The Rev. Peter Faass, Rector
There’s a 1965 epic film about the life of Jesus titled, “The Greatest Story Ever Told.” It’s a grand Hollywood film which pretty much renders Jesus’ life, from the Nativity to the Ascension, in a fairytale-like way.
Now fairytales have a purpose. I’m a big fan of them, actually. They evoke memories of my childhood and provide a sense of comfort. We like fairytales so much that we have rendered the Nativity story into one; a wonderful story that provides a brief escape from the stress and drudgery of the real world we face every day. The Nativity as fairytale is comforting and sweet. It’s the reason why the children’s Christmas pageant is the best attended worship service of the year. Its charm and the serendipity of what the children will say and do, bring big smiles to our faces. The pageant sets the mood for the joyful festivities of Christmas which follow.
In this Nativity fairytale Jesus is a rosy cheeked, plump, perfect baby, who as the carol Away in a Manger proclaims, “no crying he makes.” Now that’s a perfect baby!
In this fairytale Mary is clothed in a pristine white Alb with a gorgeous blue robe over it. Her hair and make-up are perfect, just like every women’s hair and make-up are perfect after they have given birth. Joseph stands over them, benignly gazing over this perfect baby and wife. All three seem far removed from the problems of the ordinary world in which they live. T his is a beautiful tableau and its purpose is to make us comfortable in an often-uncomfortable world . . . it is also about as far removed from the reality of the night of Jesus’ birth as we can get.
Let me be frank here: The Biblical text about the life of Jesus is without a doubt the greatest story ever told, but it is equally, without a doubt, the most scandalous story ever told, as well. And it all starts with his birth in Bethlehem which is the inaugural witness of the scandal that Jesus will usher into the world in his life, crucifixion, and resurrection.
All of which is to say that the fairytale we have created of Jesus’ birth should not prevent us from realizing the extraordinary scandal of just how God came into human history as a completely helpless newborn child, and was laid in a feeding trough, surrounded by animals in a cave. Because it is in that scandalous birth that our salvation lies.
Think of all the scandalous details surrounding the birth of Messiah. Luke certainly did. His narrative opens discussing powerful leaders: Emperor Augustus and Quirinius the governor of Syria. Yet this is not their story. The story is of a vulnerable unwed mother and her newborn child. And this birth occurs outside of any center of power, in a gritty backwater village called Bethlehem. The news of the birth is not proclaimed from the hills of Rome or Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, but to a bunch of ragged shepherds tending their flocks on the outskirts of Bethlehem.
This is not what we expect of God. We expect God works on a splashier stage with a better-heeled audience. This is scandalous!
Opening the story by citing the powerful and proud rulers of the time and then shifting to Bethlehem is to make a critical claim; a claim that this birth will change the course of history about the place in God’s reign for the rich and the proud and the poor and the humble. As Mary sang at the Annunciation, God in Jesus “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.” Scandalous!
Think of the irony that an emperor in Rome and a newborn peasant baby in Bethlehem have anything to do with one another, or that angels would bother singing God’s praises to smelly shepherds, or that a grimy village would get preference over the splendor of Herod’s jewel-encrusted and gold-leafed Temple. But they do. This radical, un-God like shift of focus from the what the anticipated narrative of Messiah’s arrival would be turns life upside down and inside out. Scandalous!
And then there’s the total vulnerability of the Holy Family brought on by their dire circumstances. A long, arduous journey through territory inhabited by bandits and wild animals, strange surroundings in Bethlehem, a no vacancy sign at the only inn in town, a newborn infant to protect, a dirty and foul smelling stable, a young woman compelled to undergo an unexpected pregnancy outside of the bonds of marriage, a husband who is struggling to follow God’s guidance even though he has serious doubts about how life is unfolding. The fear, confusion and anxiety weighing heavily on Mary and Joseph’s hearts had to be enormous. Frailty and vulnerability define these characters; they are steeped in it. God with us is frail and vulnerable. Scandalous!
We are disappointed, even repelled by how these actual circumstances of Jesus’ birth disabuse us of our fairytale imagery. Yet, conversely, they also fascinate us, compel us to look closer. Why?
I believe it is because we instinctively feel empathy for the Holy Family. Our compassion kicks in for them because we see ourselves reflected in them. If this is how God – Emmanuel - comes to dwell with us, in the midst of these scandalous, dire circumstances that seem beyond the pale, then it gives us hope that Emmanuel dwells with us today in our own lives, our own dire circumstances as well.
