Sunday, November 28, 2021

1 Advent, 2021-C: Welcome the redemption

Lectionary: Jeremiah 33:14-16; Psalm 25:1-9; 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13; Luke 21:25-36 

En el nombre del Dios, que es trinidad en unidad. Amen.
The familiar Advent theme of keeping awake or being on guard, as Jesus says it in today’s gospel, derives from apocalyptic literature about the end of times, a common fear among humans found in most cultures throughout history. For Christians, however, the feared and dreaded judgment has already happened -- and it was redemption. God chose to come among us as Jesus, the Christ, who is always coming, always redeeming.

This is our Good News to share - that there is nothing to fear about our personal deaths or the end of the world as we know it, which, as I said recently, has already happened over and over again in our history, with new life emerging from the present death. Each time it happens, however, the distress among nations and cosmic signs of doom and destruction impact the people in that time and they “faint from fear and foreboding.”

When that happens, Jesus says, stand and look up, and remember the promise of redemption. Then he told the parable of the fig tree. You know how to read the signs, he says. When you see the leaves of the fig tree sprouting, you know that the warm, fruitful season of summer is coming. Likewise, when you see the tribulations on earth and the cosmic signs of destruction, YOU will know that it means the kingdom of God is drawing near.

These things are the signs that the promise of redemption, new life out of death, is about to be fulfilled again. It always will until all of creation is reconciled to God. So, stand up, look up, and welcome the redemption, be part of it! Don’t miss the opportunity by numbing yourself into a slumber of denial. There is nothing God can’t or won’t redeem.

Everyone who lives on the earth will face these moments of choice so be alert and pray that when it’s your turn, when you see the cosmic signs of destruction, you don’t lose hope. When you see the distress among nations, you don’t bury your head. Look up! Stand up – for you stand in the presence of the Son of Man.

Our humanity guarantees that there will be times we’ll be going through life as if in a slumber. Many of you have heard me talk about our COVID reawakening as we cautiously reopen our churches and ministries. It’s as if we’ve all been in a slumber on many levels. The shutdown put a stop to all of our busyness at church, at school, at work. As ministries began to open back up we had to figure out how to pick up these ministries and do them in the world as it is now – which is different than it was before, and thanks be to God for that!

Our COVID slumber gave us the gift - or burden - of time to look deeply and critically at ourselves and our world, and some of the revelations have been unsettling and led to tough questions like: how do we establish fair and living wages for all? How do we teach a history that is honest and doesn’t revise or eliminate inconvenient truths? How do we adapt our practices to honor and respect the limited and sometimes dying resources in creation?

It isn’t news to anyone anymore that people of color, particularly African Americans, are arrested, convicted, and imprisoned at much higher rates than whites. It’s also not news anymore that there is a real thing called the school to prison pipeline which the National Education Association says has “resulted in the suspensions, expulsions, and arrests of tens of millions of public school students, especially students of color and those with disabilities or who identify as LGBT.” (Source) How do we change this? 

 How do we make amends to today’s descendants of slavery or to the indigenous peoples forcibly driven from their homelands? We haven’t even figured out how to talk about this yet without shame, blame, recrimination, and defensiveness. These revelations of our reality seem too big, too complicated, too impossible to solve – and they are for us, but not for God.

I submit that the problem we face is not that we have fallen into a numbing slumber of denial or dissipation, but that we choose to remain stuck in it. We can’t or won’t “wake up” out of self-interest, or fear, or a sense of powerlessness, or guilt, or dread. We choose to numb ourselves with dissipation and drunkenness to escape dealing with the tribulation in our world, our responsibility for it or our continuing complicity in it.

In the season of Advent, we are called to wake up, stand up, and look up because the coming of Christ isn’t a thing to dread or avoid. It’s a joy, a relief, a gift!

Jesus said, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him (Jn 3:17). He also said that he would not leave us orphaned (Jn 14:18). He will stand with us always until God’s plan of redemption is fully and completely accomplished.

This also isn’t something that happens once on some mysterious unknown day. The Spirit of Christ is alive, eternally alive, and dwells in us, so of course, Christ is always coming, always redeeming.

The trap Jesus warns us about is hopelessness. When we forget the compassion and love of God for us, when we think we are left alone to deal with the tribulation around us, we will, of course, descend into hopelessness.

So our mission during Advent (should we choose to accept it) is to remember and reconnect with Jesus who is our hope. We do this by choosing to stop, pray, and awaken to the eternal truth that Jesus is coming, that Christ is always coming, entering a troubled world and our wounded hearts, bringing peace, mercy, love, and healing.

God bless us all as we practice a holy, transforming Advent. Amen.

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