Advent 1A, 2013
A Liturgy is also available
G-O-D DOES NOT GIVE UP ON US, SO WE CAN HAVE HOPE!
“Seeing Advent as a penitential season strikes me as unfortunate.
It is the product of a seriously distorted and yet widespread understanding of Christianity:
namely, that the central issue in our lives with God is our sinfulness (commonly understood as
disobedience and/or failing to measure up to what God requires from us)
and thus our need for repentance and forgiveness.
"Within this framework, that’s the reason Jesus was born.
As the divinely-conceived Son of God, he was sent by God to be the perfect sacrifice,
the payment for our sins, so that we can be forgiven.
Provided, of course, that we believe in him.
“That is a serious impoverishment of Christianity and Advent”
(Marcus Borg, November 2013)
The giant Jacaranda trees are in full bloom.
Its lilac/blue-to-purple flower dominates the local street scape.
It must be Advent in Australia!
Today is the first Sunday in Advent.
The season of waiting.
The season of anticipation.
For recognising the presentness of God in nature
and in the one called Jesus of Nazareth - the human face of G-o-d.
But unlike most of the northern hemisphere of our world,
where the church liturgical calendar was first shaped,
today is the first official day of Summer.
And Summer in Australia is a natural time for celebration.
Even in times of drought or flood or bush fire.
Even in the face of these there is new life and new growth
to be seen, ripeness and richness,
as plant and bush and tree display their many colours
against the brown of this great south land.
Nature is a gift in early Summer in Australia.
And we anticipate it’s arrival eagerly.
Today is the first Sunday in Advent. And immediately we have another problem.
Because the readings set down in the Lectionary for today
have nothing whatsoever to do with our perceptions of either Advent
or the coming season called Christmas.
For instance, if we approach Matthew as a narrative,
today’s reading comes about 9/10th of the way through the book...
Closer to the end of the complete story than to the beginning.
So it comes to us totally out of context.
Second, all the readings offered paint diverse pictures
of a world quite different from ours today.
And not only that, these stories or readings
are not directed to a time thousands of years later - into our time,
as seems to be assumed by those who shaped the Lectionary.
A far better place to start would be the beginning of Matthew, the genealogy of Jesus.
Where the best can come out of the worst.
And the worst can come out of the best!
So what if anything are we to make of these stories?
Perhaps process theologian John Cobb’s suggestions of a few years back can help.
He says that those who have selected these passages
“understand Advent to be the season of anticipation, of expectancy, and hope generally... [And] in all the texts the hope is grounded in faith in God” (Cobb. P&F Web site, 2004).
So continuing to listen to John Cobb for a few more moments,
what can we learn from and hear in, these stories?
We can acknowledge that we human beings are not good at predicting the future.
We can appreciate that the actual course of history
is far more ambiguous than are the visions that lure us forward.
We can realise that even g-o-d does not control the future or know just what will happen.
And we can hear also that the hope which keeps us going
is far deeper and more fundamental to our faith than we realise.
“Hope has survived repeated disappointments in the past. It will survive many more in the future. It will do so as long as we believe in the biblical God” (Cobb, P&F Web site, 2004).
But such a statement still needs clarification.
Because such a statement presupposes that g-o-d’s working in history
does not displace the working of human beings.
And that can be a bit of a shock to those who believe g-o-d is all-powerful!
Or could ‘do something’ in various situations.
John Cobb explains his comment a bit more.
The quote is a bit detailed so I invite you to listen carefully.
“God works in hope for peace and justice, but the world turns to violence and oppression. Still God’s work is not futile. Here and
there it succeeds, encouraging the hope for wider and more inclusive success. That success depends on our response to God’s invitation to share in the achievement of God’s purposes. And our hope depends on the assurance that God does not give up on us” (Cobb, P&F Web site, 2004).
Despite frustration and disappointment, we are still called to be a people of hope.
For hope is what is handed down from mother to daughter to son,
not merely as a package passed from one generation to another.
But as hope which is alive in mother and daughter
and which now lives in the child of the third generation.
Today is the first Sunday in Advent.
A time of waiting... a time of change... a time of hope.
Indeed, as I have already suggested, in none of the Three Year Lectionary stories
set for the first Sunday during the season of Advent, are there stories
"of babies or shepherds or stars or lullabies... These [stories] are saying that the world, as we know it, is about to change. Their message is 'wake up, pay attention, get ready... Strange words, but maybe we need something jarring to lift us out of our complacency and wake up to something new" (ETigner. "Twilight time. A sermon" First Cong. Church web site, 2009).
So, in the face of waiting, of change, yet in the continuation of hope itself,
let me tell a couple of ‘continuing hope’ stories.
(i) In Dresden, the German city that was devastated by the fire bombing at the end of the World War 2,
there was a wonderful discovery.
They found in the ruins a musical score that had survived the fire and devastation.
It was the score to Albinoni's ‘Adagio for Strings and Orchestra in B Minor’.
In the midst of this devastation of war
- the very worst that we do to each other -
there survived something of the most beautiful
that we create for each other.
So the Albinoni piece became a sign of hope.
And it has been used that way.
During the siege of Sarajevo during the Balkans War,
the city was shelled month after month, every single night.
On one of those nights a group of people
standing in line in front of a bakery were waiting to buy bread.
A mortar shell fell right in the middle of them.
Twenty-two people were killed.
Innocent people. Hungry people. Wanting to buy bread.
A few days later, at the same spot, in front of the burned out bakery,
a man named Vedian Smailovic placed a chair,
and began to play his cello.
For 22 days he played his cello, one day in memory for each one of the people
who had been killed at that spot.
Now the gesture itself was wonderful, playing music.
But what gave it deeper significance is
the music he played each day was
‘Adagio for Strings and Orchestra in B Minor’.
(ii) It is told that when God finished with Creation,
She had a desire to leave something behind, just a small piece of divinity and wholeness
so humans could experience this delight.
But God was a bit of a trickster too,
so She didn't want this to be too easy for human beings.
She wasn't sure, at first, where to put this special something,
so she asked the other living things in creation.
Someone suggested in the stars and God replied, No,
I have this feeling that one day humankind will explore space
and they will find it.
Someone else suggested hiding it in the depths of the ocean.
God thought about it for a moment and answered,
No, She also had a feeling that some day humankind would explore
the deepest places in the seas - that was also too easy.
Then suddenly, God had it.
"I know where I'll put this special something, a place where they will never look.
I'll hide it in them, they will never look there."
And so it was.
And so it has been (FJMuir 2001:114).
Hope. We have it. Without it, we can not live.
Advent hope calls to us, lures us, to breathe, to pause,
and to shake off the doldrums - and fear.
For this Advent hope, first announced by angels to shepherds,
"means that despite appearances men of violence are no longer in control of history... that those who would seek to determine history's
outcome through violence will never succeed... When the angels announced the coming of Christ to the shepherds their first words are 'fear not'" (Northcott 2010:17).
And step into the mystery of life, the whole of life.
Muir, J. J. Heretics' Faith. Vocabulary for Religious liberals. Annapolis: F. J. Muir, 2001.
Northcott, M. S. Cuttlefish, Clones and Cluster Bombs. Preaching, Politics and Ecology. London: DL&T, 2010.