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Date:12/2/18

Series: Advent

Category: 2018 Sermons

Passage: Isaiah 2:1-4

Speaker: Nicole Trotter

This Sunday we begin Advent, a time of waiting and preparation for the holiest of nights. Our Advent theme this year is Calm and Bright, 200 years of Silent Night. The story goes, that 200 years ago, on Christmas eve, St Nicholas’s church organ was broken and so the Pastor began thinking outside the box, searching for a way to worship God through music. What came into creation was the most recorded song in history. Something was broken and something was created. A door closed, another opened. Out of the void comes life. And during Advent, perhaps most importantly, out of the darkness comes a star so bright it leads us into a new life.

Episcopal priest Fleming Rutledge writes, “Advent begins in the dark.  It is not a season for the faint of heart.”

I think I’ll start sending out Christmas cards with that in it and see how that goes over. 

In his book of contemplation, In the Shelter, poet and theologian Pádraig Ó Tuama asks a question; “How do we say hello to here?” That is, how do we live honestly in our own skins?  How do we accept what's in front of us?  How do we guard against numbness, denial, and despair? [1]

This week, I was perhaps a little too determined to say hello to here when a checkout person at Good Earth asked me how I was…. Now there was time years ago, when I started having fun with the checkout people at Trader Joes when they would ask the same question, how are you, and I would say, well do you have an hour? That would always get a chuckle, and that was the end of it. 

But Good Earth has a different vibe. People are a little more serious than they are at Trader Joes;  they look you in the eyes, deeply and sincerely, and because I’ve seen this same woman for a few months in a row on my weekly run for produce…I decided to say hello to here. 

SO when she said how are you…I said, I’m mixed. She tilted her head as if to say, tell me more…so I told her about my nephew who is sick and will most likely die, while we pray for a miracle…and I started to tear up a little.

And the poor woman was a bit taken back. It was perhaps more than she bargained for while ringing up broccolini and pomegranates.

So I softened it for her. And talked about how grateful I was for the rain. 

Writer Debie Thomas, who writes for an online publication Journey with Jesus describes Advent as an invitation….An invitation that calls on us to say hello to here…. 

She writes- 

Advent is an invitation to yearn because once we’ve named where we really are, we can’t help but to yearn. When it’s okay to say we are hungry, thirsty, lonely, empty, unfinished, or unhoused. 

Invitation to wait-Eugene Peterson called the Christian life "a long obedience in the same direction," and I don't think we can get more counter-cultural than that. If the secular world speeds past darkness to the safe certainty of light, then Advent reminds us that necessary things — things worth waiting for — happen in the dark. 

The invitation to notice.  To attend.  To look.  “Look at the fig tree,” Jesus says.  "Look at all the trees." 

The invitation to imagine.  In Advent, we are called to hope creatively.   To hope against the grain.  Or as Barbara Brown Taylor puts it, we’re called to trust that “darkness does not come from a different place than light; it is not presided over by a different God.”  With our imaginations, we can hold in tension the grief of our circumstances and the compassion of a Messiah who comes to save us.  With our imaginations, we can take the long view even as we dwell concretely in the here and now.

So.  How do we say hello to here?  We begin, Pádraig Ó Tuama writes, by admitting that “the rotten fruit of illusion rarely fills for long.”  Advent is an antidote to illusion.  It cuts to the chase.  It insists on the truth.  It lays us bare.  Advent invites us to dwell richly in the here, precisely because here is where God dwells. 

(end quote)

In our weekly meditation group on Thursday mornings….one of our participants said something that I believe may even be a better Advent theme than the one we have around Silent Night. 

She said….when she was a little girl….her mother would say, Should you ever get lost in a store, stay put, and I’ll find you. There may be no better metaphor than what God is saying during Advent. Stay wherever you are….in the dark or not, and I will find you…I will find you in moments of joy, in deep breaths that pick you up, in the unexpected phone call, in the sense of calm that will come over you in panic…..God will find you.

~~~~~~~

Isaiah was a great prophet who was writing these prophetic words, poetry at times, during a very dark time. A time he wasn’t afraid to name. Like all prophets doing their job, they were more often than not called upon to speak a truth that hurt, saying things that people didn’t necessarily want to hear, especially people in power, like kings who wanted only to hear accolades and reassurances, as kings considered themselves anointed by God. 

But Isiah is doing some different. He’s calling upon the people to learn from God, to learn God’s ways. Writing from experiences of great destruction and war Isaiah calls for nations to learn Torah which is still new to them and exchange war for peace. 

But for Isaiah nations, people do this by bringing their need, their hurt, their ability to admit their own greed, and the ability to grieve…to God. That’s an ability to submit their will to God’s will which is one of peace, one that will resolve all conflict.

UP till now, to bring grievances to God, through worship, came with an assumption ion that there was a gap between God and the people and the priest or prophet, judge or ing would help to bridge that gap between god and God’s people. 

But for Isaiah, the mediator is now God. And God is the one doing the mediation, resolving the divide, bridging the gap between nations. Which requires the leaders of those nations to humbly and dutifully submit to God’s will, which for Isaiah, is one of peace. The sword is no longer lifted

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. 

Power is no longer found in weapons, but in tools that cultivate and transform..pruning hooks.  plowshares and pruning hooks are tools that cultivate out of rocky soil, to unearth from the land the nourishment of olive, fig, grain, and grape. Isaiah understands our human capacity to create tools that can harm one another or feed one another…sustain life and fulfill God’s will.

It is a prophecy of light out darkness. Of peace out of war….and it’s done by cultivating with our own hands the will of God. 

Like on a battlefield Roughly 100 years ago….when those troops I spoke about earlier, in the middle of world war, called for a truce, they held one…they laid down their weapons and succumbed to a greater authority that lived in faith. They called for a truce long enough, to sing, and long enough to even play ball…

Here are some actual quotes from letters written by soldiers who were there 

“The Germans started singing and lighting candles about 7.30
on Christmas Eve, and one of them challenged anyone of us to go across for a bottle of wine. One of our fellows accepted the challenge and took a big cake to exchange.”

Another writes- “We had a church service and sang hymns, we met the Germans midway between the trenches and wished each other a ‘Merry Christmas’.

Host: “In a letter sent from the front on 29th Dec 1914, Staff sergeant Clement Barker reports that during the truce British soldiers went out and recovered 69 dead comrades in No Man’s Land and buried them. Sgt Barker also reports that an impromptu football match then broke out between the two sides when a ball was kicked out from the British lines into No Man's Land. Another soldier writes about how the truce came to an end at 3 pm on Christmas day when a German officer called his men in:”

And another writes, “A German soldier said to me ‘today (Christmas Day) nice; tomorrow, shoot.’ As he left me he held out his hand, which I accepted, and said: ‘Farewell, comrade.’ With that, we parted....” 

How can we, as God’s children, called into a life of faith cultivate peace within our communities… our closing hymn affirms the same idea…that Peace begins here, with each of one of us. Let peace begin with me…

If Advent is not for the faint of heart, then let me suggest we ask this question…How do we say hello to here…To this time if darkness…and how do we pick up our plows and pruning hooks and begin to cultivate within, what we want to see for the world…Perhaps on this first Sunday of Advent, we stay right where we are…..We call a truce to all the ways we tell ourselves we’re not where we want to be and instead accept that when we succumb our will over to God’s, we’re exactly where we’re supposed to be. And God will find us there.

Stay right where you are, in stillness, say hello to here, stay put and peace will find you. Stay put, God says in the darkness, and I will find you there. 

Amen.

[1] Debie Thomas, Journey with Jesus