Such a lovely room

Such a lovely room

Sunday, December 31, 2023

2023 YEAR B christmas 1

Christmas 1, 2023
Isaiah 61:10-62:3
Galatians 3:23-25; 4:4-7
Psalm 147:13-21
John 1:1-18

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

So, first of all, let me just say Merry Christmas.  (And I hope you’re enjoying those 7 Swans a Swimming.)  This gospel reading we just heard is the reading for the first Sunday of Christmas every year, and it is also the gospel reading for Christmas Day each year.  So we get this same reading back to back every year.  It’s almost as if the people who put together the lectionary wanted to be sure that we had plenty of chances to hear how everything began.  And it’s a good reminder, because it tells us how we got here.  But—more importantly—it reminds us that Jesus was here all along, even before coming to us in the form of a baby lying in a manger.

And talking about how everything began naturally leads me to talk about Original Sin, right?   It’s interesting that the Jewish people have no construct of what we call Original Sin.  They don’t view the story of Adam and Eve in the same way that most Christians do.  There is no Fall there.  The first time the word for “sin” shows up is not at the Tree of Knowledge, but rather when Cain kills Abel.  Many Christians will tell you that death came from Adam’s sin, and of course, Paul certainly helps that idea along.  But Rabbis rightly point out: If eating from the tree of life would have made Adam and Eve immortal, then they were created mortal by God’s own intention.  That is, death was built into the system from the start, and is not the result of people disobeying God.  

Where we really get the concept of Original Sin is from St. Augustine.  He serves it up in theory, and Calvin hits it out of the park by introducing heady theological terms like prelapsarian, whatever that means.  In the Roman Catholic understanding, Original Sin is handed down through the generations, and is then washed away through Baptism.  The Eastern Church does not hold this belief, and pretty much says we’re all capable of sinning on our own, without Adam and Eve’s help, thank you very much.  But for Calvin, we are thoroughly tainted with the Original Sin, and so he gives us the phrase, Total Depravity—which would be a great name for a punk band.

So, there’s your one-minute discourse on Original Sin, as filtered through the limited understanding of Father George.  I wanted to start with that because I want to talk about creation and incarnation, and I promise it will make sense.  (To me, anyway.)

In the book of Genesis, in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.  Then God creates light, looks at the light, and declares it to be good.  Then God does some other architectural stuff, and separates the land from the sea, and declares it good.  Then the plants produce seeds of their own kind, and God declares this good.  God does all the stuff with planets and stars and suns and declares them good.  Then God creates animals and birds and fish and declares them to be good as well.  And then, God creates humans, in God’s own image, and God sees that everything is good.  Everything.  Is.  Good.

But there’s another way of looking at everything, which is not good.  And it comes to us from Plato, by way of the Zoastrians, Gnostics, and—more recently—in something called “dispensational premillennialism.”  (Which would be a very bad name for a punk band.)  This way of looking at things is that it’s all gonna burn.  Don’t get too attached to the things of the world, because this world is not your home.  They would say, this world is bad, but your soul is good, and will rise from the grave, apart from your sin-filled corpse, when you one day leave this cursed world behind.  But remember:  the resurrection of the body is something we believe in, and we proclaim it together every single Sunday.  Your soul and your body are one, and they will both be raised up on the last day.

So, to sum up, God created everything and called it good.  But between then and now, we’ve developed a worldview where—at least for some people—humans have declared it all bad.  And by imposing this concept of Original Sin, or separating the mind and body, or viewing it all as background scenery for the Rapture and Armageddon, a good many people say all creation is now somehow tainted and corrupt.  That everything and everyone is going to be better after leaving this planet.  Redemption means being taken away from this world.  Denying the flesh strengthens the soul.  Those who have died have gone on to a better place.  Earthy and earthly are somehow a bad thing.  But remember . . . God created, and saw that it was good.  God said it was good, and God has not said it is not good.

So today we come to part two:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.

Jesus, the Word, the creator of life and light, became flesh and lived among us.  Jesus went through all the stages of life you and I go through.  Experienced the full range of human emotion from birth to death.  Put the stamp of sanctification on every single thing.  By walking among us, Jesus is a living breathing reminder that what God created is still good, and worthy of hosting God in person, in Jesus our Lord.

