30 Nov. 2014
Friends, Happy New Year! Today we begin the season of Advent. This is the season that leads up to Christmas on December 25. It is a season of unfolding. The root of the word advent comes from the word that means, revealing. We are in the season that leads up to that great day when we celebrate Immanuel, God with us, coming into the world.
Advent, though, is counter cultural and not something many of us like. It catches us off guard. I remember last year the comments I got regarding the celebration of Advent, about how we did not sing enough Christmas carols or have enough red and green in the sanctuary. I get it, but I want us to really being to understand what this season is. It is a time of revelation. It is a time of patience in a world and in a season that is all about Black Friday and Cyber Monday. It is a time of anticipation in climate that wants immediate answers. It is a time of reflection in a world that demands our divided attentions.
Advent is not a happy, clappy, super joyous time. It is a time, in the words of my friend and Chicago pastor, Tom Gaulke – “… of hope, and fear, and desperation, and anxiety. It’s a time of longing for the radical re-orientation of all things at the hand of the God who identifies with the poor and the oppressed and the downtrodden.” Advent is a season of unfolding revelation. It confronts the world head on, and stands firm in the promise that there is something more. There is something greater. There is something about turn!
These readings from Isaiah and Mark are both bearers of that something new.
We have the prophets taking about fire coming down that causes the waters to boil. He speaks of mountains quaking and tumbling at the presence of the Eternal One. The prophet tells us that God is the potter and we the clay – we are the work of God’s hand and that we are all God’s people.
Something is about to turn.
In Mark, Jesus is giving harbingers of the end. And for the hearers of this text in 68 or 69 AD when it was written – they were living these words. The rebellion against Rome was in full swing. The Hebrew people had achieved monumental victories and because of the dysfunction in Rome – there were at a moment of relative peace and power. However, they knew the history of Rome. As soon as a new emperor was installed – the campaign would start again. As soon as a new administration was in place – things would again be a struggle. They understood that the end of their world was immanent – Would the temple stand?
The world was about to turn.
In the midst of all of this – Jesus is telling them to keep awake. To be prepared because when the end come something will happen. The Son of Humanity will come and bring with him a new order. Stay awake! Something is about to turn.
Because of the political climate of the time, Jesus was calling his disciples to follow him to the cross and be radically unaligned. He was calling them away from the temple structure of the time – away from the powers that sought to oppress through strict adherence to the law. Away from those who profited off the backs of the poor. He was calling them to live outside of a system that aligned itself with the political powers of the day in order to secure its success.
And, he was calling them away from the zealotry that would result in the violent overthrow of the Roman Empire. Jesus was calling his disciples to be fully present in the Reign of God – even in the midst of the world burning around them. He was calling them to be radicals – even if that meant alienating themselves from both sides of the power play.
Jesus, in this passage, is foreshadowing Gesthsamene in is plea to Stay Awake. For, this radical call requires alertness and vigilant awareness. It calls the disciples into the darkest and most dangerous places of the world – those places that make them uncomfortable. Jesus is calling the disciples to be the doorkeepers and watch the world for the big picture – to see the systems at play that prey on the vulnerable and the oppressed.
Like Isaiah – be at door and look a the deeds of your ancestors and see the story in full.
This past week the news has seemed like it is the end of the world as we know it.
Fires are raging in the streets of Ferguson, MO as people react to the decision not to indict the officer who shot and killed an unarmed teenager – Mike Brown.
This story has captured the attention of the country and has drawn deep lines of division in this country. Dividing those who see this a a problem of racial injustice, and those who say it was a police officer doing his job. Cleaving those who see the response of the polices as the perpetuation of a corrupt system that is constantly covering up facts when it may blemish their image, and those who say Mr. Brown got what he deserved. This story is dividing this nation between those whose backs have been walked on for too long and those who see rioters as thugs bent on destruction.
“But in those days, after the suffering, the sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light.” A long night will cover the land. A night of unrest and uncomfortability. A night where God’s people will have to look at the world and see it for what it is. A place of pain. A place of sorrow. A place of greed. A place of hate.
The people of God will have to see the world as the broken and sin torn place that it is.
The church – you and me – will have to step back and not be afraid to name the injustices going on around us. Jesus has pleaded with us to stay awake. And as anyone who has held vigil at the side of dying loved one knows – it is hard and it is uncomfortable. But in doing so, it opens us up to see something greater than ourselves. We get the opportunity to be God’s presence in the middle of the darkest night.
This means for those of us who look like me – it means that we have to look with radical and humble honesty at the history of oppression in this country, and admit – whether we like it or not – we benefited from a system that has for generations dehumanized people. Isaiah tells us to look at the deeds of our ancestors.
