Sunday, December 6, 2009

Advent and Christmas, and tIme scrambled

Today's sermon is based on Baruch 5:1-9; Philippians 1:3-11; Luke 3:1-6

“All flesh shall see the salvation of God.”

Blessings upon your Advent.

It may be hard to believe, but we are well into Advent. It seems like yesterday many of us were at Shrine Mont for our annual parish summer retreat.

But, indeed, we are in Advent, the time of waiting, the time before the dawn, the time of expectancy of the birth of Christ.

Our popular culture already has pegged this as the Christmas season, and the Christmas carols were on the radio this year before Thanksgiving.

The Church, though, does not consider this Christmas until, well, Christmas. Technically speaking, the Christmas season is those 12 days from December 25th to Epiphany.
Yet Christmas has already worked its way into Advent, and maybe that is not so bad.

I’ve been thinking about how Christmas comes earlier each year, and I really don’t mind. After all, Jesus was born, lived, died and rose again a very long time ago. We remember the first Christmas, and the first Easter, every week in our Eucharistic prayers, so why not a few extra reminders in our daily life and worship?

Advent is also a time when we are reminded that God’s time is God’s time, it is not our own. God’s time is sometimes scrambled, maybe just the way this season is scrambled. Let me explain.

Some months ago, I mentioned to you in a sermon that reading the Bible is like building a Lego set. You can take the pieces – the biblical passages – and build them the way you want.
The lessons of Advent are particularly good Lego pieces. You can patch them together a number of ways. Today we hear from the prophet Baruch, telling us “hills will be made low and the valleys filled up.”

And we hear Paul talk of “the harvest of righteousness.” In the Gospel of Luke, we get a description of John the Baptist fulfilling the prophecies of Isaiah where “the crooked shall be made straight.”

Or, back up one week: The First Sunday of Advent we heard the apocalyptic vision of the end of time: “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.”

One way to put these passages together will make them come out very scary, the way that is reflected in popular “Left Behind” book series whereby these visions foretell that the good guys – Christians like us – will go to heaven, and the bad guys – everyone else – will go to Hell. The message is that you better get on the right side or you’ll end up in the “roaring sea and waves.”

That is one way of looking at all this.

But I think there is another way of putting together the Lego pieces, a way that builds a bridge founded on love and God’s grace.

Here’s how: I think all of us have a measure of good, and all of us have a measure of things about us that are not so good. All of us carry wounds and hurts, and life’s challenges. All of us have crosses to bear, large or small, flaws we wish we did not have but which follow us like our shadow. I am not perfect, and you probably aren’t either. The prophets and Jesus are telling us that all those things that harm and hurt us will be gone. That which hurts you will be swept away like the roaring sea.

The demons that trip us up, gone. The wounds, healed. The valleys filled, the mountains made low. We will be made whole, healed, repaired, redeemed.

“All flesh shall see the salvation of God,” Isaiah proclaims, and so it will be.

And that is because you are God’s beloved – you truly are the beloved. God will make you whole and bring you salvation.

Yet, if you are hurting or know someone who is, waiting is not so easy. Waiting can seem like it is taking forever.

So why does Jesus talk in the gospels of this happening immediately? He said it would happen within the lifetime of those who heard him 2,000 years ago.

Yet it did not seem to work out that way. It wasn’t long before that first group of Christians began to hedge their bets, maintaining that it was not for us to know “God’s plan.”

But I think Jesus knew exactly what he was saying, we just didn’t quite get it. It has nothing to do with an unknowable plan. It has everything to do with how God scrambles up time.

We view time the only way we can, as linear, one second following another. Physicists, by the way, would tell you our senses deceive us on that. Time is complicated and multi-dimensional. I don’t think those who wrote the Bible knew anything about quantum mechanics and Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, though perhaps physicists understand the Bible better than the rest of us.

The stories and visions in the biblical texts of a new world to come, I would argue, make sense if we view time beyond and outside ourselves, as time that will come and has already come but we don’t quite see.

It may not always look like it to us now, but God has already brought new life to fruition; we will touch it in the twinkling of an eye, the future we don’t yet see but it is ours already.
And it is not just about us, but all creation. God makes all of it whole.

“Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low,” says Isaiah. “All flesh shall see the salvation of God.”

All flesh, not just the people like us. No exceptions.

We do something here in church that, in a way, gives us a glimpse of this notion. We celebrate our Holy Communion, the great Easter meal – the Last Supper – and we pray that this meal long ago will be alive for us now.

We seat ourselves at the table with Jesus and his disciples. We don’t reenact the Last Supper exactly, but we enter into it as if it were the first time so that these events long ago become about us who live in what was their future.

It is in this sharing of our Communion that all of us, together, can show our thanksgiving for the blessings God has given us, the blessings of those who have touched us.

And then let us go forth to live and serve in the world knowing that the promise of healing and hope truly dwells in us, that the crooked will be made straight, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God. You are the beloved of God.

May you have a blessed Advent and a holy Christmas to come. Amen.


ginger greene said...

Your National Cathedral Advent Calendar doesn't seem to have a Day 8. Does this have some theological significance, or is the number just well-hidden?

Janice Dean said...

" that these events long ago become about us who live in what was their future."

Jim, this statement rocks my world (in the colloquial Generation Y sense). I think I am going to ponder this for quite some time. Thank you!