And, as we heard in this gospel text, “From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”

Salvation is the fulfillment of creation, not the overcoming of it.  Jesus is the pinnacle of creation, not the solution to it.  Jesus does not rescue us from the world; rather, in Jesus, God enters into the world to be with us.  The word Emmanuel means, “God with us.”

In the beginning, creation was declared good by God.  And, in the birth of Jesus, creation was declared good again by God.  You are part of that good creation.  You are declared forgiven and redeemed by God.  Worthy of saving, worthy of dignity, worthy of feeding and sustaining.

As we heard, “All who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God.”  And so now, children of God, do not be afraid.  Look for the light in the midst of the darkness.  Because the light is always there.  Always shining.  Trust that the darkness will not overcome the light of the world.  God is indeed with us, and has been from the very beginning.  God created, and it was good.  Jesus has come into creation, and it is still good.


Sunday, December 24, 2023

2023 YEAR B christmas eve

Christmas Eve, 2023
Isaiah 9:2-7
Titus 2:11-14
Luke 2:1-20
Psalm 96

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Well, now that the sun has gone down I can finally say it:  Merry Christmas!  Now, to be honest, I am guessing you did not come here tonight to hear me preach a sermon.  And if you did come here tonight to hear me preach a sermon, I think you need to  reevaluate the priorities in your life.

I’m going to be brief, because we all know already why we are here.  Even the most skeptical among us believe that on some level—in the birth of Jesus—God walked among us in the flesh.  And what does that mean for us?  What difference does that make?  Well, all the difference in the world!  But tonight I want to focus on one word.  And that word is peace.

In addition to smaller skirmishes all over the planet, we’re all quite aware of the two horrific wars being fought in distant lands tonight.  Some of us have friends and relatives who are stationed very close to those wars.  And, here, on our own shores, we watch the increasingly bitter politicization of everything from textbooks to beer.  The most extreme among us are openly talking of a new civil war if things don’t go their way.

I’m reminded of that line from the Wadsworth poem that got turned into a Christmas song: And in despair I bowed my head.  “There is no peace on earth I said.  For hate is strong and mocks the song of ‘Peace on earth goodwill to men’.”

And yet, what did the angels announce to the shepherds tonight?  "Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”  Peace among those whom God favors.  Which makes us immediately ask, well, whom does God favor?  Our tendency is to say, US, right?  God favors me, my side, my team, my country.  But we know that can’t be true.  God’s peace is not so stingy a thing.  

Because the angel also said, I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people.  For ALL the people.  So whom does God favor?  All the people.  On Christmas Eve, no one ever mentions the reading from Titus that we heard tonight.  But it’s right there at the opening: For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all.  Bringing salvation to ALL.  Not just me, or my side, or my team, or my country.  ALL the people.  Whom does God favor?  People.  All people.  Every single person.

Is there anyone God does not favor?  Is there anyone that is beyond the reach of God’s grace and peace?  No there is not.  And Jesus coming to us as a helpless infant is a reminder of exactly that.  The God who created everything that is comes to us a tiny vulnerable baby to show that God is for everyone.  To quote the Genie from Aladdin, “Phenomenal cosmic powers! Itty bitty living space.”  

Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom God favors!  Every.  Single.  Person.  Merry Christmas.


2023 YEAR B advent 4

Advent 4, 2023
2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16
Romans 16:25-27
Luke 1:26-38
Canticle 15

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

An interesting feature of Luke’s gospel is that it is always seeking balance.  For example, while Matthew gives us the sermon on the mount, in Luke it is the sermon on the plain.  In Matthew, the beatitudes are all blessed are the poor, blessed are the meek, blessed are peacemakers.  But in Luke we get the other side as well.  So it’s blessed are the poor, but woe to the rich.  Blessed are the hungry, but woe to those who have plenty.  Always with the balance, see?  It’s fitting that Luke’s feast day falls during the season of Libra, whose astrological symbol is a scale.  Balance.

And we heard another great example of this balance today in Mary’s song, which we often call the Magnificat.  He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up the lowly.  He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.  Always the balance, the equality, the leveling.  We think of that as righteous.  We think of that as just.  Or, we like to think that we think of it as righteous and just.  Because, when it comes down to it, talk like that is dangerous.

During the British occupation of India, public singing or recitation of the Magnificat was banned, for fear it might incite a revolution. And it stayed that way until the British oppressors left in 1947.  When the British went home, Mahatma Gandhi asked that Mary’s song be read in all the places where the British flag was being lowered.  More recently, in the 1970s and 80s, the Magnificat was banned in Guatemala, Chile, and Argentina. 