Theologian David Lose say this about Luke’s nativity story: “If God can work in and through such ordinary characters [ and circumstances, then] we are bid to wonder, perhaps God can also work in and through us. Luke wants, I think, to make sure we realize that it is not just human flesh ‘in general’ that God takes on in Christ; it is our flesh. And it is not simply history ‘in general’ that God enters via this birth, it is our history and our very lives to which God is committed.”
In the scandalous circumstances of Jesus’s birth I see my own vulnerabilities: my frailty in dealing with the challenges of live and relationships that can leave me feeling drained, isolated and lonely; the dirty and foul areas of my life that have me wondering if I can faithfully follow God’s call; those nagging doubts and fears that blemish my being the person God desires me to be; the vulnerability I feel as I grow older, contemplate my declining physical abilities, my health issues, and how these will impact my security. Dare I hope that in all those moments when I am afraid, doubtful and insecure and frightened, that God actually dwells within me?
And then the truth of the scandal embedded in Luke’s nativity story washes over me like the light from the star in the east. By entering human history in this way God identifies with all the oppressed, lonely, frightened and broken people in the world; which means all of us at one point or another.
In this scandalous birth God fully reveals God's intentions for humanity. God has not abandoned us to the brokenness of the world. In this scandalous birth a new world order unfolds. An order where wholeness trumps brokenness, love consumes hate, and life tramples death.
This truly is the greatest story ever told!
Draw closer to the manger, my friends. Look closely. You and I are there as well. This nativity story is as much about you and me as it is the all other characters. This is no fairytale. The circumstances of Jesus birth give us hope and courage in the midst of our own fragile, broken lives. In this birth we find our salvation. What a scandalous claim! What utter joy!
Matthew 1: 18-25
The Rev. Peter Faass, Rector
Of the four Gospels, only Luke and Matthew offer us birth narratives of Jesus. Luke’s story tends to focus on Mary as the active parent, while Matthew focuses on Joseph as the active parent, or, more theologically accurate, active step-parent.
There’s a wonderful meme circulating on social media this holiday season that depicts Mary taking a nap on a straw covered palette, while Joseph is seated next to her in a chair cradling the swaddled baby Jesus. I love this image because it shows Joseph as an involved parent and not some aloof father. He has taken his role as a parent seriously, not leaving childcare to the mother, while he focused on his carpentry work to bring home the bacon . . . or, as he was Jewish, the bagels!
The circumstances surrounding Mary’s pregnancy certainly didn’t bode well for Joseph being an involved parent. As Matthew tells us, Mary and Joseph were engaged to be married. In the culture of first century Palestine this engagement required fidelity to your betrothed. When Mary finds herself pregnant, Joseph automatically believes that she has been unfaithful. The Law of Moses was very clear about the penalty for infidelity; stoning to death. In Deuteronomy we learn that, ““If there is a young woman, a virgin already engaged to be married, and a man meets her in the town and lies with her, you shall bring both of them to the gate of that town and stone them to death, the young woman because she did not cry for help in the town and the man because he violated his neighbor’s wife. So, you shall purge the evil from your midst.” – (Deut. 22:23-24)
By the time of Joseph and Mary, the Rabbi’s had mitigated this penalty for infidelity, but it still would have been severe and humiliating. Certainly, being an unwed and pregnant woman would have caused Mary to be subject to considerable scorn, gossip, and shunning.
Under the circumstances of his not being the father of Mary’s unborn child, Joseph would have been within his legal rights to expect that Mary be penalized to the degree the Rabbi’s allowed, most likely being ostracized from her family, friends, and village.
But he does not demand that. We read that, “being a righteous man and unwilling to expose [Mary] to public disgrace, [Joseph] planned to dismiss her quietly.” In other words, Mary is going to be sent away to a place where she is unknown and where - hopefully - she can have her baby in relative peace and safety. This will save Mary from public humiliation and disgrace.
I’m afraid that Joseph would not find much support today for his righteousness toward Mary in those segments of society that are swift to judge, and even swifter to condemn. In more archaic terms many would consider him to have been cuckolded; made a fool of by his cheating wife. In the patriarchal society he lived in – and which is still all too dominate in our own - Joseph would have been seen as being, “less of a man,” not only because he had been cheated on, but because of his compassionate response to Mary’s pregnancy. In more contemporary language he would be deemed a snowflake.
But is he really “less of a man” and a snowflake because of his response? And if so, why would Matthew describe him as being righteous.
