Don’t wait, participate!!!
Advent 1, Year C, November 29, 2009
Luke 21 &Jeremiah 33:14-16
We’ve all been there before, to that place of many names: the pit, the shadow, the storm, the wall, the end of the line, the bottom, or, most descriptively, “hell on earth.” It’s the place at the end of a series of earth shattering events that rock us, and knock us, from our mooring. Loss of a job, loss of dignity, loss of hope. The death of a child, a baby, a dream. Broken heart, broken relationship, broken bank account or credit score. Sometimes the smallest thing can push us over the edge. But they are not small, at least not to us, they are earth shattering.
Individuals can hit rock bottom, but it’s even more devastating when entire people groups or nations hit rock bottom. Many say that our own society is in just such a place, with unemployment still soaring, retirement accounts still not rebounding the way we’d hoped, distrust of government high, wars and rumors of wars, natural disaster. When countries hit rock bottom, we begin to question if they are a “failed state.” The bible has it’s on words to describe entire communities hitting bottom: perhaps the two biggest are injustice, and unrighteousness.
But the crisis in the US is nothing compared to a community of people who worldwide find themselves feeling “lost” and alone: those living with AIDS.
1.4 million children have lost one or both parents to AIDS, in South Africa alone!
40 million people suffer from AIDS worldwide
90% contract it heterosexually, but over ½ are children.
These are people who feel lost, not necessarily in the sense of spiritual lostness, but literally, a feeling of being lost, forgotten, invisible, unwanted. When your entire community has together hit rock bottom, this is truly, painfully, earth-shattering.
Jesus reflects this “earth shattering” communal reality in his words in Luke 21. This isn’t so much a prediction of some far-off future, as it is a description of the hell-on-earth reality of the events that Jesus could see coming within the next 40 years in Judea and Jerusalem: earth shattering, culture destroying, the end of our society as we know it. He says, 25“There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. 26People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.”
Everything about Christmas this year points us to passivity. From playing the waiting game, expecting someone (be it President Obama or Jesus Christ himself) to save us. To wallowing in our sorrow, fear, and depression. To escaping it all with a few cold beers, several hours of mind-numbing escapist entertainment, partying ourselves into the new year, spending with credit that which we do not have. Jesus warns us:
34“Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life
Dissipation (partying), drunkenness (addictions of all kinds), the worries of this life:
The first two are escapist from the chaos, a conscious attempt to be “unconscious” of the chaos; the third is succumbing to the chaos itself, inhaling defeat and giving in to it in its completeness. We see both all around us as we watch our world celebrate “Christmas.” Both responses are passive, and lead us away from the meaning of the season.
In the midst of some of the greatest social challenges of our time, we cower from the problems and find ourselves tempted to enter head first into the hustle and bustle of the holidays, so that we can get some respite from the chaos.
But we can NOT be passive this Christmas season. Putting Christ in Christmas is not about the décor on the statehouse lawn, or song selections for your niece’s upcoming choir concert. NO! The work of Christmas is to embrace the stark contrast between gospel and reality. We cannot afford to lie dormant this Christmas, there’s too much going on: in our own lives, and in our world. Putting Christ in Christmas means we see the world as it is (filled with brokenness, injustice, hatred), and celebrate that God is making the world right again! We cannot do this as passive people. But only as active.
Advent invites us into another reality besides passivity. It’s a quiet invitation, one we can easily miss if overly consumed with presents and preparations, giving and receiving. It’s an invitation to see the world, and our lives in it, as they are designed to be.
And how are we designed to be? Jeremiah 33 gives us a clue as to what “the world made right” looks like: justice, and righteousness. This incredibly popular pair of words is used throughout scripture to paint the portrait of how God intends our world to be. They suggest a world where no one (including you!) ever feels alone. We are in this together, for good or ill, rather than competing for a limited amount of resources. Each person is fully aware that they have family, friends, church and community in place to support and care for them. When life is embarrassing, when our dignity is taken from us, when we feel we have hit bottom, righteousness means we have people in our lives we can be open and honest with, and who will accept us no matter what! It also means we are in right relationship with God, and fully aware of God’s loving healing presence in the midst of all that we are going through.
But justice and righteousness are primarily community terms. What does a just and righteous community look like for communities of people and nations? We are so accustomed to knowing that God loves me, the individual, we need to be reminded that God’s love is big enough, deep enough, extravagant enough to include not just individuals but entire communities!
Therefore the world God desires includes equitable access to resources such as health care and fair wages. It also means the re-integration into the fullness of community for all people, no matter what they have done.
Don’t wait for Christ to come in some far-off time, participate in what God is already doing in our world. Don’t wait for your salvation to come in the after-life, embrace Christ today, open the door, even just a crack, and allow God to come into your life, your chaos, your “earth shattering” experience.
Our lesson for First Advent asks us to choose which side of the line we’ll stand on when things turn chaotic in our lives.
For those of us caught up in passivity through escapist entertainment, pseudo-holiday celebrations, or ignoring the realistic state of our world, the chaos of these times threatens. For those of us who are caught up in the action of the Gospel, events of chaos provoke compassion, not fear. We do not fear the chaos, because we have seen beyond it, to the restoration of all Creation promised in Jesus.
The contrast of “terror” and “confidence” seems an apt image for a country engaged in a “war on terror,” or, in other words, a country in the midst of a “life shattering” identity crisis.
The choice is between passivity and activity, secular or Biblical Christmas. Jesus calls us to “stand up, and raise your heads. Be alert, be on guard.” Why? Why must we do these things, at this time? These are active postures that invite us to participate with God in what is happening around our world. And what is God doing in our world, and in our lives? Because the Son of Man is coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. 28Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” you know that the kingdom of God is near
Why be active this Christmas? Because there is an astonishing conflict between the reality of our lives and world and the gospel. The world and our lives in it are NOT what they should be. But God? God is on the move! Christmas is the story of God making the world right again. It’s the story of salvation and justice and right! This is not a passive story. Nor will it allow us to stay at rock bottom.
Will you enter this story?