He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up the lowly.  He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.  It is righteous; it is just; and it is dangerous.  Who doesn’t want the lowly lifted up?  Who doesn’t want the hungry filled with good things?  The answer is, the mighty on their thrones, and the rich who will be sent away empty, that’s who.  Equality and balance are a threat to the oppressors, and the last thing they want is for people to be singing this song from the poor little meek and mild gentle silent night Mary.

And that’s exactly where so many of our Christmas songs go wrong.  Mary is often portrayed as meek and mild and silent, just going along with the flow of whatever everyone else wants.  And that is ridiculous.  And you know how we can tell?  We can see it in today’s gospel reading, which is also from Luke.

But first, there’s another feature of Luke’s gospel in that we get inside people’s minds.  We know what the prodigal son is thinking.  When the shepherds tell Mary and Joseph about the angels’ announcement, which we’ll hear tonight, Mary ponders it in her heart.  And this morning we heard that Mary pondered what sort of greeting this might be.  People don’t ponder in Matthew, Mark, or John.  But even more than that, Luke has Mary pondering.  A woman, pondering and thinking for herself.  That doesn’t sound revolutionary to us, but in Luke’s day it most certainly was!  A woman thinking for herself?  What’s next?  Giving birth to God in the flesh?

So the angel Gabriel comes to Mary and says, “Greetings, favored one!  The Lord is with you.”  And Mary ponders what sort of greeting this might be.  An angel just appears to her out of nowhere, and rather than fearfully cowering in the corner like I would, Mary ponders what sort of greeting this might be.

And then Mary speaks.  These are the first recorded words from Mary in any of the four gospels.  We would expect her to say, “yeah, okay shiny angel person, whatever it is you want I will do because I am the meek and mild silent gentle Mary.”  But no.  The first words out of Mary’s mouth are a question.  A challenge.  A scientific, logical query against make-believe fairy tales.  She asks, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?”  Whoa!  And does the sky split open?  Is she immediately struck by lightning for her audacity in questioning the representative of the all-powerful ruler of the universe?  No.  She asks a question, and she gets an answer to her question.

And can you see what that means for me and you?  We have it on good authority here that it is okay to question God.  In fact, I would say we are encouraged to question God.  To argue with God.  To push back when things don’t make sense.  You’ve probably seen the bumper sticker that reads “God said it, I believe it, that settles it.”  Well . . . no.  Not according to Mary.  Mary’s bumper sticker would read, “God said it, and . . . I have questions.”

I don’t remember where I first read this quote, but it was sometime during seminary.  Whoever it was said, “The role of the clergy is not to provide the answers.  The role of the clergy is to protect the questions.”  We don’t give you the answers; we encourage you to ask the questions.  God is big enough to handle all the questions we want to ask. 

And then look at how this reading ends.  Mary says to Gabriel, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”  Let it be with me according to your word.  Does Mary still have questions?  Of course she does!  Do you and I still have questions?  You bet we do.  And as we ask those questions, we trust that God will answer us, and God wants what is best for us.  And that God still comes to us, whether we are ready or not. 

As we finish preparing for the birth of this baby who will change the world, we have questions, and we should ask them.  And, as we journey into the birth of the Christ child together, we can trust God enough to say, “let it be with us according to your word.”


Sunday, December 17, 2023

2023 YEAR B advent 3

Advent 3, 2023
Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11
Psalm 126
1 Thessalonians 5:16-24
John 1:6-8, 19-28

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Who am I?  Why am I here?  Political junkies remember the man who famously asked those questions.  It was Admiral Stockdale, Ross Perot’s 1992 running mate in the Vice Presidential debate.  The press had a field day with this opening statement, because it seemed like a ridiculous way to begin a debate of this magnitude.  Stockdale’s opening statement was actually a question . . . or, in fact, two questions.  Who am I?  Why am I here?  They’re actually good questions to ask yourself.  Because if you can answer them for yourself, then you can answer them when someone else asks, Who are you?  Why are you here?

