Sermon - 1st Sunday in Advent
Isaiah 2:1-5 • Romans 13:11-14 • Matthew 24:36-44
Come, let us walk in the light of the Lord. It is Isaiah’s invitation to Jacob’s house, and our own house too. It is a good word as our flight through the cosmos on this spinning planet promises even longer nights, before we begin the journey in a few weeks back toward the light. Let us walk in the light of the Lord.
So we in the Northern hemisphere become more and more aware at this time of year of the value of the light. We are mindful of the importance of our sight, of our need for lamps to illumine our way, of light to show us the path in the darkness.
Let’s say it another way. Advent is a double-edged sword. It cuts both ways. No doubt we want to fly toward Christmas, avoid this season of uncertainty and move toward that instant gratification that Christmas and all our carols preach. But it isn’t the whole story, and we know it.
We know darkness is our story too. We know we have a hard time seeing what is true, and if anything, have a tendency to bury our heads in the sand or the shopping mall. We know, as enticing as it may be, putting on blinders will not serve us. We know we need to wake from our sleep and put on Jesus and his armor of light if we hope to see peace within our walls, and within our homes.
That’s why the ancients didn’t put us at the manger on December first. That’s why Jesus has this word about the days of Noah. You see it wasn’t their sinfulness that doomed those who didn’t make their way into the ark on those sunny, warm beach days that preceded the flood. It wasn’t their sinfulness or unbelief, but their unpreparedness and ignorance. So Advent is about a way of making the journey toward life that lets in the light, that prepares us to perceive the coming of God into our lives here and now, in this moment, in this age.
Did you see the article in the Seattle Times magazine last Sunday about light pollution? Ron Judd begins the story with this: “The sad truth is that the current bunch of us will be the first in the history of the planet to go most or all the way through life failing to grasp our place in the universe. Because we simply have never seen it.”
Judd tells the story of Dave Ingram who sets up his telescope in grocery store parking lots around the Seattle area, hoping people will come and take a look. Ingram calls it “Guerilla astronomy.”
Ingram does this because of an old man who happened by some years ago and took up Ingram’s invitation to look through the eyepiece. After finding the right end—it took him two tries—he looked for a long time at the rings of Saturn as the planet rose in the night sky. He looked for a long time into the telescope without moving, then, without another word he just took off.
Half an hour later, an old VW bus pulled into the lot. The old man burst out of the driver’s door and swooshed the slider open. Out popped three generations of his family.
Judd takes the story from here:
This is where Ingram, a 62-year-old retired Boeing researcher, has to stop talking and take many deep breaths. If your life’s mission is to reconnect people to a vital part of their DNA, seeing the light in all those freshly opened eyes… can get you verklempt.
You see, that’s the invitation of Advent. It is to reconnect us to a vital part of our DNA. This season, with its darkness and light and double-edged hopes, hopes for nothing less than to open our eyes to this double-edged world of ours with its wars and rumors of wars, its lions and lambs. It seeks to steal us away to a longing for the one who comes like a thief in the night, so we don’t miss him and the good news he brings.
You see we live in a dangerous and dark time. We live on a knife-edge of history. Our earth is in danger. Our kids know it. And they know the future is in question, and depends on the choices we make. But will the rest of us wake up and do something before it is too late? We can no longer live in blindness to our effect on the ecosystem.
Our livelihood is in danger too. In the Western world we have grown an economy of a few big winners and many losers. Income inequality is at historic levels. A recent UNICEF study ranked the U.S. close to the bottom among wealthy countries in the percentage of children living in poverty. One percent of America has 40% of all the nation’s wealth. And the bottom 80%—that’s 8 of every 10 Americans together—only have 7%. And it has only gotten worse in the last 20 to 30 years. The average CEO in America now makes 380 times what the average worker does—that’s the average worker, not the lowest paid earner. The average worker must work for a month to make what the average CEO does in one hour.
I am aware that when people talk like this, they are often accused of preaching class warfare. But I have to tell you, it’s hard for me to look at these statistics and imagine that the war hasn’t been going on for quite some time already. How much longer will we live in darkness?
Isaiah preaches this beautiful vision of peace: the lion lying down with the lamb, natural enemies finding ways to co-exist and together have what they need. The code for this kind of an abundant, sustainable, peaceful reality is the economy of God, God’s rule on earth as it already is in heaven.
But this kind of reality doesn’t come about by some sort of magic. There is no hope in walking blind to what is around us. Our hope is in our holy discontent. There is no promise for those who live in the darkness if they don’t come into the light. And there is no future if we forget that God’s hope is incarnate in us. It comes by the work of a people who follow the light, who listen to the instruction of God and follow God’s paths. It comes as we respond to God’s promise—beating swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks and then getting to work. It comes as we look to the stars and remember the power and the righteousness of the one who created them and us. It comes as we remember who we are as God’s children, and then act like it.
Come, let us walk in the light of the Lord.
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