The word describing Joseph as righteous in Greek is dikaios which literally means “just.” In the understanding of first century Hebrew culture, being “just” would have meant to live by the Law of Moses. In our own time we would call a just person who lived within the confines of society’s rules and regulations, a law abider. Well, Joseph acting justly in this case would have been a law abider. Which means he would have allowed Mary to be subjected to the penalty of the Law for her perceived infidelity. With this understanding Joseph is not just, because he does not follow the letter of the Law; in this case he is not a law abider. Yet Matthew calls him just.
He is not a law abider, yet just none the less, because an epiphany from an angel informs him that Mary’s is no ordinary pregnancy, and the child in her womb no ordinary human being. So, obedient to God, he compassionately takes Mary as his wife and serves as Jesus’ legal father, to the point of naming him Jesus, as the angel told him to.
In God’s eyes what Joseph did is true just behavior. Just behavior is to not abandon Mary to the cruelty’s society would have wrought on her; to not leave her alone, unprotected, afraid, and destitute; to nurture, feed and protect the child who will soon be born.
In this understanding of what it means to be just, Joseph is not rigidly following the letter of the law, but he is fulfilling the spirit of the law.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus states, “ Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the prophets; I have not come to abolish but fulfill.” (Matthew; 5:17) He then offers a series of “you have heard it was said . . . but I say to you” examples of what the authentic fulfilling of God’s law requires.
Joseph is the precursor of the behaviors Jesus says are required of us by God; Behaviors which do not violate the Law, but actually fulfill it . . . justly.
For instance, Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven . . . For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:43- 45a, 46-48)
In these sayings Jesus is teaching the necessity of having a heart to follow the laws of God justly. As citizens of the Realm of God we are held to a higher standard of behavior; a standard that completely supersedes our external conformity to a set of rules and regulations.
Joseph is Matthew’s original role-model of what that standard looks like in action. In the case of Mary’s pregnancy, Joseph is just. The requirements of the law were not.
There’s a United Methodist Church in California that has a creche on their property this December. In that display the Holy Family - Joseph, Mary, and Jesus - are locked up in individual cages. It is powerful imagery, especially in light of what is occurring on our country’s southern border. It’s also a profound theological statement that reminds us the Holy Family became refugees seeking safety in a foreign country, as they flee the genocide of an irrational and power-hungry tyrant.
The rules and regulations that undergird our government to engage in this behavior of separating families and locking them in cages may be legal according to the law, but it’s certainly not just. Not in God’s eyes.
Certain so-called Christians have railed against this UMC church, calling the display blasphemous. There have been death threats against the pastor, and anonymous messages threatening to blow the display and the church up. Yet the true blasphemy in this case is in this threatened violence by alleged Christians. The true blasphemy is supporting the government’s actions and saying that God supports the ripping asunder of families and the mis-treatment of children to keep our country a majority white one. The rules and regulations may support these folks who believe our government is behaving justly, but what we are doing on our southern border in every way violates the justice of God.
As followers of Jesus, we are called to live by a different standard. “You have heard that it was said, ‘We need a wall on our southern border to protect our nation and keep brown people out. But I say to you, “show kindness and mercy to one another; do not oppress the widow, the orphan, the alien, or the poor;” (Zechariah 7:9) you shall love one another as I have loved you.”
We are on the cusp of Christmas. As we celebrate this momentous act of God’s entering into human history, let us remember Joseph who modeled God’s just behavior as he prepared for the birth of the Savior. And let us never forget that it is in Jesus we - like Joseph - are called to live into the higher standards of God’s reign. In so doing we will truly be proclaiming the Good News of Jesus’ birth.
The Rev. Faass, Rector
Ah, nothing says “Happy Holidays” like calling people, “a brood of vipers!” Somehow slithering snakes just don’t quite fit in with the Victorian Christmas tableaus we strive hard to achieve at this time of year. Yet, here they are in Matthew’s Gospel as John the Baptizer prepares the way for the first coming of Jesus.
For the past few weeks we have heard scriptural admonitions to stay alert, keep awake, be prepared, get our lives right with God, for we do not know the hour that the Lord will appear.
Well, in Matthew’s text the time of his arrival is imminent and John is busy preaching and baptizing, preparing people for the life-changing message of Jesus’ Gospel. Just like in the parable of the wise and foolish virgins, when Jesus the bridegroom arrives you’re either ready and get to enter into the wedding banquet, or you’re just plain out of luck and left out in the cold and dark.
