An Advent Vision of Hope

adventThe following is a sermon I proclaimed on the Second Sunday in Advent. The lesson was Isaiah 11: 1-10. I hoped it would speak to the present situation in the Christian community.

Advent is special this year. We are all looking for hope, and Advent is the season when Christians talk about hope. It is the time when we read the biblical passages about God’s promises. We remember the visions of the future on which we base our lives.

Advent is special this year, because we have allowed many of our political, religious, business, academic, and media leaders to create a culture of fear. Our problem is not that we are divided right down the middle. Since colonial times we have been had political divisions. Our problem is that we are afraid. We are so afraid of one another that we talk in whispers and think we have to carry guns. Advent is special this year, because we hunger for hope, we thirst for justice, and we crave love

Isaiah speaks directly to our fear. He first claims it is a time to listen to God not what our eyes and ears seem to tell us. Like the other great prophets Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Micah, Hosea, Amos, he wrote at a time the leaders of the Jewish people were destroying the nation. Micah echoed all their thoughts in his fourth chapter, “Our rulers give judgment for a bribe, our priests teach for a price, our prophets give oracles for money; yet they lean upon the Lord and say, ‘Surely the Lord is with us! No harm shall come upon us.’”

In the name of God, these leaders made deals with one of the world powers and made Jewish children prey to the army of the other empire. They believed the world runs on violence. After all, their eyes saw and ears heard that wolves prey on lambs and snakes lie waiting to bite young children. In this kind of world it was all about winners and losers. The poor were clearly losers and the meek were not worthy of respect.

Isaiah assures the Jewish nation that God has not forgotten them. Even though there has not been a decent king since David, even though most were downright indecent human beings, even though only a stump remains, God promises to send a king who, like David, will share God’s Spirit. Maintaining a right relationship with God means that he will rule with justice. Isaiah, like the other prophets, summarizes justice as caring for the poor and respecting the meek.

Isaiah’s vision of the future concludes with the beautiful vision of the peaceable kingdom that pictures the way the world will run when God’s righteous king rules. By now we know that Isaiah was not talking about wolves who walk on four legs or snakes who slither on the ground when he writes, “The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid… The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den. They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord.”

Advent is also special, because Advent prepares us for Christmas, when we Christians claim God began fulfilling Isaiah’s promise. The Wise Men in W. H. Auden’s poetic drama, For the Time Being, follow the star because they seek a better future. Listen to how they describe for what they are searching. The first says, “To discover how to be truthful now is the reason I follow this star.” The second, “To discover how to be living now.” And the third, “To discover how to be loving now.” Then all three in unison, “At least we know for certain that we are three old sinners, that this journey is much too long, that we want our dinners, and miss our wives, our books, our dogs, but have only the vaguest idea why we are what we are. To discover how to be human now is the reason we follow this star.”

Christmas will be special this year, because we desperately need to learn how to live, how to be truthful, how to be loving, how to be human. We cannot tell the Christmas story as if it were a Disneyland fantasy. We must remember it as the Bible tells it. God sent the savior of the world to be born to a poor carpenter and a meek maiden. An indecent human being made this poor, meek family refugees by killing every child under two, because he was afraid of one infant. God saved this holy family so the child could grow up to be a great teacher proclaiming “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the Kingdom of God; blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth; blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”

Finally, the beautiful Isaiah lesson challenges just about everybody gathered here. We recognize the words describing God’s servant are the very same words used to bless us at our baptisms. After washing us, the pastor prayed, “Pour your holy spirit upon….:the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord., the spirit of joy in your presence.” We were then sent out to fill the earth with the knowledge of the Lord, and that begins by caring for the poor and respecting the meek.

So far I have given you straight Bible. You have to listen. I am now going off to what the eyes and ears of an old sinner have seen and heard. You do not have to listen, because you might have seen and heard differently. I am going to tell you what I learned about fear.

My wife believed God called her to teach migrant children. She was making her first home visit to an all-male Mexican camp. My friends who had never had a talk with a Mexican warned that migrants used their money for booze and when they get drunk they murder and rape. I should not let her go. So I found myself waving good-bye to the most beautiful person I knew who was laughing at me as she drive off. After many hours of praying I saw her return still laughing at me. “Fritz,” she said, “they are fathers who treated me like a queen because education offered their children opportunity. Besides that, they send their money back to Mexico for their families.”

The second time my wife terrorized me was when she brought home a 16 year old illegal Haitian immigrant who was abandoned by his father. My friends who had never spoken to an illegal alien warned me that if the police didn’t come to arrest me, the boy would rape my daughters and give them AIDS. Well, the police never came, Ronald Reagan granted amnesty. He treated my daughters like his sisters. To be honest, he did give my son-in-law tuberculosis, but he recovered.

