November 29, 2015 — Rev. Jan Hryniewicz
Text: Isaiah 65: 17-25
Were you one of the eager shoppers on Black Friday….or will you spend tomorrow at your computer for Cyber Monday!? While some of us recoil from that shopping mania, others relish it…find it a fun part of the holidays. To each his or her own!
For me, it’s the time of year when I dig out all my Advent resources and get reinspired by the beauty of the spiritual side of Christmas. As the days darken and the chill of winter begins to spread over the land, we enter a season of sacred waiting, a time of watching for ways the Divine Spirit of God becomes incarnate in the universe in a multitude of ways.
How do we remain alert for the signs of God’s entrance into our lives and the culture of our time? What can keep us awake in the drowsy atmosphere of habit that cozily blankets our days? Do we have hope that this year Christmas will make a difference in the universe….bring us closer to peace on earth?
Do you remember what it felt like to wait expectantly for something….. your spirit standing on tiptoe…..almost afraid to breathe in case you missed the moment it might happen? Can you conjure up again that intense feeling of hope and excitement about something?
I remember sitting for hours in the waiting room of the birthing center where my daughter Niki was struggling to give birth to her first child….17 years ago! Her close friend, Alan was there with me….and together we paced and talked…both of us on-the-edge-of-the-seat excited (and somewhat scared) …waiting expectantly…hopefully for that new life to enter the world. I held Dalia…..moments after she finally emerged from the womb……and my life has not been the same sense! It was awesome….. exhilarating… a Holy moment…..a new life….a gift to the world. Every birth is a miracle, the fulfillment of 9 months of hoping….and every Advent we wait expectantly…. hopefully for the birth of God’s spirit to come into our world….to breathe new life into our culture of being.
The first Sunday of Advent focuses our attention on HOPE, a feeling that is critical to our survival, well being and happiness. Each of us here has things we hope for for ourselves, our loved ones and for the universe.
A middle-aged man was on a Caribbean cruise enjoying his first real vacation in years. On the first day out to sea he noticed an attractive woman about his age who smiled at him in a friendly way as he passed her on the deck. This pleased the man greatly. That night he managed to get seated at the same table with her for dinner. As the conversation developed, he commented that he had seen her on the deck that day and he had appreciated her friendly smile. When she heard this, she smiled and commented, “Well, the reason I smiled was that when I 3 saw you I was immediately struck by your strong resemblance to my third husband.” At this he perked up his ears and said, “Oh, how many times have you been married?” She looked down at her plate, smiled modestly, and answered, “Twice.”
Hope is the sustainer of life. It’s the motivator to action. It’s the promise of tomorrow.
Listen to this lovely paraphrase of Paul’s letter to the church in Rome….Romans 8: 18 – 25 , paraphrased by Macrina Wiederkehr: “It appears to me that whatever we suffer now will show up only dimly when compared to the wonders God has in store for us. It is as though all creation is standing on tiptoe longing to see an unforgettable vision, the children of God being born into wholeness. Although creation is unfinished, still in the process of being born, it carries within a secret hope. And the hope is this: A day will come when we will be rescued from the pain of our limitation and incompleteness and be given our share in a freedom that only belongs to the children of God.
At the present moment, all creation is struggling as though in the pangs of childbirth. And that struggling creation included even those of us who have had a taste of the Spirit. We peer into the future with our limited vision, unable to see all that we are destined to be, yet believing because of a hope we carry so deep within us.” It can be more! It can be different!
Paul’s letter to the church in Rome gives us the beautiful vision of creation straining forward, on tiptoe, eagerly waiting for deliverance, for birth, to be embraced by God’s spirit and brought to wholeness. …. we await a miracle! We don’t know what magic or miracle awaits us at any given moment. Sadly, if we are tuned into the news too much, we tend to anticipate , not a miracle, but a catastrophe…. not an act of kindness, but an act of violence. …not a chorus of heavenly angels, but a cacophony of evil warriors bragging about slaying the innocent.
In an online newsletter written shortly after the horrific Paris attack, author and friend Roland Merullo wrote: Other than send donations to Amnesty International or Doctors Without Borders, there’s not much we can do to alleviate the suffering of innocent people who are being tortured, terrified, raped, killed, or forced to leave their homes. This is our world and, really, it has always been this way – only now we hear about it more quickly and in greater detail and across vast distances. What’s sad to so many of us is the fact that all the billions of kind, good, and generous deeds done every day across the globe – including charitable donations – will never make headlines. It’s the terrorists and rapists and serial killers who dominate the news. We could talk endlessly about why that is true, but it is true, and I suspect it will go on being true for as long as I am on this planet and for many years afterwards.