There’s no pussy-footing around when it comes to the prophets, as the Collect for today states, “preach[ing] repentance and prepare[ing] the way for our salvation.” Which means the prophet’s words can be harsh at times as they admonish and call us to a new way of life. That’s why John rails at the Pharisees and Sadducees, calling them a brood of vipers, and asking them, “Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit worthy of repentance.”
John was well aware of the hypocrisy by the religious authorities appearing at the River Jordan. He knew the real reason the Pharisees and Sadducees had come was to see what he was up to; they were on a reconnaissance mission. They definitely were not there because of an authentic desire to amend their lives and be cleansed of their sins. The Pharisees and the Sadducees believed that their status as children of Abraham – as Jews – already guaranteed them their salvation. It was a done deal, no further action required. But John said that was not the case. It’s an erroneous belief, he says, because, “God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham.” Don’t rely on your lineage, he tells them. You need to bear good fruit in your own lives. You don’t get a pass allowing you to behave anyway you want based on your ancestry. Walk the talk; actions and behaviors are what matter to God.
This message rattles the religious authorities. When they come to see John, they are there out of concern for the huge numbers of people streaming to hear John preach. There is also some malice as they spied on John because his message was threatening their status. So, they went through the motions of coming to hear John, but it was inauthentic repentance. More self-serving than self-improving.
That’s why John calls them out in front of the crowds; to point out their hypocrisy and use them as an object lesson of what preparing the way of the Lord was not about.
Like all the prophets, John is calling people to live lives of holiness; lives that bear fruit worthy of repentance. Lives that strive to be in alignment with the ways of God’s reign. Lives focused on “let[ting] justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!” as Amos says. (Amos 5:24) Lives of act[ing] justly and . . . love[ing] mercy and . . . walk[ing] humbly with . . . God,” as Micah says. (Micah 6:8) Lives where we “share [our] bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into [our] house; [and] when [we] see the naked, to cover them,” as Isaiah says. (Is. 58:7)
These are the ways of holiness that the prophets call us to. Peter Marty is the publisher of The Christian Century. In a sermon he wrote for Advent, Marty quotes the late Eugene Peterson, who said, “’holiness is the most attractive quality, the most intense experience we ever get out of sheer life.’ And our hope, Marty says, is in the Lord’s patience with us even as we struggle to live holy lives.”
Someone who heeded the prophets call to lead a holy life was St. Nicholas who served in the first half of the 4th century as Bishop of Myra, in what is now Turkey.
Nicholas was born circa 270 CE to wealthy parents, who raised him to be a devout Christian. His parents died in an epidemic while Nicholas was still young. Obeying Jesus' words to "sell what you own and give the money to the poor," Nicholas used his whole inheritance to assist the needy, the sick, and the suffering. He dedicated his life to serving God and was made Bishop of Myra while still a young man. It is possible that he was one of the bishops attending the First Ecumenical Council of Nicaea in 325. One of the most famous incidents from his life is when he is reputed to have rescued three girls from being forced into prostitution by dropping a sack of gold coins through the window of their house each night for three nights so their father could pay a dowry for each of them. Other early stories tell of him calming a storm at sea, saving a ship and sailors from imminent peril, and rescuing three innocent soldiers from wrongful execution. Bishop Nicholas became known throughout the land for his generosity to those in need, his love and compassion for children, his concern for sailors, and his protection of the most vulnerable in society.
At his death he was buried in his cathedral in Myra. In the 11th century, when Venice was a powerful city-sate, sailors from that city raided Nicholas’ tomb and took his relics to Bari, Italy where they are currently entombed in the Basilica di San Nicola. His feast day is celebrated on December 6th.
Nicholas is famed as the traditional patron of seafarers and sailors, and, more especially, of children. As a bearer of gifts to children, his name was brought to America by the Dutch colonists in New Amsterdam and who called him Sinterklaas. When the English took over the Dutch colony they heard Sinterklaas as Santa Claus.
In the early 19th century Clement Clarke Moore, a Professor of Oriental and Greek Literature, as well as Divinity and Biblical Learning, at the General Theological Seminary in Manhattan wrote, "A Visit from St. Nicholas", first published anonymously in 1823. It later became widely known as, 'T’was the Night Before Christmas.’ In this now famous poem, Nicholas the saint morphs into Santa the jolly elf, and well, the rest is history. While St. Nicholas certainly is the precursor of Santa, our culture has taken the jolly elf and made him less a witness to a holy life, like St. Nicholas, and more an avatar of commercialism and the acquisition of loot. This truth may be best summed up in Eartha Kitt’s sultry Christmas song, “Santa Baby, Put a Sable Under the Tree For Me.”
