Advent, is ‘Waiting for What’?

Posted: November 30, 2018 in Uncategorized

Advent, is ‘Waiting for What’?

For most of us Christmas has begun. For some it is already the Christmas Rush! Like a front row of an All black scrum, the season is bound and set, poised to roll over us with all its demands, distractions, details, dilemmas, delights and duties. For many retailers, it’s a “make-or-break” time of year. Or maybe it’s make-and-break, because the more exhausted and overworked they become, the better their business is doing. They make it business-wise by getting broken physically and spiritually. For children, it’s deciding what to put on a list, where to hang the decorations, and who will take them to the mall.

For teachers and parents, it’s the challenge of keeping a gaggle of fidgety children focused on their schoolwork while arranging some special programs and projects that will honour the season. For some of us us at church, it’s a time for arranging frantic rehearsals, for getting all the decorations out, for extra activities, and services that are hopefully fuller than ever.

Are we prepared for all of this? Is your master list ready with everything you will need to do and buy over the next month? But before you go off down that path adding stress to your lives take a minute to ask yourself what you think Advent is all about. In Christian terms that is. Paul in Thessalonians, the text we didn’t read today urges the people to “Abound in Love,” we might ask how? How does one abound in love?

We speak of Advent as a time for preparing to welcome Jesus into our hearts at Christmas. Is that perhaps how we abound in love? By welcoming Jesus into our hearts? That is of course while acknowledging that he might already be there as well. Paul talks a lot about Christ living in him, and he in Christ. Something about this intimacy is what all the Advent/Christmas language is about so maybe to abound in love is to welcome the one who comes to bring us God’s love. This also seems to fit with the neo-orthodoxy that in Jesus, the Christ event is encountered. In theological language the Word of God breaks into history from outside as the incarnation. In traditional parlance, the only thing that matters is the judgement of God on humanity by way of the Word of God descending upon us. Or using a metaphor from Jeremiah that Karl Barth loved so much, the Word of God as Christ-event hits humanity like a hammer that breaks the rock into pieces. Here we have a theology, powerful, during the time of the Second World War when Christianity was in danger of losing its independence by accommodating itself too closely to political ideologies and nationalism especially that of Nazi Germany. In that context the Word of God breaking in from the outside was the critical, counter-cultural act of prophetic witness. This provides us an interesting challenge even today with the idea that United States American Christians align themselves to a political party. The religious right with the republicans and the liberal left with the democrats. The challenge is not that Christians take politics seriously because we should, but rather that they do so without questioning the ideologies. After all, as Walter Wink has argued ‘God is human” and David Galston has argued here in this Church a couple of years ago ‘It is God’s human future that matters’.

The quote from Walter Wink, a theologian and thinker is this: And this is the revelation: God is HUMAN…It is the great error of humanity to believe that it is human. We are only fragmentarily human, fleetingly human, brokenly human. We see glimpses of our humanness, we can only dream of what a more human existence and political order would be like, but we have not yet arrived at true humanness. Only God is human, and we are made in God’s image and likeness—which is to say, we are capable of becoming human. (Walter Wink, The Human Being, p 26)

I think he is implying here that as a species we are yet to become complete, that evolution is still an unfolding event, that as unfinished we are still filled with potential. God’s image is what we seek to be. In fact, it is a co-creative evolution or as others have said we are on the individuation of God journey. There is an immeasurable hope in this approach, why; because the advent story says so. It attempts to unfold this journey for our use.

David Galston reminds us that Religion is philosophy beyond technical philosophy. Technical philosophy studies wisdom out of love by asking questions about human knowledge, religion, philosophy involves living out wisdom in the practices of economic and social relationships. John D Caputo in his review of David’s book writes; “Religion is the issue of human wisdom, not of a superhuman invasion that descends upon us from on high, like an avatar, to steer us through the choppy waters of time. If we don’t understand that, religion will make us miserable.”

The key is that religion is the issue of human wisdom and this is why religion is involved in politics because it is imbedded in societal practices and it is after all a history of systems concerning how to be in the world. Religion is a lifestyle and in our current form, a set of beliefs that can be conditioned by superstition and I would claim a fear driven, standing over awe that needs to be challenged.

And talking about a set of beliefs we remind ourselves here that orthodoxy claims that God becoming Man or Jesus being God’s Son, is a claim that only a Jesus as Christ, as the event of the incarnation, can break in from heaven as the Word of God? Whereas progressive Christianity claims that Jesus would never have thought that of himself That as a human, Jesus can only ever be the same as everyone else?

So, on this first Sunday of Advent we begin our wait for the arrival of the Human One. It is a hope filled wait because it is a hope beyond the supernatural, beyond the dependence upon a miracle. It is a hope of a full revelation of what it means to be human, and for those of us who follow Jesus, we wait with hope for the revelation as to how his life, his contribution shows us how this becoming human is possible.

We start our preparation with an assessment of our need, an inventory of the challenges that face us. In the symbolic language of the heart we read, “There will be signs in the sun, moon, and stars. On the earth, there will be dismay among nations in their confusion over the roaring of the sea and surging waves.” We say these things, knowing that they are poetic ways of saying that life will be operating out of patterns; unprecedented, unpredictable, and unnerving patterns. They are not magic, supernatural events but rather events that well up from the deep, like uncontrollable forces welling up and causing the sea to roar and the waves to surge. There are human limits to this because the human heart is the place of the deep. Rivalry, vengeance, hatred, chaos, and dark moods spill from the depth where they have been out of sight, out of mind and out of consciousness. They surprise us with their crudeness, barbarism and attractiveness.

