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God’s Promised Day: Hope

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Welcome to Advent, the four weeks of waiting and preparing for something new, something God, to be born in our midst. Into this sacred time, I invite you to pause. Breathe. Be ready. Jan Richardson writes, “The season of Advent means there is something on the horizon the likes of which we have never seen before … What is possible is to not see it, to miss it, to turn just as it brushes past you. And you begin to grasp what it was you missed, like Moses in the cleft of the rock, watching God’s [back] fade in the distance. So stay. Sit. Linger. Tarry. Ponder. Wait. Behold. Wonder. There will be time enough for running. For rushing. For worrying. For pushing. For now, stay. Wait. Something is on the horizon.”[1]

Something is on the horizon.

I grew up in a small(ish) town an hour west of here. As the extended hours of darkness settle into the winter days once again, I love glancing up at the night sky. There is something comforting, something home, for me in the stars and the crisp cold of the season. When I was a teenager, the dark, the night, was my place of escape. The driveway to our house ran up the hill behind our house. There, after each snow storm, the plow deposited a big drift of snow. Whenever I felt inundated by school, or any the other life stressors, I would put on my winter coat, grab a leash and the 100-pound collie/St. Bernard/golden retriever mixed, furball of a dog we had, and went down the backyard hill to the snow pile. There I would climb the cold, white, sloping mound and lie down at the top. Tears often froze on my face as I struggled with life’s teenage dilemmas. And it was there that something cosmic, something Holy, something-beyond-me connected, as I gazed at the constellations. Deep inside there was a remembering, a knowing, a something on the horizon that I began to grasp. “Mary Oliver remembers spending the night in a forest alone, experiencing ‘nothing between me and the white fire of the stars but my thoughts,’ ‘By morning,’ she reflects, ‘I had vanished at least a dozen times into something better.’”[2]

Something… something better… is on the horizon…

In the 8th century B.C.E., Isaiah spoke of a BIG vision of hope to the little country of Judah. This was time in which the kingdom of David had been divided in two: The northern kingdom of Israel, and Judah, with the Temple in Jerusalem, to the south. Isaiah was decrying the social injustices of the day and declaring that Judah would be invaded for turning away from Yahweh, and instead worshiping money and power, as gods. Much of this First Isaiah’s message revolves around the imminent destruction and exile for the evil God saw being imposed on the majority of the people by the ruling elite. But yet… today… there is a snippet of hope…

Come! Let us walk in the light of the Living Presence!

For there is something on the horizon…

Something BIG. Something cosmic. Something Holy. On this MOUNTAIN. Higher than all the hills. God’s promise is BIG… with the irony being that Mount Zion is not all that impressive as mountains go. At 2,500 feet, compared to Mt Everest, Mt Kilimanjaro, or even Mt Fuji, Zion is not that big of a deal. But yet that image of a peaceful community to which Isaiah eludes, that hope of the entire world will begin to walk in God’s ways, a Holy Interceding, a Holy birthing of something new

THIS was what the people were waiting for.

And this is good news! Peace. Hope. Harmony. No more swords. No more spears. No more war economy. THAT is the Holiest of Hopes. In his book, The Search for Common Ground, Howard Thurman wrote about our individual, and collective, “memory of a lost harmony.” This great harmony God has created in and for each and every person. And the truth that “…in the midst of all of (our) divisions, chaos, disorder, and broken harmony that (we are) made (by God) in and for harmony…”[3]

We are made in… and for… harmony…

THIS is what the people were waiting for. Hoping for.

And what we wait for… hope for… still…

It is in this spirit of Holy Harmony, that we encounter Jesus, with the caveat that the reading from Matthew is a fascinating place to begin to think about Advent—and in particular hope. On the surface, this is a disconnected, apocalyptic, end-of-times story Jesus tosses into our midst which doesn’t seem to have much, if anything, to do about hope, or harmony. This morning’s text pops up for us from near the end of Jesus’ life—not the beginning. Here we catch a glimpse of the reverberating of despair and violence of the first century Roman Empire. Many people in Jesus’ community were anticipating… really hoping for… the end of the world. It is into this sense of cataclysmic disharmony that Jesus prepares us for the unknown, and the unexpected. Keep awake. Be ready.

But for what?

Centuries later, in our own time, this idea that “one will be taken and one will be left” from the reading (Matt 24:40b), has led some people to cling to the hope that those of us who are good, righteous, and/or just, will be taken into heaven, while evil and sinners, will remain on earth.  

But is this really what Jesus meant? If so, why would he pair these examples of a community torn apart with the ancient Near Eastern story of a great flood? How would Jesus have thought these two narratives are connected? For if you remember, in the story of Noah, it is the good who remain on earth while everyone, and everything else, parishes—not the good that are suddenly taken away. So which is it? Do the good stay here (with “here” being earth), or do the good get taken (with “taken” being a vague, non-descript reference to exactly what?)? Does evil stay here? Or, does evil get swept away?

Maybe Jesus is telling us that we can never know what is on the horizon.

But God is there. Be ready. Stay awake.

Into these dystopian narratives of Armageddon, I couldn’t help but think about the reality of Global Warming and Climate Change. Into these scientific truths, how might we hear Jesus’ apocalyptic foreshadowing? In the political divisions, chaos, disorder, and broken harmony, can we be ready? How long must the world wait for something new, something God, to be born? Can there be any hope that something new is on the horizon?

Advent. A time of slowing, anticipating, and preparing. Watching. Belden Lane tells us to “look for the sacred just beyond our grasp,” for there we have an opportunity to more fully “open ourselves to what we see” and can “find another truth sneaking up on us, a growing serenity with what’s simply there, with what we already have, what we’ve known all along: our connectedness to everything else, (and) our utter inseparability from God.”[4]

Our utter inseparability from God.

Did you hear that?!? THAT is God’s promise. THAT is the Great Hope born for us.

Are you ready?

I hope so, because now… it is our turn. It is our turn to take THAT good news, THAT promise, God’s promise… the hoped-for affirmation that God is Utterly-and-Inseparably-With-Us, here and now and always.

Beloved, THAT is the good news we are called to take out into a beleaguered world.

For something new is being born.

A Holy Something that is on the horizon, the likes of which we have never seen before.

The Holy understanding that we are utterly inseparable from God.

YOU are utterly inseparable from God.

WE are utterly inseparable from God.

ALL is utterly inseparable from God.

THIS is the good news the world has been waiting for.

So let us go—and make THIS God’s promised day!

~Pastor Kris

Reflection on Isaiah 2:1-5 and Matthew 24:36-44 offered December 1, 2019

[1] Richardson, Jan. From Cressman, Lisa, ed. “Backstory Preaching™️.” Quotations and Reflections for Advent. Backstory Preaching. Accessed November 27, 2019. https://www.backstorypreaching.com/.

[2] Oliver, Mary, Twelve Moons. New York: Back Bay Books, 1979.3; Quoted by Lane, Beldon, The Great Conversation: Nature and the Care of the Soul. New York: Oxford University Press. 2019. 122.

[3] Thurman, Howard. The Search for the Common Ground. Richmond, Ind.: Friends Thurman., 1986. 23-24.

[4] Lane, Belden C. The Great Conversation: Nature and the Care of the Soul. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2019. 215.