This is what happens to John the Baptizer in today’s Gospel reading.  He is out there in the wilderness, baptizing people, and these religious leaders come and ask him, Who are you?  And why are you here?  They’re really asking about the baptism that John is doing.  For the Jews of Jesus’ day, baptism was a ritual washing that a person did for only one of two reasons.  The first would be if you’ve become ritually unclean, like by touching a dead body or something.  And the second would be for Gentiles (that is, non-Jews) who wanted to convert to the Jewish faith.  The last step of the conversion to Judaism was to be baptized.  So, only two reasons to be baptized, defilement and conversion, and you’ll notice that “repentance” is not on that short list of reasons to be baptized.

So, the religious leaders are paying John the Baptizer a little visit to find out where he gets off adding a third religious rite without checking in with the main office.  But that’s their second question, the Why are you here question.  Before they get to that, they have to ask the first question:  Who are you?  And before he can answer, they offer John three options:  1) Are you the Messiah?  No.  2) Are you Elijah, the one who was supposed to come back before the Messiah?  No.  3) Okay, are you a prophet?  No.  

And now they’ve exhausted the list of people who could legitimately invent a new reason for baptism.  And they’re like, so then . . . who are you?  And he still doesn’t say.  He starts talking about someone else.  He starts talking about his identity as the one who prepares the way, who makes the paths straight.  They ask, Who are you?  And he starts talking about someone else.  This interrogation is not going well from the religious leaders’ perspective.  They want to know about John, and he is talking about someone else. Plus, he’s talking about someone who is right there with them, but someone they don’t recognize.  Just the kind of crazy talk you’d expect from a guy who eats grasshoppers.  John says, “Among you stands one whom you do not know, the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.”  

Translation:  You think I’m a radical?  You ain’t seen nothin’ yet!  John’s baptism with water is threatening to topple the apple cart of the religious system, and John is saying this is just the beginning.  He’s the opening act!  And not even that, he’s saying he’s more like the guy who unlocks the stage door for the main act.  Not in the same league.  Not one of the same kind.  Just another guy named John, doing what God has called him to do.  He’s pointing to Jesus; they're looking at his finger.

Back in the day, we had a huge black lab named Lula . . .  she was the world’s best dog.  Sorry to all of you who thought the world’s best dog was living at your house.  You actually have the world’s second best dog.  Anyway, Lula always wanted me to throw things so she could go get them for me.  The technical term is “fetch.”  But Lula, being a black lab, wasn’t necessarily the world’s smartest dog . . . just the world’s best dog.  So, sometimes I would throw something for her, and she would stand there looking at me, with her head crouched down, waiting for me to throw it.  And, of course, I would tell her I already threw it, and she always seemed to take that to mean I’m about to throw it.  

In frustration, I would point at the thing I threw, saying “Go get it.”  And then, of course, Lula would look at my finger.  So I’d point harder toward the ball, and she would stare harder at my finger.  Eventually, I’d have to pretend to throw the ball again, and then she would run off toward the ball that had been sitting there the whole time.  Not the world’s smartest dog; just the best.

These accusers who come to visit John today are kind of acting like my dog.  They’re looking at John, and John is saying, “It’s not about me, silly!  Look where I’m pointing!”  And they all stare at his finger.  They want to know about John, and John is telling them to look for Jesus.  They want to know about John’s authority, and John says my authority is just to open the door for that guy,  the one who is coming later on.  They’re staring at the hand that is pointing, rather than the point of the pointing.  It’s not about John the Baptizer; it’s about Jesus.

Back in 1547, a friend of Martin Luther named Lucas Cranach painted Luther preaching a sermon.  (I’m a big fan of Lucas Cranach, as you can see on the back of my left forearm.)  I’ve seen this painting of Luther many times above the Altar in the Town Church in Wittenberg, Germany.  On a cross in the middle of the painting is Jesus.  Luther is on the side, way up in the pulpit, preaching to the people who are sitting directly across from him.  He is looking at them, but with his right arm he is pointing at Jesus, on the cross.  The people sitting directly across from him are looking to where he is pointing, not at Luther.  The preacher is proclaiming the gospel by pointing at Jesus.  And it is a perfect sermon because the people are seeing Jesus, not the preacher.

Today’s Gospel reading started off being about John: This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, "Who are you?"  Sounds like it’s going to be a story about John, doesn’t it?  But the story is not about John, even though that’s why the interrogators are coming to talk to John.  They say, “So, John, tell me a little bit about yourself.  You’re doing quite a radical thing here, and we want to know about you.”  And what does John do?  He points to Jesus.  God among us.  The one “standing in your midst.”  He’s talking to them, but he’s pointing to Jesus . . . and, like the Cranach painting, it’s the perfect sermon!

