Sermon for First Week of Advent

Advent 1
First week of Advent. Bio-regional wreath by Sarah Holst

By Rev. Denise Griebler
St. Peter’s Episcopal
Dec. 2, 2018
Advent 1C & Homecoming

An earthquake in Alaska, fires in California, hurricanes, flooding, draught, the wars – especially the war in Yemen – refugees at the border, people living under constant threat of deportation or eviction or water shut-off or exorbitant rent increases and more auto plants being shut down. The Rev. Karen Kerrigan (who was just ordained a Roman Catholic Woman Priest here at St. Peter’s) observed that we don’t even need to read the gospel this week – we could just read the newspaper!

But you came for good news.  Well, maybe not – this is, after all, St. Peter’s!  And we are good with saying that all hell has broken loose.  We name what that means in this time and place.

Still, I think we all hunger for a blessing, a promise, for hope.

Well, the gospel may not have sounded all that hopeful, but actually, if you listen closely you will hear this message within:  a new Day is coming.  At it’s heart, this is not a message of doom and gloom, but a message of abiding hope.

Jeremiah – a prophet for our day, to be sure, who took the Word of God out into the streets.  He was a one-man street theater protest – and he was constantly at it.   Just when the king was proclaiming that it was time to make Jerusalem great again, Jeremiah said: It’s rotten to the core and the gig is up.  And he was right.  At the border was not a group of desperate refugees but a real invading army armed to the teeth.  They broke in and entered and they took prisoners and forced the elite and all of the skilled craftspeople into exile in Babylon.  And yet Jeremiah – after the worst happens – didn’t say, “I told you so.  That’s what you get!”  No.  Jeremiah offers words of hope and comfort:

The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will fulfill the promises I made to my people. I’ll raise up a new shoot out of that old stump you thought was dead and gone.  And that new little shoot will live in my Way of justice and right-relationships. 

700 hundred years later, Jesus picked up were Jeremiah left off.

This is the first day of the new year?  Advent begins the liturgical calendar. We begin with the end.  Not with the baby in the manger, but with the outrageous and unpredictable rabbi.  In the last weeks of the year we were reading Mark’s account of the last days of Jesus’ life before he was arrested and tried and executed.

Remember how that last week went down:

The street-theater mock processional into Jerusalem at Passover.

The way he came into the Temple and turned over the tables and chased out the money changers and the ones who sold doves to the poor for sacrifices.

The way the disciples were so taken with the extravagance of the place.  And the ways Jesus said, “Look around, take it all in – it’s all going to come down.

Then he watched as people brought their offerings – rich people putting in their contribution and making a show of it – a poor widow putting in everything she had – being made poor by the very institution that ought to be advocating for her welfare.

He says it’s all coming down.

The passage that we read this morning is the way these events continue to unfold in Luke.  A crowd has gathered around him and he’s teaching all these things, right there in the Temple.

Back then they wanted to know, when is all this going to happen?  When is the Temple coming down?  When will all hell break loose? So this little bit we read today – it’s not some dire prediction about the end of the world – though if he was here today I think he’d say something pretty similar about empire and all who do empire’s bidding. Or who just go along. Back then  he was talking about the Roman empire.  And the way the religious leaders and local political hacks were cooperating with empire at every turn.

He said this rotten system that is grinding you and your neighbors and creation up – it won’t last.   When all hell breaks loose – and it will — look up.  Don’t be discouraged.  Don’t lose heart.  Or be dispirited.  Don’t numb out.  Pay attention.

He talked about the Human One coming on a cloud – not baby we were expecting!  But we’d be wrong to think he meant that God or God’s anointed is going to ride in on a cloud to save us.  He says look up.  Look around.  Perhaps you will glimpse The Human One coming.  Right here.  Right now.  Keep watch.

When I am overwhelmed, I forget to look around.  I forget to look up.  I forget that I am not alone.  I think I have to figure out everything by myself. And that I have to do it by myself.  And I wind up collapsing in on myself.

I think about what it was like to give birth.  What helped me meet the pain and not fall apart, was doing something totally counter-intuitive to me – it was looking outside myself.  Looking the lit candle.  Finding an image I’d never before noticed in a painting: a stairway that curved up toward an open door.  Looking into the eyes of my partner.  Staying aware of his faithful presence.  Breathing with my dula and with my partner.

Arundhati Roy has famously written: “Not only is another world possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.”  Look around.  Watch.  Wait.  Listen.  Do not give up hoping for the new Day that is coming.  We are the ones who are giving birth.  We are the ones who are alive, like that little branch that is, as the old ones used to say, not dead, but wick. Green.  Alive.

The gospel calls us to pay attention to the signs.  These are the signs of Advent:

+ We kindle the lights of Advent and call them hope, peace, joy and love.

+ We come home when we hear the call – home to each other, home to God, home to our neighbors, home to Beloved Community. (I’m so glad you have come home to St. Peter’s today.)

+ We pay attention, to the ways God is present, to the ways it feels like God is absent, to the things that are gestating within, and we look for signs of a new Day when we are living in right-relationship to ourselves, each other and our neighbors, and to creation.

Last week I was in Chicago – I arrived just as the first really big winter storm hit.  It was beautiful.  The kind of storm where the snow sticks to every branch and the world is utterly, quietly transformed.

The next morning I was driving on a road that winds beside the Des Plaines river with forest preserve on either side.  Just ahead a deer stepped out of the woods along the side of the road.  When I was almost beside her, she ducked back into the forest.  I’d thought I’d be able to see her in the woods – only a second had passed, but she had disappeared.  Try as I might, I could see no trace of her.  In this season of watching for signs, this felt like one somehow.  Like the way we glimpse the promises of God – or even God’s presence – for a moment and then we loose sight altogether.  But we have seen it or felt or known it.  And that makes all the difference.

Advent is a time when we say to one another, yes, I noticed that too; yes, I’ve heard her breathing too.   We gather around the candles, sing songs, tell stories and hope and wait.  And we see it and hear it and sense it together.

There is a story about a Teacher who sat around a blazing fire with a small number of students late at night. They told stories and gazed at the stars and the moon together.  Then the Teacher asked this question: “How can we know when the night has ended and the day has begun?”

One person said that she knows it’s day when she looks look out on the distant hillside and tell the difference between a goat and a sheep.   The Teacher acknowledged that it was a good answer but not the one she was looking for.

And then after some silence a second person spoke up and said that for him the new day begins when there’s enough light so that you can tell the difference between an oak tree and a maple.

Again the Teacher acknowledged another good answer, but still not the one she sought.

A long silence passed, and within it the Teacher looked into the face of each person around the fire before she spoke her answer: “When you look in to the eyes of a human being and see a brother or sister, that’s when you know that is it morning.  If you cannot see a sister or brother in the human being before you it will always be night.”

May the new Day come.  Blessed Advent, beloveds.

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