Sunday, November 29, 2015

Advent 1, 2015: Embodying hope

Lectionary: Jeremiah 33:14-16; Psalm 25:1-9; I Thessalonians 3:9-13; Luke 21:25-36
Preacher: The Rev Dr. Valori Mulvey Sherer, Rector

En el nombre del Dios: Padre, Hijo, y Espiritu Santo. Amen.

How many of you have heard of Corrie ten Boom – the author of “The Hiding Place”? Corrie ten Boom was born in 1892, and as I mentioned was the author of “The Hiding Place” a book I read when I was probably 11 or 12 years old that had a profound effect on me and still does. She was a strict Calvinist from Holland, so she was part of the Dutch Reformed Church. The youngest of three children, she was also the first woman licensed to be a watchmaker in Holland. Her father was a watchmaker.
During her young adulthood, she established a youth club for teenaged girls which provided instruction in things like: performing arts, sewing, handicrafts.

Then in 1940 came the Blitzkrieg. Corrie ten Boom’s house, known as Beje House, became a place of refuge for Jews, students, and intellectuals being hunted by the Nazis. The house was on top of the family’s watchmaking shop. A tiny room was built behind a false wall in Corrie’s room. There, following their Christian beliefs of serving the needy, offering them food and shelter and refuge, along with a deep respect for Jews as “God’s ancient people” the ten Boom family saved hundreds, probably over 900 people. The room could only hold up to 6 at a time, but still they saved that many people, setting up a network of safe houses, eventually known as the Beje movement, part of the Dutch Nazi resistance.

Ratted out by a Dutch informant, the entire ten Boom family was sent to concentration camps. Everyone died there except Corrie, whose released happened mysteriously. Some think it was a clerical error and she was set free just a week before all the women prisoners at her camp were killed.

After the war, Corrie set up rehabilitation centers for concentration camp survivors. One biographer says, “In the Christian spirit to which she was so devoted, she also took in those who had cooperated with the Germans during the occupation.” (Source)
I pondered our Advent readings today and Corrie ten Boom this book and the transformation it created in me came to mind. To me, those moments are a gift. This is a person who embodied human hope, which is the theme of the first Sunday of Advent.

As we lit the first Advent candle, we remembered that “Christ is always coming, entering a wounded world, a wounded heart, and [we] dared to express our longing for peace, …healing, and the well-being of all creation.”

That is hope – the faith that in the midst of the darkness the healing light of Christ is coming, it is always coming.

To hope is to long for ‘shalom’ - the way things ought to be according to the plan of salvation. This longing leads us to let go and trust in the power of God’s love to lead us and our world into shalom. As Corrie says, “It’s not my ability, but my response to God’s ability, that counts.”

The news in our world (and even in our church) these last months has been difficult to bear: shootings, war, refugees. But harder to bear, I think, is the so-called Christian response to these things. Calls for more guns, the refusal to admit or help refugees, the self-protective stance that ‘I might die if I help those others.’

It’s disheartening. Did not our Lord tell us that there would be “distress among the nations… [that] people will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world…”?

“Be on guard,” Jesus said, “so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness” and worries that entrap you. “Be alert” he says, because “when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near.”

And that’s the key – the kingdom of God is near. We await the second coming of Christ, and here he describes it. In this statement, Jesus fulfills the world’s understanding of the apocalypse. The story of creation, which Genesis says happened by the Word of God who declared all that had been created is good, no- is very good - doesn’t end with violence and destruction, but with the transformation from the light of the Christ who will come again in glory and great power transforming the darkness of the world into the light of Christ; transforming all that is into shalom – the kingdom of God, the way things are supposed to be.

I think we’re overly informed by our technology. Many people, because of the constant deluge of information, are retreating into fear, where they live from an “everyone for themselves” philosophy, protecting “me and mine.” We are witnessing in our world a collective hoarding of guns, food, money, and security of ever kind. We are witnessing a call to refuse the admittance of refugees, despite our recent experience with the very people Corrie ten Boom devoted her life to: God’s ancient people, the Jews.

In 1939, over 900 refugees, most of them Jewish, came to the US seeking refuge from the Nazis. Still recovering from our Great Depression, these refugees were seen as competitors for scarce jobs and a drain on our country’s resources. “This fueled antisemitism, xenophobia, nativism, and isolationism... and [created a] general hostility toward the refugees.” (Sound familiar?) In the end, the ship and it’s 900 refugees were turned away. Great Britain, Belgium, and France took in some of the refugees. There were all sent back to Europe, though which Germany invaded shortly thereafter, and about half of the refugees sent back to Europe died when Germany invaded Western Europe. (Source)

Here we go again. People are worrying because we are seeing the signs Jesus told us we would see. The fear this generates seems to cause us some kind of amnesia ad we forget the promise of redemption our Savior also speaks to us: “Now when these things begin to take placed, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

Raise your heads, Jesus says, knowing we tend to bury our heads in the sand at moments like these. Stand up, and raise your heads – for redemption is drawing near!

Whatever darkness is upon us, our faith assures us that the light is coming – the light is always coming! The kingdom of God on earth as in heaven is the end of our story, not violence and destruction.

We have no ability in ourselves to transform darkness into light or to figure out how that will happen. As Corrie ten Boom says, “Trying to do the Lord’s work in your own strength is the most exhausting, and tedious of all work. But when you are filled with the Holy Spirit, then the ministry of Jesus just flows out of you.”

How privileged we are to be chosen by God to work as partners with Christ our brother to usher in God’s kingdom; to be bearers of the light of Christ into the darkness in our world; to embody hope in a troubled world or to a wounded heart.

Our Redeemer lives – and he lives in the hearts and lives of all who proclaim him as Lord and Savior.

As we enter this holy season of Advent, it is our duty to show up willing to be transformed by the love of God in Christ, and then empowered to carry the light of that love into the world so that it, too, can be transformed. In her wisdom, the Church has set aside four weeks – just four weeks – where we all to do this together, where we all focus on this together.

We aren’t just holding the Christmas season at bay (though we are doing that too). We’re opening ourselves to transformation – to change - so that when the true light comes at Christmas, we will have been changed, renewed, strengthened, and prepared to carry that light into our world, remembering these last words of Corrie ten Boom’s wisdom: “when we are powerless to do a thing, it is a great joy that we can come and step inside the ability of Jesus.”

That is our Advent work – to raise our heads, stand up, and “put on the armor of light” which is the only way the works of darkness can be cast out. The ability isn’t ours – it’s Jesus’ who has chosen us to be means by which his light is coming now. Amen.

(Note: All CtB quotes taken from this source)

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