Sermon 11/28/10 Advent 1A
Matthew 24:36-44 Jesus said to the disciples, “But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.” Watching toddlers at play, can clearly teach us the difference between peace and chaos. With kids that age, quiet, peaceful play and beautiful smiles, can soon become tears and screams of anger, especially after when there are ownership claims on someone else’s toys, accompanied by the demand, “That’s mine!” There is hope though. With merely an encouraging word or a reassuring hug, toddlers will usually regain their beautiful smiles and quiet play and peace returns. Conflicts begin in childhood, and continue throughout life. However, as we age, our relationships become more complex, and the stakes get higher and the repercussions of our choices, more costly. Conflicts escalate. Today, we face terrorism, internal strife, and war threatens the world. Throughout history, humanity has been hostile to itself on many levels. Brutality and hostility are present both in open and subtle forms, both nationally and locally, and both individually and even within families. The difficult question that we Christians wrestle with is, “where is God in all of this hostility and conflict.” We consider, “How can a loving God allow the creation to suffer ; why doesn’t God stop all this hostility.” There is no simple answer to a complex question like this, but we can know that God doesn’t merely sit back from a distance and unaffected, watch the drama unfold. God has acted and does act in the lives of humanity. God in Christ, entered time and space and set in motion the dramatic salvation narrative, which continues to change lives even today. Even when God acts, we are still given the choice to act. The God who put creation into motion, the God who created out of love all that we survey, God, the source of all that is good, pure, and beautiful, gave creation the greatest gift of all. God gave humanity the choice to join in the ongoing creative process. God assures us the freedom to choose the future into which we will live. When it comes to hostility and chaos, we can’t lay at God’s throne, the liability for our broken relationships, hostility, loneliness, and pain. It is our choice and in many instances, humanity has failed to choose God’s promise of Life and life abundant. Conflict, violence, aggression and hostility are not acts of divine anger or retribution, but our failure to choose the peace of God that surpasses all human understanding. Advent is the time in which we anticipate Christ’s coming again, the day when God’s Kingdom will reign triumphantly, we can live in hope and not fear. Our Christian tradition has attempted to describe that day by using imagery and language with a cataclysmic theme. End time predictions are popular and have included notions that some will face ultimate destruction and others will face ultimate reward. We know though, that God’s promises are a bit more hopeful than all that. Isaiah proclaims that “Day of the Lord” comes when, “God shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.” God promises peace! Peace is not merely the absence of conflict, but is a period in which harmony exists, when healthy/newly healed relationships emerge, when safety in economic welfare stands, and when the acknowledgement of human equality is proclaimed loudly. The imagery of God’s kingdom being revealed is most vividly portrayed not as death, destruction, chaos, and upheaval. God’s revelation of God’s plan for creation is about the promises of Life and Life Abundant! Yes, in the age to come, when no one knows the day or the hour, God’s peace will reign over all the earth, and God gives us the choice to live into that promise now. We can participate by bringing the hope of God’s future, into the present reality in which, we live today. Some folks are skeptical about all that and may say, we cannot bring about that kind of peace into a broken world. I cannot make even a dent in that problem. In a world of social isolation, depression, emptiness, doubt, and grief, God’s people can participate in God’s plan in ways, that although seem small and insignificant, can have great, life-changing impact. A year or so ago, there was a popular video on YouTube which, featured one single individual who by on small action, did make a difference. After experiencing a major crisis in his life, Juan Mann left the only friends he had in London and flew home to Sydney, Australia, a city of nearly 5.0 million people. Arriving at the airport, he watched as hundreds of people, being greeted by friends and family with hugs of joy. Juan had no such greeting. He was alone in a city where loneliness and isolation is a common plague. Juan thought, “I wanted someone out there to be waiting for me, to be happy to see me, to smile at me, to hug me.” His pain became a personal call to take action. Juan took some cardboard and a black marker, made a sign on which he wrote the words, “FREE HUGS.” He went to the busiest pedestrian intersection he could find in the city, and held that sign high for all to see. At first, people stared at him, thinking he was crazy. Suddenly one day, a woman came up to him with tears in her eyes. She saw the sign, walked up to Juan and explained that it was the one-year anniversary of her daughter’s death after a terrible car accident. She had to stop because what she need the most that day was a hug.” The two embraced and when they parted, she was smiling. Hope was demonstrated and peace reigned for her that day. Juan continued his newfound quest as peacemaker and over the coming weeks and months, thousands of people responded to his handmade sign. Embraces of hope were shared throughout the city until one day, the police finally squelched the movement by enforcing a city ordinance. “Free Hugs” were banned in Sydney. Juan did not let this stop him. He began to circulate a petition, and soon over 10,000 people protested with their signatures. Within weeks, the ban was lifted, the hugs returned, and the movement continued. Through a simple sign of peace, a sign of hope, a sign of grace and by one individual’s statement with a cardboard sign, an entire city experienced love and hope through a willingness to open their arms wide to embrace each other. Our decisions and our actions through the power of God’s Spirit in us, can bring us into participation with God’s movement of peace, restoration, and equality. Soon and very soon, we are going to see the King, are we ready, are we on board? Advent is a time of waiting and anticipating. Advent really is our wake up call. It is a call to act because we know what the future in God holds. Peace will reign. Are we really ready? Our Lord opened wide the arms of love on a cross, so that all may come to know God’s loving embrace. One individual, one cross, open arms spread wide and all of creation experiences love, hope, joy, peace, and grace. In our community alone, there are folks grieving over the loss of loved ones. We can embrace them. There are folks who are without homes and basics of life. We can embrace them. There are folks of all ages, tribes, backgrounds, and creeds who are without a spiritual respite and a place to come to know God. We can embrace them. There is brokenness, addictions, economic problems, isolation, and loneliness just outside these doors. We must embrace them. We participate in God’s plan of peace, when we welcome those who really need to know the Good News of hope that God has already set in motion a healing, restoration, and reconciliation that continues this day, through us, in Christ. Open wide the arms of love and embrace the future to which God is calling us to enter. After all, we do have the freedom to choose; the freedom to choose hope.