Some thoughts on Advent, starting off in 2 Kings 22:1-10, 23:1-3.
The books of 1 and 2 Kings tell the stories of Israel’s kings.
On a very simple (but honest) level, they’re not that exciting to read. They’re more or less lists which kings were good, which ones were bad, and how long they reigned for. There’s not a lot of plot. Not a lot of detail. There is some, such as in this morning’s but usually our weekly church bulletin is longer than some of the description of the kings and their rules.
So, we heard the story of Josiah, here’s a brief summary of the few kings before him.
Hezekiah. Good king. Did some good reforms. Wrote some prayers.
Manasseh. Bad king. Really bad king. Even ended up sacrificing his son to other gods.
Amon. Bad king. Killed by his own people.
Josiah. Good king. 8 years old when he became a king.
When I read these stories, I am once again reminded how these stories are from a really different time and a different place. Can you imagine Justin Trudeau dying, and his son Xavier becoming Prime Minister? I think this would be one of those things where we call agree that he just wouldn’t be ready.
While I’m sure he had a few advisors, here’s Josiah, running the kingdom as an 8 year old. And one of the things he does is that he orders the temple to be restored. 5 decades of bad kings had left the temple in disarray.
And lo and behold, they find a book.
Scholars debate what the book was, but most agree that it was some form Deuteronomy, but they can’t agree on which chapters it was. But that doesn’t matter all that much to us today.
We’ll just go with, “Josiah found part of the Bible that had been neglected for about 50 years.” And then Josiah had it read to him, and then to the entire kingdom, and they all agreed to listen to the it and get back on track. I can’t imagine an 8 year old getting excited about Deuteronomy, let alone an entire kingdom, but whatever. Different time and place, I guess.
The king, the elders, the priests, the prophets, the people… they all woke up to the word of the LORD and tried to follow God with all their heart and soul.
The word of God was once again with the people.
This book changed them. It refocused their attention to God, and God’s intentions of peace for the world. Peace with God, peace with others, peace with self, and peace with the Earth… Everything being in right relationship with each other. Justice for all.
Justice for all…
Sometimes, it’s kind of hard to imagine justice for all these days, isn’t it?
Pope Francis, whom I consider an honourary Mennonite, had some sobering words for the world last week.
He said, “We are close to Christmas. There will be lights, there will be parties, bright trees, even Nativity scenes – all decked out – while the world continues to wage war.
“It’s all a charade. The world has not understood the way of peace. The whole world is at war,” Pope Francis said. “A war can be justified, so to speak, with many, many reasons, but when all the world as it is today, at war, piecemeal though that war may be—a little here, a little there—there is no justification.”
“What shall remain in the wake of this war, in the midst of which we are living now? What shall remain? Ruins, thousands of children without education, so many innocent victims, and lots of money in the pockets of arms dealers.”
“We should ask for the grace to wee for this world which does not recognize the path to peace. To weep for those who live for war and have the cynicism to deny it.. God weeps, Jesus weeps”.
Justice for all…
Let’s go back to the story of Josiah. 50 years of evil, and then an encounter with the Word of God changes them. They wake up, pay attention, repent, get back on track, and remember how to live as God’s children in this world. It’s a movement towards faithfulness and justice. That once Josiah and the people woke up, they realized that there was another way to live.
I think Advent can be a similar time for us. Not that we’re necessarily doing evil for the past 50 years, but it serves as a time where an encounter with the Word of God changes us. Especially because it’s a season where we anticipate the word becoming flesh, a babe, born in a manger. We wake up, we pay attention, we repent, we get back on track, and we remember how to live as God’s children in this world. Advent can be a movement towards faithfulness and justice, and a new way to live.
And the ways we do this are really only limited by our own imaginations.
This new way to live means that we buy items to make MCC hygiene kits. Arianna is in kindergarten, so she’s only beginning to understand that not everyone in the world has toothbrushes and toothpaste and soap. So we told her that every Monday, when we go to Sobeys to buy our food, we’re going to buy some toothbrushes for kids who don’t have any. She quickly reminded me that if we were going to buy toothbrushes, we definitely needed to buy toothpaste too.
And so, every Monday, as part of us turning towards God and seeking justice, we’re buying toothbrushes and toothpaste. And Zach loves it, because he just gets to brush his teeth in the shopping cart, package and all.
In terms of gift giving, Ash and I started something years ago. We noticed that we loved our grandparents, but they weren’t exactly in the market for more things. Actually, the past 10 years have been all about them downsizing. And so, once again, as part of us turning towards God and seeking justice, we head off to Ten Thousand Villages and buy an MCC living gift. This year, given the large number of refugees in the world, we were grateful for the chance to buy food for families in refugee camps. And sorry Grandpa… you now know what you’re getting for Christmas from us.
And hey… speaking of refugees. I wasn’t here last Sunday, but I heard it was announced that we’re sponsoring a family of 8 from Syria. Talk about rearranging our lives because of justice.
I want to tell you a story about this.
We have a really great group of teenagers who come to youth, and love serving in Pauingassi, but for a variety of reasons, they’re not here on Sunday mornings. But they all say that they’re Gracers, and fiercely claim this church as their own.
On Tuesday, one of the told me that he had gotten into a debate in his English class about whether or not Canada should accept Syrian refugees. He was quite frustrated with one of his classmates, who was threatening to leave town if some Syrians showed up because she feared her own safety, and with a bit of a smirk, he said, “Well, pack your bags, because my church is bringing some over.”
Obviously, being so antagonistic (and a tad malicious) might not have been the wisest course of action, but I really do love that this Advent, we are preparing our lives by preparing to welcome a refugee family. In all of the Christmas paegents and carols and nativity scenes, we often forget that shortly after his birth, Jesus and his parents were Middle Eastern refugees, looking for a safe place to live.
(Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to know how to help with refugee resettlement).
Justice for all.
But Advent is also a time for inner reflection. Justice is important, but, as wiseman Mel has taught me, how we live on the outside is usually a reflection of who we are on the inside.
The past several weeks, I’ve been paying attention to my feelings. And I haven’t always been excited about what’s lurking underneath. I’ve noticed my frustration over people continuing to choose violence. I definitely had a period of rage over peoples fear of Muslim refugees. I am/was angry at people choosing to put their own perceived safety and security before those of people fleeing war. I’ve also noticed my cynicism towards all these outward expressions of generosity that seem to only appear at Christmas time (like how everyone wants to volunteer at Christmas but not on July long weekdend). I know. I can be a bit of a Scrooge.
But if I actually stop and think about my cynicism and anger and grumpiness, I can’t exactly say that that’s a great place to be. It’s not a very life giving place.
How in the world can I seek justice in the world without attending to own heart? Do I want to volunteer on July long weekend? (The answer to that is NO.)
I’m reminded of this haunting line from Thomas Merton:
“Instead of hating the people you think are war-makers, hate the appetites and disorder in your own soul, which are the causes of war. If you love peace, then hate injustice, hate tyranny, hate greed – but hate these things in yourself, not in another.”
O Come O Come Emmanuel, right?
O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
Oh man, do I ever need little baby Jesus to come and put my heart on the right path…. To disperse the gloomy clouds of night.
When we pay attention to the story, when we pay attention to the word made flesh, it exposes our need for a better way.
Advent prepares our hearts by encountering the word of God, the story of Jesus, and being changed by it.
Instead of cursing the darkness, Advent invites us to light a candle.
Much grace and peace to us all this Christmas season as we walk the path of justice, for it’s on that road that we will find our freedom.