaiah 61:1-4; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24; John 1:6-8,19-28
December 17, 2017
I. Advent is a season of ambivalence as Rachel and Peter made so clear with their creative, humorous approach last week. While our society rushes around in a frenzy, we wait for a hidden hope to be revealed. Advent acknowledges our human pain and cries to God for intervention that brings wholeness to obvious brokenness.
A. I understand the Eash-Scotts host a “longest night” service on the winter solstice. Building on that ancient Celtic tradition, for several years I have led the churches I have served in a service the first Sunday night of Advent that I called “Give God Your Holiday Blues.” It gave people opportunity to express their feelings that seemed at odds with the seasonal celebrations. Sometimes grieving a recent death or struggling with sickness or a personal crisis. One of the most memorable was when 35 year old Christopher Clifton, who had been struggling with brain cancer for several years, lit a candle and said “I have just been told I have six weeks left to breathe. Whether it is six days, six weeks, six months, or six years, I want them to be for Jesus.”
B. Simon and Garfunkel’s 1966 song Silent Night/7 O’clock News, captures this Advent incongruity. That it took so little creativity to do so speaks to what we all feel. Play CD. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E8d5C8kPlJA
II. We sang My Soul Cries Out (Sing the Story, 124) which each verse of anticipation is answered with the refrain in hopes that “the world is about to turn.” The scriptures we have been reading through Advent acknowledge our human pain and cry to God for intervention that brings wholeness to obvious brokenness.
A. Isaiah 64:1 cries out to God “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down.”
B. Isaiah 61:2 proclaims “the day of vengeance of our God.”
C. Quoting Isaiah 40:3,6-7, John 1:23 announces John the Baptist’s ministry of baptism for repentance as “making straight the way of the Lord.”
III. When we sang My Soul Cries Out at the hymn sing a few weeks ago, repeating “the world is about to turn” evoked both longing and frustration in me. How could I believe that “the world is about to turn” toward peace and justice, righteousness and mercy with all that is happening right now? I was ready for Advent to acknowledge our human pain and cry to God for intervention that brings wholeness to obvious brokenness. But I still am having trouble getting hold of it.
A. Since moving into our duplex, Candy and I have been listening to music from the 60s and 70s, the early days of our relationship: Peter, Paul and Mary; John Denver; Joan Baez; Simon and Garfunkel. We enjoy it, but I feel a deep sadness, that what so many of us worked for seems to have been washed away, and the world has regressed.
1. I wasn’t a wild radical but did march and write hoping to end the war in Viet Nam, and I requested conscientious objector status from my draft board.
2. I continued to support civil rights efforts, participating in an open housing process when we lived in Carol Stream, Illinois. I engaged with homeless people when we were in Mt. Holly, New Jersey, even standing in solidarity with homeless people who had pitched a tent city on the county courthouse lawn and attending the court proceedings.
3. I won’t say much about this, but the recent flood of news of sexual misconduct by public figures has stirred up painful memories of having to deal with a number of cases of such cases involving clergy colleagues, some even good friends.
B. Needless to say, the current news has me asking which way the world is about to turn: toward peace and justice, righteousness and mercy, or toward deeper corruption?
1. Violence and war are ubiquitous: as though more violence will address the threats from North Korea, Iran, Isis; as though more guns will protect us from crime and mass murder.
2. Regardless of the politics and economics of what emerges from tax and health care reform, the way it is playing out generates the anxiety of uncertainty for those who depend on things like Medicare, including Candy and me.
3. Scandals of money, sex, and power are hardly new, but it feels like a dam has burst, and asking if there will be any men left in public roles seems reasonable.
IV. So yes, Advent acknowledges our human pain and cries to God for intervention that brings wholeness to obvious brokenness. As discomforting as appearances may be, Advent doesn’t leave us in despair but offers some secure anchors that we can depend on to hold in this storm. Advent shifts our focus from the distresses we’d rather ignore during the holidays to a reliable hope for wholeness.
A. The anchor has been a Christian symbol of hope for centuries. The small ships of ancient times needed a way to weather sudden violent storms. The anchor was not used in the harbor, but in open water it was lowered from the bow of the ship to keep the prow pointing directly into the wind of the storm. That way the ship could ride up and down with the waves without rolling and capsizing. But when the anchor was doing its job, it was unseen, deep below the water’s surface. The security of the Advent anchor keeps us facing directly into the storm.
B. I don’t think Advent is a formula for easy comfort, but the scriptures we have been reading are like the unseen anchors that can keep us stable in the midst of our current turmoil, facing directly into the storm. They guide us to the wholeness we desperately crave and need.
1. Isaiah 40:1 introduces the section that was apparently written for Judah when they were carried into captivity in Babylon. In the worst crisis of their history, God said, “Comfort, O comfort my people.”
2. When we are impatient for the world to turn toward peace and justice, righteousness and mercy, 2 Peter 3:15 reminds us to regard God’s patience as salvation, not as permitting evil to thrive.
3. Isaiah 61:1 pointed ahead to Jesus’ mission that has been passed on to us because, the Spirit of the Lord God is upon us, because the Lord has anointed us; he has sent us to bring good news to the oppressed, and bind up the broken hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners.
4. 1 Thessalonians 5:23 assures us that the God of peace will sanctify us entirely, so we may be blameless.
5. As we read in John 1:23, John the Baptist still calls us to “make straight the way of the Lord,” in our own time and place.
Benediction from 1 Thessalonians 5:23-25
May the God of peace sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and will do this.