Sunday, December 5

Sermon Second Sunday in Advent


I stand before you a little unnerved this evening. Last Week I stood with Jane and Tripp and we urged you to be awake and to await the coming of Christ. Are we awake, like the child on Christmas Eve waiting for Santa Clause, waiting to see what will be found under the tree? Our texts are exciting and should spur us in this anticipation and hope. Isaiah speaks of a time of perfect just judgment for the poor, the end to all violence, even that natural violence of prey and predator. Paul says that such texts as Isaiah's and all the Old Testament are to recall us to our hope which we have in Christ. And John the Baptist, wild man, confronting the Pharisees and calling for repentance. Are we awake now? I am having the suspicion that what is being anticipated by Isaiah and by Paul's hope and John’s preaching is not what we expect. Will you consider with me tonight that waiting for Christ to come and Christ's actually coming (the fulfillment of all these promises) may be more than we want, desire or imagine. I am unsettled because all these positive images have begun to look like judgment and John just might mean it when he calls us to repent.

We Protestant and western Christians no longer look to Advent as a season of self-examination and repentance. We have decided once a year is enough for such dour stuff as repentance. But here we are in the celebratory anticipation of Christmas and a crazy man from the wilderness who eats cicada's and honey walks into Chase CafeƩ and has the audacity to walk right in interrupt our service and says "Repent for the Kingdom of God is near." And he talks about sin and things being thrown into the fire and burned up, dividing wheat from Chaff. "Hold on there John" we might say, "I think you're just a little off. What of Reconciliation? Isn't that what Jesus is about? And what about good tidings, and all the beautiful images in Isaiah, justice for the poor, and Paul calling us to have hope? Is there really hope in all this negative talk of Christ coming with fire and burning things up, trees being chopped down and pulled up? What about the end of destruction and violence?"
John stomps off muttering something about a brood of vipers, I think... I couldn't quite catch it.
Tonight I want us to take John the Baptist seriously to hear all his talk about sin and repentance, dividing wheat from chaff, and fire, raging (maybe out of control) ever consuming. (Don’t worry this isn’t a fire and brimstone sermon, I wish to approach something far more important than whether hell exists or not. After all, John the Baptist's message isn't one of fear and loathing). John reminds me that maybe I don’t know what I am waiting for, that what I think is coming and what is actually on its way have little in common.

As a child waiting for Christmas was exciting as I anticipated all the things I was going to get for Christmas. As often as not Christmas day was disappointing because the gifts I received were nothing like what I wanted. Of all the things I wanted growing up there is only one gift that I still have in my possession, Lego blocks. I don’t remember any other gifts. The exceptions are the disappointing gifts, the practical gifts; clothing, a pencil sharpener, an electric razor. Those unwanted gifts lasted and, as Kate can attest, the electric pencil sharpener still works and is in use. You see my Aunt Dauna always gave odd disappointing gifts, and yet I always hoped that this year she would give us something really cool and expensive. I don’t even remember what those things were that I had hoped for. But in the long run it has been her disappointing gifts that have lasted and that I have been used for years.
Eddie Izzard has a bit about what would have happened if Santa Clause was part of the coming of Christ. Santa in his big red suit comes to the Baby Jesus and says "Ho ho ho baby Jee, and what would you like for Christmas?" Baby Jesus "Peace on earth and good will toward men" Santa Clause "Well I don't know about that. How 'bout a clock work train." Baby Jesus "Oh yes that's much better, forget peace on earth. I don't care anymore."
Do we have a Santa Clause anticipation of Christ's coming? When it comes to all this waiting is what we expect and accept from Christ like accepting a trinket when we could have something cosmic, something unpredictable?
When confronted with Repentance do we much prefer our cozy ideas about what reconciliation and salvation mean; good things for the poor some cuddly images of a lion and a lamb.

