Advent Hope: Sermon preached Advent I

Sunday, November 29th, 2015

Jeremiah 33:14-16 Psalm 25: 1-4, 6-9 1Thessalonians 3:9-13 Luke 21:25-36

Advent Hope

Advent is a funny time – the beginning of things, during which we talk an awful lot about the end of things. We are remembering the birth of a baby, God’s own son born to a human family, an event that has already happened, over 2000 years ago. But it’s more than remembering, celebrating, we are reliving the waiting in anticipation, the hopeful expectation of that birth. Advent is our four week-long baby shower, as we quiet our lives and focus on what is about to happen, for all of us. That God loves us enough to send his son to be present with us in our midst.

As we are awaiting that birth, we are also looking forward, for the coming of God amongst us in glory at the end of the age. It’s like a baby shower with a doomsday prophet standing in the midst of it. And I don’t mean those women who seem to take such pleasure in scaring the expectant mom by telling horrible birth stories. But actual prophets, those who cry out about the end of the age.

We rejoice in the birth of Jesus because that is the foundation of the hope that is within us, that’s the core of our faith. And we have prophets in our midst reminding us that God will come again. Because this can’t be all there is, this can’t be how God leaves things. God will reconcile all things to God’s self, at the end of the age. When that day comes, as Luke would put it, how will we stand before the Son of Man? That’s the preparation, the staying awake, the paying attention of the time of Advent – to be more self aware, to be alert to the signs, to get ready to be held to account. Being held accountable is not a bad thing, it means that our actions matter. That our choosing to act, or choosing not to act will bear weight in the grand scheme of things.

In this intentional time of Advent we are reminded, that like expectant parents, we are poised between the already and the not yet, between what has been and all that is yet to be, and how we respond during this between time will have impact on all that is to come.

What’s interesting is that we aren’t alone this year – many seem to be feeling that same urgency, the sense that how we respond will matter. You know something is shifting when face book posts start asking, “How will you answer when your children ask you what you did to respond to the refugee crisis of our time?” Or, “How will you answer when your children and grandchildren ask you what you did to address climate change, when it was still possible to amend our ways?” When even the secular world starts talking about accountability – you know it’s getting serious.

While a little terrifying, is also a relief, because we certainly can’t change the world alone. And it’s never been about us alone, it’s always been about all of us together. It’s

important that we begin with our own response, our own accountability, but our lives are intricately connected with one another. Salvation has always been a group project, ask the prophets, it’s always been about the people of God, in the plural. Jesus is pretty clear as well, we are accountable to God for how we chose to care for those who are most vulnerable, for the least of us.

This coming week the leaders of the world will gather in Paris for the summit on climate change and they will make decisions that will affect all of us, and our children, our world forever.

If we are completely honest with ourselves, we know we are not exempt from the environmental changes taking place, though being member of the first world helps delay some of the consequences a bit. Which is what is truly dangerous about this moment in time – those of us who most directly contribute to the rising temperatures of the globe, are those who can ignore that reality for a bit longer. And as we ignore the connection between our behavior and the change in the global climate, the temperature rises, sea level rises, and extreme storms and drought ravage and destroy those who are most vulnerable.

On the eve of the Paris summit, the Archbishop of Polynesia, Dr. Winston Halapua, has put out a plea to the negotiators to act, not just on behalf of the peoples of the Pacific but on behalf of all generations to come. In his statement he prays that the negotiators for the first-world countries won’t treat the talks as “business as usual, because business as usual,” he says “will destroy all of us.”

In his words: “The point I make is that, yes, we (here in the Pacific) are the first ones to go. But the others who think they will be OK – they’re kidding themselves. They will not be OK. Because we love the world, and because we love you, we are saying: alter your way of life.”

Dr. Halapua, and the other New Zealand Anglican Bishops released a statement on climate change, calling for a binding agreement in which the leaders of the world commit to take all the action required to limit the global average temperature increase to no more than 1.5 degrees Centigrade above pre-industrial levels.

They write: “In many low-lying islands of the Pacific the water is already up to our knees, and it continues to rise. And the longer we talk, that does not change the speed of the water rising one iota. We can’t stop it now. It will continue to rise. But, if the temperature change could be held at 1.5 degrees Centigrade there’s a possibility that the water will stop rising in the future.” (Episcopal News Service, Friday, Nov. 27)

The parallels to our Gospel text are a little unnerving: Jesus said, “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. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.”

Let’s be clear, I don’t mean to imply that Jesus predicted this particular moment absolutely all those years ago. Rather that Jesus knew then that the powers of the world would always act in certain ways, that there would be wars and disasters, moments when it would seem to be the coming of the end. He was right; over and over these words have seemed accurate – throughout human history, because we don’t change all that much, we don’t learn.

And our merciful God is with us in the midst of it all. But there are moments in history when we must choose. When we choose to see what is happening, to understand and respond as we are able. Or we choose not to see, not to understand and not to respond. We can choose to stand with the Son of Man, or we can choose to stand with the powers that be, in the chaos of this world.

There are events happening in our world at this moment that are calling us to make that choice, to be accountable for our actions. We can feel the urgency, the point of decision upon us, what will we do for the least of us? Be they refugees from political violence, or those suffering from the rising sea level, or drought and famine, or raging tsunami… How will we respond, knowing we will be held accountable?

There is something truly poignant about the fact that the summit on climate change is being held in Paris. As the city of lights mourns, as we all mourn for her and her people, we can’t help but see these meetings in Paris against that backdrop of loss and grief. Somewhere in the heartache of Paris we were reminded just how connected we are to one another, perhaps there is hope to be found in our shared grief. Maybe we will remember that we are all in this together.

Let us pray this week for those who bear the weight of the decisions about climate change. Those who will make decisions that will affect the future of our world for generations to come.

And let’s pray for ourselves – that we may respond to the challenges of our time, so urgent in this moment. In some ways, we are uniquely qualified to lead, to show others how to be here in the expectant time. For we know what it is to be waiting with hope, keenly aware of all that has been, but with faithful expectation about all that is yet to be.

We know how to do Advent. And this Advent moment matters, in this moment between all that has been and all that is yet possible, how we act in will matter. We know what others may not. Those who participated in this miraculous saving birth are for the most part average people, who hold little power or authority in the world: Elizabeth and Zechariah, Mary and Joseph, Simeon and Anna, a handful of shepherds…

So if our Gospel stories of Advent are any indication, then the actions of a few faithful people in this moment might just be enough to make a difference for all of us.

That’s the hope of Advent.

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