They ask John, Who are you?  Why are you here?  And he says, I baptize people and tell them that Jesus is coming.  John is doing what Jesus tells his disciples to do at the end of Matthew’s Gospel:  Baptize people, and tell them that Jesus is coming.  And that answer should sound familiar to us, because that has been the mission of the Church ever since.  We gather together, baptizing people, in anticipation of Jesus’ coming into the world.  Baptize, and point to Jesus.  That’s what we do.

Of course, we also do other important and valuable things together, like gather for worship, offer hospitality to others, and minister through community outreach—Worship, Hospitality, and Outreach.  But the reason we do those things is because we are pointing to Jesus.  We are the ones who baptize people and point to Jesus.  That is who we are, even if we don’t realize that’s who we are.

So now if I were to ask you, are you Elijah?  You would say no.  Are you a prophet?  You would say no.  Are you the Messiah?  You would say no.  And then in frustration I would finally ask, Who are you?  Why are you here?  

And you could point to the one who is coming into the world.  You could point to Jesus.  Because that’s who you are:  the ones who point to Jesus.  And this morning you can point to this Altar, because that is where Jesus comes to meet us.  In the bread and the wine, right where he promised to be.  You can ask yourself those two questions: “Who am I, and why am I here?"  And you will find the answer in your outstretched hands.


Sunday, December 3, 2023

2023 YEAR B advent 1

Advent 1, 2023
Isaiah 64:1-9
Psalm 80:1-7, 16-18
1 Corinthians 1:3-9
Mark 13:24-37

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Welcome to the apocalypse!  I mean, welcome to Advent.  It happens every year.  The first Sunday in Advent, we get what is called the “Little apocalypse” as the gospel reading.  Right when we got started decorating, and baking cookies, and thinking about the sweet little baby Jesus, we get hit with the sun and moon going dark, and the stars falling from the sky, and the powers in the heavens being shaken.  And always, “Keep awake!”

I have some clergy friends who say they love these apocalyptic readings, because they make them feel hopeful.  I know, right?  You’d hate to see what makes them feel despair!  But this year, I actually kind of get what my friends are saying.  Because when we set the scary language inside a scary world, you can see the hope in there as well.  And you see it in the fig tree in this reading.  Everything is going crazy around us, but the fig tree will still bloom.  The daffodils will still come up in the spring.  Babies will be born.  All of which mean, God has not given up on the world.

This gospel was written almost 2,000 years ago, and God still has not given up on the world.  This reading speaks to us, just as it has been speaking to people for 2,000 years.  And, it speaks to two other specific groups, besides us this morning.  We could think of it as being addressed to three different audiences:  The group who heard it, the group who read it, and the group that hears it being read.  The first group are the ones Jesus is talking to, in person in 30AD, and the second are the ones it is being written down for in 70AD, and the third are the ones sitting here in Massillon in 2023AD, on this first Sunday of Advent.

So, first, Jesus is speaking these words to people who will soon see him being handed over to his enemies.  They will watch him go to the cross, after being brutally beaten and tormented.  For them, the sun will go dark.  The moon will lose its light.  The stars will fall from the skies, and the powers of heaven will be shaken.  The people hearing Jesus say these words will see the Messiah suffer and be killed.  The one in whom they have put their trust will be taken away.  

So, that’s the first level for this story, the people he is actually speaking to—the disciples.  The second group to consider are those who are alive when Mark’s gospel is being written down.  Even though Mark gives us the earliest version of Jesus’ life in the Bible, it’s written 30 or 40 years after the Resurrection, around 70AD, as most scholars have it.  This was a time of insane turmoil in the Roman world, with a massive Jewish revolt starting in the mid 60’s.  The response to this revolt from Rome was to completely destroy Jerusalem, including the Temple . . . the center of Jewish religious life.  For people living in Jerusalem at the time this gospel is being written, the sun and moon have stopped shining, and the powers of heaven have been shaken.  