Do we realize what Isaiah is saying, do I? Am I crazy to ask you all to just sit here and accept this? Every ecosystem in the world depends on the balance between prey and predator, other wise we’d be overrun with mice rats, insects, deer etc. God are you nuts this can’t happen, this isn’t a nice kitschy picture this is complete and total reversal. This is cataclysm, the world as we know it ceasing to exist! Do we really want righteous judgment for the poor?
Paulo Freire, in his Pedagogy of Hope tells a story of one of his early encounters in his work with the poor workers in Brazil and tells this story on himself. One of the issues that he saw was how the cycle of violence and oppression was perpetuated by the poor themselves in the beating of their children. After one of the education sessions on proper care and discipline of children one peasant worker stood up in a question and answer session and confronted Freire. The peasant worker began by thanking Freire for his words. Then he asked Freire a question, "Do you know where we live". As the peasant worker described the conditions. small one room houses no running water etc., Freire is wishing to disappear. Then the man is bold enough to describe for Freire his own house, which he has never seen. He describes a house with a yard a room for Freire's girls and a room for his boys and a room for him and his wife. There is also a study and a room attached to the house for the maid. Freire admited that he had accurately described his house. The worker then brings these two images home "Now Doctor, Look at the difference. You come home tired, sir, I know that... Thinking, writing , reading, giving these kind of talks that your giving now. That tires a person out too. But sir" He continued, "its one thing to come home , even tire, and find the kids all bathed, dressed, clean , well fed, not hughy--and another thing to come home and find your kids dirty, hungry, crying, and making noise. And people have to get up at four in the morning the next day and start all over again--hurting, sad, hopeless. If people hit their kids, and even 'go beyong bounds,' as you say, it isn't because people don't love their kids. No its because life is so hard they don't have much chice." ( Pedagogy of Hope: Reliving the Pedagogy of the Oprpressed, Trans. Rober R. Barr, The Cohntinuum Publishing Company, 1994, pp 24-26) Freire that night was a little disgruntled by this mans speach and he complained to his wife saying he thought he had been so clear, and how he wasn't sure they understood him. His wife replied "Could it have been you, Paulo, who didn't understand them?"
Paulo Friere was convicted. Judgment came and yet in that judgment he was propelled further. He never gave up his house, but he saw that what he was waiting for was larger than simply getting people to stop beating their children, he saw that his own efforts to make a better world were bound up in the sin of that world.
Isaiah lived in a world that was terribly awry and we live in that same world. John the Baptist lived in that same world, and he tells an oppressed and victimized people to repent, because their salvation their rescue was near. They the oppresed needed to repent to be ready for their deliverance. Why, because what they thought would be deliverance was not what was to come.
One of our members has just returned from Israel and Palestine, what if John the Baptist would re-appear to day on the Jordan? Could the Isreali's and Palestinians both hear this call to repentance, end the blame recognize their share in this world gone awry? Could we?

God doesn't come to us in the packages we'd like, in the comfort of our homes. The images of Isaiah are all well and good. Yes, the cessation of violence but are we willing to let go of the violence within ourselves, the violence that is the simple insistence on living as I want and as I please.
So, you want Christ to Come, you want a different world? So you work for justice, so we seek reconciliation of Christians? So Repent. Repent of what you might ask? John doesn’t give a list of sins, this isn’t a message of one group of people telling another group to shape up or ship out! Rather this is John proclaiming a message from God to all of humanity whether we or they think them or ourselves as good or bad. Because God unlike Santa Clause isn’t really concerned about who is naughty or nice in this world gone awry. God is concerned with our being ready for the coming of the Kingdom. God in Jesus Christ asks are you willing to lay down your clock work trains and trinkets so that God can trasform the world and ourselves, which are awry and corrupt.

Be ready for the one who comes and separates the wheat from the chaff, whose salvation is judgment between what can live on and what is of no worth and will be consumed as God transforms us and the world. Remember Advent is a time of preparation for the coming cataclysm of a child born in a manger, who would bring fire to the earth to accomplish true peace. Remember Advent is a penitential season because what we expect and what is to come are far apart. We are whether we want to or not bound up in a world that is awry; whether it is social system or personal morality, what we expect and think is right probably is very different from what will be as Christ comes and brings fire to the earth. So wake up, be aware! Yes anticipate, but be ready we only have inkling of what is to come. Say good bye to Santa and his trinkets and welcome the wild man John and his call to repent, for it is the only way to welcome the coming Christ.