Isaiah 2:1-5; Romans 13:11-14
I suspect everyone here knows what time it is. Two days ago was Black Friday. While my wife and daughter moaned about having to go to Short Pump to face the crowds, Deb and Martina fooled no one. They had been planning this shopping excursion for at least 364 days. Someone told me tomorrow is Cyber-Monday. I guess that is Black Friday with a mouse. Any kid can tell you there are 28 shopping days till Christmas. They can also tell you how those days are to be spent, with the operative word being “spent.” First thing I do every morning is to look at my daily calendar to see how my time will be occupied. That too is the correct word. So often we feel occupied by the clock, occupied by the calendar, occupied by the obligations we have made. The crazy thing is most of the ways we spend our time are commendable. You are good people with kind hearts. All I have to do is mention there is a project or need which is church or community related and I am always overwhelmed by your response. You spend your time both generously and sacrificially. Wednesday night a church member who lives by himself had an unfortunate fall. After spending the day in the hospital he was going home with his arm in a sling and his body many shades of blue. He clearly needed help and because of the holidays, home health could not begin until Monday. From his bedside at the hospital I made one phone call. Fifteen minutes later I received word that eight of you had agreed to drop by and check on him through Monday. I know everyone of these busy folks had set aside time to celebrate the holidays. And yet a need was eminent and so time stood still.
Sometimes, we are able to control time. But I suspect more often than not time controls us making it necessary to figure out how to be both in and out of time. We have to learn to look beyond today and figure out what tomorrow will bring. Those of us who are still punching a time card are very envious of those of you who have retired. From my perspective it seems you have it free and easy, getting up at the crack of noon, doing whatever you please, whenever you please. But then I sometimes get a chance to peak into your very busy lives. Retirement meant you just stopped working for the boss. Your days remain full, very much run and predetermined by a most demanding clock. So regardless if you are fully employed or generously retired we all still answer to the tyranny of time.
The season of Advent dares to challenge the concept of time as something we calculate in minutes, or hours or even days. The season of Advent dares to us move beyond personal gratification and focus our hearts and minds on the purest concept of the goodness of God.
Well that sounds good in theory but if there has ever been a time that we are captivated by time it would have to be the month of December. Deb and I sat down last week to find a day we could run to Richmond to do our Christmas shopping. After looking at our calendars the only time we could find was one lone Friday. Think of it, 28 days till Christmas and only one was free. And even to make that day possible we had to reshuffle our schedules. How can we stop and think of Christ? We are too busy doing Christmas?
Paul had a simple solution. Of course that is one his problems. Paul made highly dogmatic proclamations which might look quite commendable when hidden away in his Holy Epistles but are often terribly impractical when exposed to the light of day. Paul said, “Don’t let the burdens of life interfere with how you conduct your life. Stay focused, not on the task of the day but rather of the promise of tomorrow. Jesus is coming soon. The day of salvation is closer than you think. Look to Christ and the problems of this world will grow strangely dim.”
When Paul started that pep talk he was convinced the Second Coming was just around the corner. He knew he would see Christ before he saw death. But as Paul grew older he certainly must have wondered why God wasn’t cooperating. Good friends wrote to Paul informing the Apostle of the death of a loved one and wondered why their dearly beloved had not been resurrected to a new life. Paul was forced to reconsider earlier claims. He began to preach, “In life and in death we belong to God.” But he still clung to the notion that the second coming of Christ was near.
This is one of the reasons I consistently remind you to never limit yourself to just the New Testament. The message of God’s love and grace were first presented in the Old Testament and purpose of the New Testament was to expand on those gifts as understood through the life and death of Jesus. In practical terms, the poets of the Old Testament were dreamers. The writers of the New Testament were theologians. The Hebrew people loved stories and understood God through the telling of the story. The New Testament writers emerged from a Greek culture that valued the analytical. Reason and logic ruled the day. Unfortunately there was nothing reasonable or logical about the concept of resurrection. Paul must have often been asked a dozen times, “We hear your theory on the resurrection of the dead, but until you can prove it, we have no reason to accept it.” Paul responded, “Soon Jesus will arrive and you will see with your own eyes.” While it has never happened, thanks be to God, a culture of faith emerged celebrating what could not be seen or touched.
That faith has survived for 2,000 years, not by a belief in analytics, but rather in a joy of hearing the story told. When we sing, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”, I doubt there is anyone singing with the thought that Jesus will arrive in all his glory before the 25th of December. But we still sing, hoping for a glimpse of a heavenly vision that will stand in resistance to our understanding of relative time. We sing, praying for a vision of God’s peace that will transform our warring madness. We sing, pregnant with the expectation that perhaps this Advent season will truly be holy. We don’t sing the book of Romans. We sing the poetry of Isaiah.
God will judge between the nations
and arbitrate for many people.
They shall beat their swords in plowshares.
They shall beat their spears in pruning hooks.
Nation shall not life up nation against nation.
Neither shall they learn war anymore.
Come, let us walk in the light of the Lord.
Have you ever thought about the idea that Jesus came to earth once and really doesn’t want to return until we begin to exhibit some effort toward bringing about the peace God so deeply desires? That is why we light the Candle of Hope. Hopeful people are not only aware of the obstacles that make life difficult, they work toward changing the circumstances that made those obstacles relevant. Hopeful people spend Advent, and beyond, working to fulfill God’s holy dream. Let us together light the candle of hope. Amen.