Date: Nov. 28, 2021. First Sunday of Advent
Scripture Lessons: Jeremiah 33:14-16 and Luke 21:25-36
Sermon: Receive the Gift: On the Look Out
Pastor: Rev. Kim P. Wells
So, in case you haven’t been paying attention, the world IS falling apart. The roaring of the seas and the waves. Distress among the nations. Those island nations sure had something to say at the UN Climate Change talks in Glasgow. How about the recent flooding? Oh, and the fires? The devastation. And the deadly pathogens. And what about the protests over an unjust justice system? And poverty and need growing while wealth is swelling? It’s unstable. Unsteady. Shaky. There is fear and foreboding about what’s to come. We are in the midst of cataclysmic shifts. Tectonic eruptions.
While I would never suggest that this is God’s plan, that God is behind it all, that this is intended punishment to further God’s ends, there is judgment. There is a reckoning in what is going on. And we see that the gospel of Luke lays out the options for response.
Psychologists tell us that in the face of calamity, of threat, of fear, the human response is either fight or flight. We either get out of the circumstance or we face it full force. We seek a safe haven or we seek to eliminate the threat. The gospel of Luke presents a circumstance of cataclysm, of turmoil, of anguish, and also presents two responses. One response is to hide, to escape, to sleep, to deny. Perhaps a version of flight. To be weighed down with dissipation, and drunkenness and the worries of this life, as Luke puts it. I think we are clear about drunkenness. And the worries of this life. But dissipation? What does that suggest? One scholar tells us that dissipation is the “nausea that follows a debauch.” [New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume VIII, p. 346.] OK. And what is a debauch? According to Webster, “an act or occasion of extreme indulgence in sensuality or carnal pleasures.” The second definition is an orgy. So, such an occurrence followed by nausea is dissipation. Are we suffering from dissipation after our over indulgence in fossil fuel consumption? In consumerism? Black Friday, anyone? Perhaps. But Luke lets us know that one response to cataclysm is drunkenness, dissipation, and being weighed down by the worries of this life. And we can see that, especially at this time of the year. There are so many trivialities to engage. So many opportunities for distraction. For indulgence of various kinds. Worrying about the food for the party. Worrying about the dress for the Christmas photo. Worrying about how to get the Christmas tree home. Worrying about the granddaughter studying in Europe who might not be able to come home for Christmas because of the Omicron variant. Worrying about the supply chain issues that might prevent you from getting that perfect gift for someone. Worrying about the concert you won’t go to because of covid. Worrying about the problems with the mail and your Christmas cards and packages getting delivered. We could go on and on and on and on with the distractions and worries of this season. And there may be plenty of parties offering the opportunity for drunkenness. Numb the pain. Ease the grief. Sweeten the memories. And then there’s dissipation. Some days, it’s all we can do to get out of bed.
But the gospel of Luke presents another response to cataclysm, to turmoil, to the breaking and shaking and quaking of the very world under our feet. Stay alert. Awake. Stand up. Straight. Raise your head. Keep watch. Pray. Pay attention. Be on the lookout. For the activity of God. Because where there is trouble, where there is pain and heartache, where things are falling apart, where there is strife, that is where the love of God is sure to be breaking in. With comfort and justice.
And we never know what form the presence of God will take. We don’t know how redemption will come. It may be in ways that are small and seemingly insignificant. Easy to be missed. It may be through some huge shift. A huge transformation. The Bible tells us of the presence and workings of Divine Love in everything from an enormous flood, to a burning bush, to a cross, to silence. This is a way of letting us know that we cannot predict or limit the workings of Love in the world. We are urged to stay alert because we may be surprised, we may be taken aback, by the ways of restoration and redemption. But it happens. Whether we notice or not. You see Advent is a season of preparation for the celebration of the birth of Jesus. The birth has already taken place. It has already happened. Divine Love is present in the world. The process of redemption has begun. It is already happening. Advent reminds us to be awake, alert, and watchful so that we don’t miss it. So that we see that Divine Love is breaking into our reality. The transformation is happening. It’s not just about the future. It is not just what will happen. It is about what has happened and what is happening right now. If we are focussed on waiting for something in the random future, we may be missing what is happening right now. Right now Divine Love is invading our world, spreading like a virus, fomenting new life. Not just 2000 years ago. Not in the illusory future. But right here. Right now. Because things are falling apart.
These darkening days make us want to turn in early, cozy up under the covers. Or snuggle in with a screen. But we are warned – stay alert. Awake. Vigilant. Be immersed in prayer, community, worship, generosity, and justice. And stay wary. Everything we hope for or dream of is here, waiting for us, unfolding around us – if we have eyes to see. If we pay attention.
Luke presents two very clear alternatives – distraction or engagement.
We must not be afraid of the chaos and turmoil around us. That will not keep God, Divine Love, away from us. That will not separate us from God. It is may be that in turmoil, pain, suffering, in injustice, we find God is, perhaps most intensely, with us. It’s the darkness that makes us crave the light. And the light has come and darkness has not overcome it.
This Advent, be present. Watch. Look. Listen. Pay attention. Immerse yourself in the spiritual disciplines that keep you centered. So many distractions, so many worries, can consume us. Trap us, Luke says. Trap us. And keep us from experiencing the very thing we need – connection to Divine Love, experience of the presence of God, engagement with the Sacred.
Advent. It starts not with Black Friday, but with our choice in the face of the horrors and devastation around us. Will we hide? Become consumed with worry? Escape in self indulgence? Let ourselves be trapped? Or will we stand up? Straight and tall. Awake. Alert. To what God is doing. And how we are needed. Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us – are we paying attention?
We close with the poem, ‘The whole earth’s a waiting room’ by Joseph T. Nolan:
We wait — all day long,
for planes and buses,
for dates and appointments,
for five o’clock and Friday.
Some of us wait for a Second Coming.
For God in a whirlwind.
All around us people are waiting:
a child, for attention;
a spouse, for conversation;
a parent, for a letter or call.
The prisoner waits for freedom;
and the exile, to come home.
The hungry, for food;
and the lonely, for a friend.
The whole earth’s a waiting room!
“The Savior will see you now”
is what we expect to hear at the end.
Maybe we should raise our expectations.
The Savior might see us now
if we know how to find him.
Could it be that Jesus, too, is waiting
for us to know he is around?
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