Look at the English settlers who came to this land and began a systematic purging of the native population. Look at the ships sailing form Africa fill with free labor. Look at the way both the northern and southern economies of pre-civil war America benefited from slave labor. Look at who after emancipation, laws were established that force freed slaves to become share croppers if they hoped to have any semblance of freedom. Look at how literacy tests and Jim Crow laws prevented a people from exercising their right to vote. Look a how a war on drugs has created a system that penalizes poor persons of color more harshly that rich white people for similar amounts of the same drug – just one has crack and the other has cocaine.
We are called to stand at the door and see the whole story for what it is.
As the door keepers, we see the world beyond ourselves and see the bigger story. We see that the fires of Ferguson are not just they fire of people bent on destruction, but are the voice of the unheard. The fires are the voice of those who have been subjugated for 450 years.
And to those who do not look like me. You too, are called to be at the door and to tell your stories. To help us see that there is more to the story that what we experience. We are to share each others stories.
And, friends, this is not easy work. It is tedious and tiring. But Stay Awake!
Jesus is calling us to radical realignment and this means also standing next to those we consider the enemy. It means for those angry at the decision in Ferguson to pray for the officer and his family. To pray for those who persecute and oppress. It calls for those who think the officer was in the right to stand next to the rioter and pray with them. This is the uncomfortable position to which we are being called.
We are being called, like Baptist Bootleg Preacher Will Campbell to a place of radical reconciliation. Will would one night be eating dinner with Dr. King planning a march or some sort of protest and then next night be sipping whiskey and praying with members of the KKK. He was awake to the reality that there was something significantly broken in the lives of the Klan members, and he remembered that in Christ was reconciling all of the world to himself…and to him this meant all the world. He was awake to the fact that God has the potential to work in all sides of the story.
This made some people along whose side he fought for civil rights hate him, because he dared see God in the enemy. And yet, this too, is what Jesus is calling us towards. A Radical realignment.
It is not easy. It is tiring, and tedious. It may make us a pariah in the sight of people we love. But Jesus in calling us to the side of the oppressed is also calling us to the side of the enemy – oppressed by sin and brokenness.
It may cause us to loose some friends. Honesty can hurt. But Jesus is calling us to be radicals and step out of the systems that hold God’s people down. This journey is not easy, but stay awake.
“You do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn.”
This journey of radical realignment finds its fulfillment at the cross. For the master was dined with his friends in the evening, was arrested at midnight, was denied at cockcrow, and handed over to die at dawn. Because he refused to align himself with the systems of oppression. Stay awake.
Something is about to turn.
Something began to turn on that hill of calvary. At the cross where our savior bled. Something began to turn when the Son of Humanity, Immanuel, God with Us emptied himself so fully that even blood and water flowed from his sided. Something happened when the whole of history compacted itself on the place of the skull and then exploded again from the cave in the cemetery.
Something happened when Jesus died.
The systems of oppression began their slow crumble. The fire of the Divine began to burn away the edifice of avarice that had for so long tried to keep God’s people from God.
The systems of oppression that sought to separate the Hebrew People from the Roman People from the Greek People began the slow melt into oblivion.
The systems of oppression that sailed slave ships from west Africa to the Eastern United States began to become unmasks for the sin they were.
The systems of oppression that have bound people for so long to the chains of intolerance, ignorance, racism, sexism, homophobia, classism, have begun to loosen.
The day is not yet come where these systems are destroyed, but the birth pangs of liberation have begun.
And birth is messy. There is screaming. There is blood. There is water. There are tears. But there is joy. Theres is that cry of new life. That breath of relief. There are the a new baby. And that is how it is. That is what it is. This is what is going on.
The fires of Ferguson, I pray, will be the ashes from which a new conversation about our history can be made. Where the voice of the unheard will be heard, where those of us with power will admit with humility that we have not listened. That the fires in Ferguson are the first step in what will be a new world.
A world where we cry like the prophet, “Yet, O LORD, you are our father. We are the clay and you the potter. We are all the work of your hand. Do not be exceedingly angry, and do now remember our iniquity forever. Now Consider, O LORD, we are your people.”
Friends, this Advent season is a season of unfolding. Of the unfolding of God’s promises for God’s people. This is the season of God’s revealing. Where we see that God is in the midst of the troubles in our world. Where we see God is at work in the midst of the troubles of our world. This is the season where we stay awake and watch what God is doing. Where God is going. We stand as doorkeepers watching the whole story unfold. We are present in solidarity with the oppressed and praying at the sides of enemy. This is the season where we step away from systems of the world and into the Reign of God. This is the season where we simultaneously wait fro the revealing of the promise of God and live into the promise that has been fulfilled.
This is the season where we proclaim the mystery of our faith: Christ has die. Christ has risen. Christ will come again!
Thanks be to God.