Homily: Choosing Hope A Time Between Two Times

        Jeremiah 33:14-16    1 Thessalonians 3:12-4;2    Luke 21:25-28, 34-36

Today we begin Advent, the season of preparing for the Coming of Jesus. Our Parish theme is ‘Christ will come again’. Our focus this week asks the question, “Where is your hope in dark days?”

Our first reading speaks of the time when the people of Israel were returning from harsh days of exile, returning with joy and exultation. The prophet says: “Watch for this: The time is coming’—God’s Decree—‘when I will keep the promise I made to the families of Israel and Judah. When that time comes, I will make a fresh and true shoot sprout from the David-Tree. He will run this country honestly and fairly. He will set things right.”

This day promised by God will, however, be a day of justice, when the cities of ancient Israel and of modern Israel as well, the cities of our own nation, not just New York City and Washington, D.C., and New Orleans, but Pittsburgh and Detroit and St. Louis, too – will not be ruined, and the land will not be scarred by poverty and violence and greed. A day is surely coming, the prophet says, when all of God’s children will live in peace. Everyone will have enough to eat, shelter and safety, the goods of life provided so generously by a loving God. The one who is yet to come, the one we await, will bring this justice and righteousness, and we order our lives differently today as we wait and hope.

We are always living ‘between two Christmases’ – between the Christ who came long ago and the Christ who we await with joy. And yet we find time to celebrate this Christmas too, knowing faithfully that He is with us even now.

There’s a wonderful scene in the story of The Secret Garden, when a boy named Dickon and his friend Mary explore a most wonderful hidden garden. It appears that many branches of the trees and the rose bushes are dead – the word “gray” is repeated again and again. But Dickon takes out a knife and cuts into a branch, where he finds “a shoot which looked brownish green instead of hard, dry gray,” and he assures Mary that, deep inside, the tree is as a ‘wick’, as full of life and promise and hope as these two young people themselves.

A church that does what it’s supposed to do, like a good king, a church that lives and breathes God’s justice and God’s righteousness – not self/-righteousness, but /God’s/ righteousness – is a wick, a shoot, green and new on the inside, holding life and hope and promise no matter what things may look like on the outside. In the midst of loneliness and despair, poverty and war, in the face of communal depression and personal heartache, these churches throw open their doors and their hearts to all of God’s precious children and offer them a place, a community, where the quiet little flames of hope can be fanned into the fires of justice and peace, fanned into the warmth of spiritual homes for those who thought that there was no hope at all that they would ever find a place of such beauty and kindness, such tenderness and fierce hope, a welcome home in which to grow their faith by participating in the dream of God. These are churches that love worship and learning, churches that are open and generous, full of feeling, beautiful and just, churches that long for, and draw their strength from, the dream of God.  These churches are radiant centers of hope and love and peace.

In so many ways, the world around us may appear, well, broken, especially at the end of a long and bitterly divisive political season: relationships within families and communities, political parties and governmental processes, nations and economies and social systems have been damaged almost beyond repair. Even the earth itself cries out in weather systems that bring destruction more sudden than the mightiest of conquering armies, and we witness the same part of New York City that once burned, now under water. We wonder, too, if we’ll ever be able to clean up the mess we have made in our rivers and oceans, the air and the ground itself. If we look around us, justice and righteousness do not appear to be the order of the day. Too many people, especially children, awaken each day not in safety and security but in fear for their lives; too many awaken to another day of hunger and anxiety, another day of suffering and pain. While we may be annoyed at having to take our shoes off to get through airport security, low-wage workers struggle just to provide shelter for their children, and mothers in Africa watch their children starve while our leaders discuss whether to cut our foreign aid.   This Advent I feel an urgent need for the light that comes from God, and I do not think I am the only one. The clouds of anxiety about the future are hovering so low and close that you can barely see your hand in front of your face. I find myself, like all of us in this Advent season, holding on for dear life to the reassurance that God intends to make the world right again.

Advent. Perhaps the most beautiful of all the church seasons (or perhaps I say that because it’s my favorite), certainly brings out the poet not only in the prophet but in the commentators as well. Leonard Beechy calls Advent “Twilight time,” a time, when we’re not really sure whether it’s just about to get lighter or to get darker — like the thin places where we feel even for a moment the presence of the holy. I was taught that we live our lives in the “already-but-not-yet” of God’s reign, and Beechy connects that beautifully to this season: “The church exists to remind us”  he wries, “ that we live in the time between the times, between what is dying and what is being born, between the ‘already’ of Christ’s reign and the ‘not yet’ of Advent.” At the beginning of another church year, we are reminded of the power of the story we hear again and again to draw us more deeply into our own lives. After a long and terrible night, said Jeremiah, a brilliant morning would dawn and a generation of God’s people would wake up in safety in a place renamed ‘Justice’.

Perhaps we will feel overwhelmed at times; it wouldn’t be so very unreasonable, in the face of so much brokenness and despair, for us to lose heart. And yet, just when the people give up, God sends a prophet, or even a church full of them, to speak a word of hope. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., must have felt overwhelmed many times in his struggle for justice. But he kept on keeping on, drawing strength from his sure conviction that “unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word. There is a Greek word for it: ‘Prolepsis’. It means ‘acting as if what we expect to happen has already happened.

Advent is a time of waiting, filled with hope, for the One who is to come. When we live in love and act in hope, when we gather again and again at the table to remember what Jesus did and to know that Jesus is with us once again, we are people of Advent hope. We tend to think of the month of December as the Christmas season, and the secular world ironically reinforces that premature celebration, if only to entice us to early and excessive spending. But Advent is a different kind of time, just as we in the church are on a different “calendar” from the rest of the world. This ‘alternative New Year’s Day’ affirms time as God’s home and workplace, not as a calendar of accumulating years but as a movement toward fulfillment, not a day for self-improvement resolutions but for community reaffirmation of trust in God’s promises, past, present, and future.  Our task here, on the near edge of Advent, is to inspire each other to give our lives each day to God’s own dream of compassion and peace, and to persist in living our lives in hope.

If we would stop during this Advent, not Christmas, season, and look around at our communities, where would we see justice and righteousness? How easy is it to miss the people who awaken each day not in safety but in fear for their lives?

While we fear violence ourselves, are we missing the “slow-motion violence” of economic injustice that visits injury, pain, loneliness and hunger upon those who suffer the effects of greed and negligence, day in and day out? What is the deepest longing of our hearts, and are those longings in line with the longings of the heart of God?               Kathryn Matthews Huey


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