Sadly, I agree, and especially as the Christmas season approaches, when angels sing “ Peace on Earth good will to all”, we speak of the absolute necessity of hope….and the urgent need to get the good news out that will dominate the air waves and penetrate even the darkest hearts and minds. We can’t give up and allow the darkness to triumph over us….to become the dominate attitude.
In a radio interview, Nazi concentration camp survivor Gerta Weissman recalled an episode one spring when she and her fellow concentration camp inmates stood for roll call for hours on end, nearly collapsing with hunger and fatigue. She said, “We noticed in the corner of this bleak, horrid, gray place that the 6 concrete had broken in a corner and a flower had poked its head through it. And you would see thousands of feet shuffle every morning to avoid stepping on that flower . . .”
No wonder they were careful not to step on that flower. That tiny flower poking its head through the concrete represented hope and beauty to the women in the concentration camp.
Isaiah the prophet knew what those women felt. The year was 700 B.C. The Jews had been fighting for four decades against the Assyrians and occasionally against the Egyptians. And their will to resist their enemies was nearly depleted…they had about given up hope. They were living through what has been called the first holocaust of the Jews. It occurred between 740 and 700 B.C. The first half of the book of Isaiah is one of judgment, condemnation and warnings…to shape up….to halt their complacency, to turn back to God, to start taking care of their community…. or trouble would be the result….and it was the result! They were conquered, defeated.
The second half of the book, most believe authored by a second Isaiah, shouts out hope and deliverance….. comfort and healing. In spite of your disobedience and failings, you can be restored by a God who loves you still!
The chapter in Isaiah that Sue read this morning is a chapter that bring to a conclusion Isaiah’s words of comfort to the people. This message of hope looks 7 forward to the coming of the Messiah. Isaiah speaks more about the Messiah than any other prophet from Hebrew Scripture. He describes the Messiah as both a suffering servant and a sovereign Lord. The sound of weeping will be heard no more and the lion and the lamb will lie down together. A familiar promise…a hopeful image! We read it and hear it every Advent! It expresses the desperate hope of a war weary, remorseful, broken people longing for deliverance and freedom. It’s the prominent theme of Hebrew scriptures….that of God’s promise and the hope of fulfillment. It’s a theme we can still relate to in 2015. Freedom, is a fervent hope of all people…..then, now and always!
People that are filled with a biblical hope will always look for and believe in the dawn….no matter how long or how dark the road. We never know when that Light will break in upon us….when God will grab us by the collar and offer us a moment of grace and insight. As a people of faith, we must remain hopeful ….. confident that God will provide us with enough light to find the pathway to peace and joy.
The Advent Conspiracy is an international movement centered on bringing a deeper meaning to Christmas during the Christian season of advent that 8 immediately precedes it. The movement is characterized by its four founding principles: Worship Fully, Spend Less, Give More, Love All. The movement’s message is to avoid getting caught up in the consumerism surrounding the holiday in order to celebrate Christmas more fully. The three pastors who started the movement and wrote the book several years ago, ask the question: Can Christmas still change the world?
I decided to use The Advent Conspiracy as our Advent focus this year.
Simple Definition of conspiracy : a secret plan made by two or more people to do something that is harmful or illegal… to conspire together. Interesting, isn’t it, that the word conspiracy was chosen by the creators of this movement that is seeking to promote love and peace, hope and joy!
We have read, of course, that back in the 1st century, the Christian movement was considered a harmful, illegal conspiracy. It was urging people to take a critical look at the government that persecuted and enslaved them, to reflect seriously on the religion that oppressed and manipulated them. It was a movement to set the masses free, and the powers that be were threated by it. It was to bring about a long-awaited liberation and new understanding of the Divine Presence.
I see Advent as a Divine conspiracy to bring about a revolution of love and compassion…to re-awaken our hope that we can indeed change the world by every act of kindness ……. through a language of love and not hate.
We need to be about the business of broadcasting the good and by not allowing the evil to dominate the airways.
We can do this when we allow the Holy Spirit to conspires with us.
Chapter 8 in Romans that I read earlier is considered one of the most hopeful passages in the Bible. It blows into Paul’s letter to the church at Rome like a gust of fresh air….defining the role of the Holy Spirit in the lives of the early Christians. The Spirit works in partnership with us, as we walk with God…. strengthening us and providing us with nourishment and guidance….restoring our belief in miracles. A miracle is defined by a sixth grader as “ something extraordinary that happens without any strings attached”. God’s love comes to us with no strings attached….and once again this Advent season, we will journey expectantly to the manger to rediscover the hope, peace, joy and love that is ours as children of God. Amen.