So, that’s the second group hearing this story.  The ones it was written for.  And then we come to us, the third group of hearers . . . the people who have just had Thanksgiving dinner, and started some Christmas shopping, and begun digging out the decorations, and maybe already have a pine tree standing in our living room.  We’re zipping right along with plans for what food to get, and what presents to buy, and whether or not we’re going to talk to that one relative who drives us crazy every year, and just kind of day-dreaming our way into Advent, when suddenly the Reason for the Season says to us:  Wake Up!  Keep awake, because you do not know the hour or the day when the Son of Man will return.  It is jarring, I know.  But, at the same time, we’ve been talking about his return each and every week.  Right here, in this place.

Because every Sunday, we proclaim our faith together in one of the ancient creeds of the Church; we say, “He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.”  And then, in the Eucharistic Prayer, we say some version of this: Christ has died.  Christ is risen.  Christ will come again. That little triplet is called the Mystery of Faith.  Past, present, and future.  And it’s the last part—the future—we tend to forget.  Until Advent starts.

Christ has died.  Christ is risen.  And . . . Keep awake!  Christ will come again.

And then what?  Well, Jesus tells us, “Then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds' with great power and glory. Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.”  And who are these elect?  Let’s go back to Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, that section we heard this morning:  He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

“These elect” are the ones called into fellowship with God’s Son.  The ones who have been baptized with Christ into the mystery of his death, and into the promise of the resurrection.  Christ has died; Christ is risen.  In baptism you also have died and been raised again to new life in Christ.  You have died.  You have risen.  You are among those whom the angels will go and gather when Jesus comes again.  So keep awake!

Christ has died, and Christ is risen, but what now?  What about this long stretch of waiting for the Christ-will-come-again part?  Are we just killing time, waiting for Jesus to return?  Some Christians take that view.  For some people, Jesus can’t come soon enough, and they couldn’t care less about the suffering of this world because it isn’t “real.”  You know, it’s all gonna burn, and this present suffering is nothing compared to the glories of heaven.

Well, I don’t know about you, but that approach doesn’t work for me.  A far-away, pie-in-the-sky answer doesn’t work for me because I do not want a replacement for this world.  I want redemption of this world.  God does not promise to replace the world, but rather to redeem it.  In the Apostles Creed we say that we believe in the resurrection of the body, just as Jesus was raised in a physical body.  And a physical resurrection means that something more than a mystical spirit version of us will be raised on the last day.  It means there will be some continuity . . . something of this world will exist in the next.

I am convinced that there will be backyard football games, and great meals with lots of people, and healthy pets, and people whom we have loved and lost who are raised again.  That is not complete destruction and replacement; that is redemption.  And there’s a big difference between the two.  Jesus did not come into the world to condemn the world, but to redeem it.  And part of “it” is us.

So back to the question:  What’s with all the scary language this first Sunday of Advent?  Why all the doom and gloom just to tell us to stay awake?  We are quite aware that things are not right.  We’ve seen the horrible wars overseas.  We’ve seen the empty chair at the Thanksgiving table.  We know that someone in our family won’t be calling us on Christmas Day.  We see the state of our political discourse, we know people who are out of work, and we have felt the sting of death in losing the ones we love.

For us, here in the year 2023, the sun has been darkened, the moon has lost its light, the stars have fallen from the sky, and the powers in the heavens have been shaken.  Things are scary, right now.  It’s hard to keep awake when we think about constant warfare and global warming, and the economic inequality and systemic racism that are baked into our country.  Sometimes it just feels better to go to sleep, to zone out, to give up.

Christ has died; Christ is risen . . . and . . .?  What difference does that really make in the here and now of our lives?  Things still hurt.  A lot, sometimes.  It’s enough to make you rush out and buy presents, to cling to the joy of Christmas, to throw yourself headlong into the preparation of Advent.  Maybe that’s why we want to start the Christmas season even earlier each year.  Because we’re hoping that some of the joy and peace of Christmas will seep backwards into autumn, and then further back into summer, and maybe even all the way back into spring.  

But the real joy of Christmas, the true hope of Christmas, is the thing we tend to forget: and it’s that third part of the Mystery of Faith.  It is the promise we can cling to, in order to make some sense of our lives.  Christ will come again.  The first two parts of the Mystery are just a set-up for the third one . . . the part when everything really will be different.  When Jesus returns to redeem everything and everyone.

Christ has died.  Christ is risen.  And . . . Christ will come again.  We stay awake because the story is not over.  God is not done redeeming this messy beautiful world.  Jesus is coming back to get us.  May God give us the strength to keep awake, and to trust in the fullness of the Mystery of Faith.  Christ will come again, and that is the good news!