God’s prophets don’t do sable, they do holiness of life. Which is what the incarnation of God as the baby Jesus in the manger of Bethlehem is all about.
With the focus on commercialism and hedonism during our culture’s Christmas celebrations, we fervently need to be touched by St. Nicholas’ example of a holy life. His life is a witness to the call of the prophets to have compassion for the weakest and most vulnerable in the world, putting others before self. Nicholas’ life incarnates Christ’s example, and his holy life calls us to do the same.
We are in the midst of the frantic holiday season. The Church focuses on Advent in these weeks leading up to Christmas, calling us preparing ourselves for the coming Savior. At the last, when God checks the list of our behaviors – to see if we have been naughty or nice, sinful or holy – what will God find?
Maybe, better put: If Jesus texted you that he was five minutes away and would be at your door momentarily, what would he find when he got there?
Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight as you strive to heed the prophet’s call to holiness of life.
Isaiah 2:1-5; Matthew 24:36-44
The Rev. Peter Faass, Rector
There is a magnificent mountain in New Hampshire called Mt. Chocurua. During my five years there I formed a special attachment for this particular mountain, which was about 25 miles north of where I lived. My “Hiker’s Guide to the Mountains of New Hampshire” has a note in it that says I climbed Mt. Chocurua for the first time on October 18, 2003. It also tells me that I did so with the Chilton Mountain Club. The word “euphoric” with an exclamation point follows that entry. It truly was.
At 3,475 feet Mt. Chocurua is far from being the tallest mountain in the White Mountain range. Mt. Washington, the tallest peak in the northeastern United States, comes in at 6288 feet. The reason Chocurua holds a special place in my heart is because of its peak. Unlike the other mountains in New Hampshire, which have been worn down into round, soft peaks by millions of years of erosion, Chocurua has a solid granite, pointy peak. It looks like a mountain and not a giant hill. Its peak is completely barren of growth except for some scrub growth and wild blueberry bushes. Because of that, once you reach the summit you are presented with an un-obstructed breath-taking 360-degree view. On a clear day, on the peak of Chocurua, it did seem, as Barbra Streisand sang, that you could see forever.
Hikers had three trails from which to choose to scale Chocurua; Champney Falls, Middle Sister or Piper. At 7.6 miles round trip, Champney was the shortest, but in my opinion, the prettiest trail. Middle Sister was 9.5 miles and Piper, the roughest and hardest trail, was 9 miles. Each trail provided moderate to difficult hiking conditions. Each had abundant views, lots of flora and fauna and some exquisite waterfalls. I recall starting at the Champney trailhead one October day in 70-degree weather at the foot of the mountain and encountering snow flurries once I reached the peak.
Regardless of which trail you hiked, the most challenging part of climbing Chocurua was the granite peak. It required some nimbleness and nerve to negotiate it, with one rather shear run that I always did sitting on my butt. If you –like me – have some issues with open heights, getting to the peak could be a little daunting. But as the old saying tells us, we must face our fears head on. Working through those fears of open heights gifted you with the spectacular 360-degree view, a sense of real accomplishment, and the presence of the holy.
In New Hampshire there are abundant anecdotes of people who climb mountains to restore their belief in the goodness of life and the creation. Many folks climb when things get too stressful and over-whelming down on the flatlands. The peak of Mt. Chocurua was one of those Celtic thin places, a place where the veil between humans and the Divine becomes permeable. There are numerous stone Cairns there, reminders of the deep sense of holiness people encounter in this place. Because of these things, climbing Chocorua was to engage in a sort of pilgrimage.
In our first reading this morning the prophet Isaiah describes a place similar to Mt Chocurua.
“In days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established . . . and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it.
Many peoples shall come and say, ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.’
For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. He 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 any more.
O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the LORD!” (Is. 2:1-5)
Isaiah’s prophecy came during a time of great duress for Israel. The powerful Assyrian Empire was a constant looming threat on Israel’s borders. In time the Assyrians would invade the nation and decimate ten of the twelve tribes. Life for the Hebrews was also one of significant disparities in the economic and social systems. Hebrew society was made up of a tiny, rich, elite class that held most of the wealth and power, and a huge impoverished class. Those in greatest need were treated with utter contempt by the wealthy, in clear violation of the Mosaic Law.