Those two frightening nights taught me it is time to stop being afraid of one another. It is time to listen to God who calls us to love one another, and especially to care for the poor and give respect to the meek.

It is time to begin listening to God, not ourselves. It is time to stop being afraid of one another. It is time to start living as decent human beings who care for one another.

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4 Enlightened Replies

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  1. Kerry says:

    I’ve posted this on FB. Thanks!!

  2. Rita Yeasted says:

    our story reminded me of something that happened to me decades ago. I was living on a busy city street in a big convent all by myself. I was planning my first trip abroad with money I had made from a grant. It was a scary time (1979) I was already in the Company, but was living in what we called exclaustration from the community. I had little money, and had just come home from a family gathering where they had amassed a large collection of second-hand clothes, which I was carrying back to my house. The garage was about 200 yards from my front door, and the sidewalk was never quiet. But this particular night, I locked up the garage and tried to balance the clothing on hangers and my shoulder purse, but it was awkward. The purse kept slipping down my arm, and I couldn’t easily keep it on my shoulder.

    It was about 11 p.m., and I suddenly saw a trio of two guys and a young woman in their late teens coming towards me. I felt very vulnerable, and when one of the young men started toward me, my heart stopped. He came closer to me and reached towards me, gently taking the strap of my purse and lifting it over my head and putting it on the opposite shoulder.”That will keep it from falling,” he said, and I mumbled “Thank you” and started to breathe again.

    The experience was pivotal for me as I went through England, Ireland, and Rome a week later. I was careful, but also freer than I would have been without the experience. It taught me that not every person is a potential enemy but a potential friend. Father Vernon (a clinical phenomenological psychologist) has taught me that we “co-constitute our reality.” Facing the world not fearlessly but with the hope that we are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses and angels, not to mention the Spirit within us, has allowed me to be alone in a house for just short of three decades. I always remember that the first words in Scripture when people confront an angel or the risen Christ are “Fear not” or “Do not be afraid.” It’s is advice that we will need in these next four years and beyond.

  3. Paul Wildman says:

    How do we approach a crowded world where the currency increasingly is, as you say, fear.

    How, I ask and pray, can we grasp the gravitas of our socio-economic collapse and still do otherwise?

    How? Frankly I find this deeply difficult and challenging as the deep momentum for this collapse comes from within the very culture we now need to love?

    When Jesus was alive there was a global population of about say 1/2the population of the United States!

    From a carrying capacity perspective we have exceeded that for our planet and our species by a factor of at least 3 or 4!

    Honestly I don’t know any serious friends who believe we can save the day – all deep down believe it’s too late we have destroyed too much of our home planet. Yet some orthodox Xtians seem not to worry about the death and destruction in this world rather they look to the next word. For me this is not fear just practical acceptance of the inevitable.

    We have all become prodigals who don’t have a home to return to – only homes of others we go and blow up along with our neighbours inside (as your refugee and migrant stories so aptly show us).

    Here though Fritz we don’t speak of ones and twos we speak literally of billions of refugees, of folks so stuck in poverty that we help create, that they destroy one another and their environment wholesale.

    How not to be afraid in this the twilight of our species and our planet?

    For me I choose not to allow myself the escapism of Mechanical Christianity of ‘don’t worry Paul we are after a ‘pie in the sky that we will get by and by’’ rather I try to live by the dictum ‘do it on the ground while we’re still around’.

    Fritz this is a deep theological divide even that is between Christos (pie in the sky – Pauline/Gnostic even) and Jesus (did it on the ground while he was still around – Jesus’s journey’s, miracles (so to speak) and deep commitment to practical social justice work and how walked his talk).

  4. Fritz Foltz says:

    I thought of this post as a throw-away. I figured no one was going to read at Christmas time. Besides that, it was too long for electronic media. I was surprised to receive many more than the usual reports that the sermon spoke to the sender. I asked Paul and Rita to allow me to post passages from theirs. The others were too personal for this kind of comment.

    All this leads me to think fear does characterize our situation. This has has been again unexpectedly reinforced in several recent meetings. The first was a talk on various visions of the future that inspire our actions in the present, an Aristotelian approach for a group of professionals not necessarily associated with Church. After reflecting on their response, I had the Matthew Christmas story (Matthew 1: 18-2:23) read at four of my discussion groups. This provoked great conversation each time, focusing on fear then and now. The last was a group of 20 college students who gathered for dinner and talk. Maybe I’ll post the talk next week.

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