We think here of improbable political campaigns and a popularity that seems to baffle all the experts. How can people speak so arrogantly, despising almost everyone else and flaunting their own glory, and still be taken seriously? How can people ridicule the weak, handicapped and female and not plummet in the poles? Our wisest observers keep predicting it will never last but it goes on. We ask what is it about us that creates this? What dark place in our psyche is being manipulated?

We think also of the terrorist groups, the extremists that attract many lonely, lost and angry young people and enlist them in a cause they believe gives them purpose. Committed to purifying the world as their purpose they blow up the relics of ancient civilizations, treat women as abused property and they glory in cruelty; competing with one another for who can be the cruelest. And they do all this in the name of God. Where do these dark impulses come from? What is it about the human heart that makes indiscriminate revenge more valuable to them than life itself?

We think of the front edge of technology and the development of artificial intelligence, of robots who no longer need human involvement. We think of fear based systems of control, of governance, of CCTV surveillance of our every move, of individual tracking and analysis of what we do, why we do it and where, and then the intimate management of our every moment of life. And we ask what does religion have to say to this? What would Jesus say about this?

“The planets and other heavenly bodies will be shaken, causing people to faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world.” To me this is saying confidence in the future as that which flows from the present and the past will be shaken resulting in fear and foreboding. Isn’t that the elephant in the room? The challenges we face look different to us than those we have ever faced before. We don’t know quite what to do.

When we ask ourselves what is a Christian Peace we put aside the complexity, the systemic and simplify our response. At this level we are beginning to suspect what we already knew. That is that our violence in response to another’s violence will only create more and deeper violence in the long run. Look at the Ukraine this last week or so.

And when we look at the birthplace of Christianity, we see a similar experience. Every time we intervene it only seems to make it worse and creates more enemies that we then must subdue. And what we do in other places seems to somehow infect us in ways we had not anticipated. Our own lonely and disaffected young people catch the violent spirit and turn it on ourselves in random ways that make us all afraid. We hear stories of soldiers who come home broken and unable to sustain families and careers in the years ahead of them. How do we pay for all of this and still maintain our own educational and transportation infrastructure? This is our world of early Advent, but our text doesn’t stop there.

“Then they will see the Human One coming on a cloud with power and great splendour.” The Human One is coming! Tradition says he is coming from another place, not this place where everything seems so crazy. Tradition says that his power will be convincing and self-evident, nonviolent and full of truth. It will be so obvious, attractive, radiant and splendid that we will wonder why we had never seen it before. Our imitative souls will begin imitating kindness, gentleness, generosity, compassion and love, all seen in the Human One who comes toward us, visible to all as though on a cloud.

The Advent world is the world where these things are beginning to happen but we are not all the way there yet. If you know how to look you see little signs; messages of hope breaking in through the television, behaviour in young people that evidence caring for the earth and the beaten down people who live on it, new ways of thinking that question the age-old equation of violence equaling order. When you see these things happening, stand up straight, and raise your heads, your redemption is near. I don’t know about you, but I see these signs everywhere. The trick is that you have to know where to look and you have to choose to see them.

“Jesus told them a parable: ‘Look at the fig tree and all the trees. When they sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is near.’” If you want to see these signs you have to look on things that are living. Rocks don’t sprout leaves and neither do rifles or bayonets or bombs. If you watch where life is happening, where cells are vital and green, where people have hope and care for one another, where laughter and smiles can be seen even when in the midst of challenge and distress; well then you can see for yourself that summer is near. “In the same way,” Jesus said, “when you see these things happening, you know that God’s kingdom is near.” You see, God’s kingdom is that place wherein full-humanness gets lived-out. This is the place where full-humanness is not just glimpsed but finds expression in the political, economic, environmental and social way humans live together.

“I assure you,” Jesus continues, “that this generation won’t pass away until everything has happened.” This generation does not refer to those living at the time Jesus lived. It refers to the time between Jesus of Nazareth living among us as a human we cannot imagine. And in this time we can find our way out of our early Advent darkness toward light we, as a species, often prefer to avoid or we can destroy ourselves as a species?

We don’t know yet. All we know is that “Heaven and earth will pass away, but we also think that Jesus’ words will not” In the meantime, while we wait, the advice is that we focus on the signs of spring, allowing those to energize us and keep us positive. Look for the good things happening in the world and contribute to them. “Take care that your hearts aren’t dulled by drinking parties, drunkenness, and the anxieties of day-to-day life.”

When things are seemingly going wrong, we find ourselves knowing that and thinking that knowing it isn’t very effective. Acknowledging it is ok but taking it as the whole picture tends to lead to depression, draggy hung-over mornings, and influencing the outcome by supporting poor calculations on any necessary preparation. “Don’t let the day fall upon you unexpectedly, like a trap. It will come upon everyone who lives on the face of the whole earth.” All religions, all races, all ethnic divisions and classes are going to see this happen.

We just remembered how a world war supported an influenza pandemic. With modern communications and rapid mass transportation it’s getting easier to imagine an event that simultaneously impacts every human being on the earth.

And finally, “Stay alert at all times, praying that you are strong enough to escape everything that is about to happen and to stand before the Human One.” Why stay alert, praying for strength? Because advent reminds us that when we look hard at what is we meet the Human One who turns out to be our God, made visible in Jesus, the one with who we create and work with in the journey toward full humanity. Amen.

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