Worst of all, the response to Isaiah’s prophetic word to “walk in the way of the Lord,” calling on the elite class to clean up their act or suffer great consequences, was for them to engage in further corruption, selfishness and decadence.
Yet despite this Isaiah looks with faith and hope beyond the current reality toward a vision of a transformed world, a new age when all peoples will live together in peace and unity under the gracious rule of God. His vision is a mountaintop one: “In those days to come, all nations will come to the height of the mountain of the Lord to learn the ways of peace and unity.”
In Matthew’s gospel, the evangelist is also speaking to the Hebrew people in a time of extraordinary distress and calamity. Written in the early 80’s of the first century, the Jerusalem Temple had been destroyed by the Romans. The Jewish people were forced into the Diaspora, and expelled from their homeland. Hope was all but eradicated from the lives of the people.
The evangelist has Jesus prophesying these circumstances, saying that in the future hard times will be the reality and even more will come. But ultimately with the arrival of the Son of Man, God’s justice will prevail in the world. Apocalyptic times are alarm clocks, Jesus says, reminding us to stay alert. They remind us we are to live faithfully as we await the coming of the Redeemer. A few verses after the one’s we hear today is the parable of the goats and the sheep. The connection of this parable to who gets saved and who does not - the one’s left in the field and at the mill grinding and the one’s taken away, is clear. The ones who stay alert are those who have tended to the needs of the world; the poor, the hungry, the imprisoned, the naked, the lonely. Those who have done this who will inherit the Kingdom brought about by God’s Son. They will be the ones who achieve the peak of the mountain top, as they journey the trail of life. Those who ignore the hungry, thirsty, sick, and imprisoned will be cursed. They will not achieve the pinnacle, that holy place where God’s reign is fulfilled. Therefore, stay awake, be alert, Jesus says. Do what God requires of you, even in the face of adversity and stressful times, and all will be well.
In the distressing times we encounter in our own day, with wealthy and powerful elites controlling society, and powers of all sorts threatening our existence, the messages of Jesus and Isaiah resonate powerfully. Economic uncertainty has taken an enormous toll on us, and a disgraceful disparity between rich and poor grows ever wider. It would appear that the middle-class, so crucial to our American way of life, is an endangered species; a diaspora of extinction. Wars continue to drag on in Iraq and Afghanistan, and new ones seems to threaten us with an erratic, nuclear, North Korea, and growing, powerful nations in Iran and China. We endure eroding freedoms from ICE raids, to cameras recording our every move. In many places if you are Hispanic, Arabic or Muslim you are viewed with suspicion, if not contempt. And while our institutional “Temples” of government, business, finance, and religion have not been literally destroyed, our trust and confidence in them to provide stability and security is teeter-tottering.
Personally, we encounter mini-apocalypses brought about by sickness, aging and loss, as well as failure and disappointment on the trails of life we climb.
But do not despair, scripture tells us. Be patient Isaiah and Jesus say. Be hopeful. Be alert and do what is right and just, even in the face of overwhelming odds. Face those fears you have head on, keep moving up the trail, even if it means you need to move forward on your butt now and then!
That is the Advent message. The final coming – the final analysis, if you will – the coming of the Savior, and the Restorer of the world to the way God intends for it to be, will be a scenario in which God prevails once and for all. Advent’s message is one of hope. It is light in the darkness. This season embraces our longing for a better way and a better time when the whole world will be complete and whole. A time when we will reach the mountain peak – regardless of how challenging the trail - and the thin place veil has evaporated to reveal the glory of God’s reign.
Our task in this life is to persevere and have faith in the promise that God’s reign will come.
There is a poem written by an anonymous African-American slave in the 1800’s that powerfully conveys this message of perseverance and hopefulness.
"There's a king and a captain high,
And He's coming by and by,
And He'll find me hoeing cotton when He comes.
You can hear His legions charging in the regions
of the sky,
And He'll find me hoeing cotton when He comes.
There's a Man they thrust aside,
Who was tortured till He died,
And He'll find me hoeing cotton when He comes.
He was hated and rejected,
He was scorned and crucified,
And He'll find me hoeing cotton when He comes.
When He comes! When He comes!
He'll be crowned by saints and angels when He comes.
They'll be shouting out Hosanna! to the Man that
And I'll kneel among my cotton when He comes."
Despite the trials and tribulations that we encounter, even the brutal, harsh conditions of slavery that this poet endured, Isaiah and Jesus assure us that if we persevere and hold onto the hope in their promises, as the poet did, we too will be rewarded with salvation and great joy, when he comes, when he comes.