24/7 News Channels, Zombies, and Small-g “grace”

Every year during Advent, as we wait in anticipation of God entering our world as a child, as we live the hope that God is going to come and set the world right, we encounter this guy.

John the Baptist.jbaptistbaptizing2

We follow a prescribed set of Bible verses for Advent, verses that are used by millions of Christians around the world.

And every year, we all together read about John the Baptist, calling out from the wilderness the words of the prophet Isaiah, “Prepare the way for the Lord.  Make straight the paths for him!”

Repent!  Jesus is coming!

One of the unique things about living in 2017 is the amount of information we get, and how fast we get it.  Between social media and 24/7 news channels and all of us having cameras in our pockets, what’s going on comes at as fast and hard.  Whereas some of us remembering having to wait til the 6 o’clock news, and some of us remember waiting until the next day’s newspaper, and still some of us remember town criers shouting in the city square, others of us have Twitter.

And it can at times feel a bit overwhelming, can’t it?  Or that our world is taking a turn towards something dark?

We read about climate change, and how the world will fundamentally look different for our children and grandchildren.   And since climate change exacerbates existing weather patterns, we see storms stronger than we’ve seen before.   And, we read about how some of those affected, like Puerto Rico, are still struggling to recover months later.

We see videos of white supremacists and Nazis marching with tiki-torches in the night.

We read about wealth inequality in our world, and how the top 1% of the rich, control 50% of the world’s wealth and how they influence politics and change the rules to favour them.

While most us are aware of media bias, the idea of fake news and wondering what’s true and what’s not and what’s political spin and whom can trust is all a little bit destabalizing, isn’t it?

We read about the global refugee crisis, from Syria, to where 1 in 4 civilians killed are children, to the plight of Rohingya in Myanmar.

And we’ve read, and shared, in #metoo, where thousands and thousands of women in all walks of life have shown great bravery and vulnerability and courage in telling their stories of how men have sexually assaulted them.  And we’ve believed them, and there’s been a bit of a long overdue public reckoning.

And all of this doesn’t even include a few unstable individuals who have access to nuclear weapons.

When we encounter all these stories, over and over again all day long, I get why jokingly some of us jokingly end up using apocalyptic language.

One of the ways that I understand the word “apocalypse” is simply this:  Uncovering. The great revealing.    No zombies. No end of the world prophecies.  Just a really truthful naming of what’s present in our world.  A revealing of what’s already there.

And when we stop and ponder, we know that everything I just named has been around for thousands of years.

For generations, we as human have been leaving the environment in worse shape for our children and grandchildren.

Natural disasters have happened before.

Empires and global super powers have neglected their responsibility to the poor and vulnerable and marginalized.

From Nazis to the KKK to the injustices done to indigenous people around the world, racism has flourished for centuries.

The rich and powerful have always tried to create propaganda that benefits them, and work to bend the rules in their favour.

Humans fleeing from war is as old a story as war itself.

And men have used and abused their wealth and status and power to exploit women for too long.

None of this is new.

What is new, however, is how all the darkness in our world is being revealed.  It is quick, it is widespread, and it is unfiltered.  And given the globalization of our world, we ponder our own roles in all of these things.

Advent is about waiting.  Waiting and longing for God to come and set the world right from all the darkness.

But we don’t wait passively.  We wait actively.   And part of actively waiting, part of waiting expectedl is for us to ponder our role in the world.

From how we respond with our money to the world’s crises, to whether or not we have believed the women’s stories about sexual assault, to our own role in perpetuating racism or climate change. Actively waiting for the Lord means that we have an opportunity to confront our own frailty, our own selfishness, own brokenness, our own fragile humanity.

And sometimes, I’m okay with a bit of a call for repentance. Of preparing the way for the Lord.  Because clearly we need it.  We’ve needed the call to make straight our paths for at least as long as John the Baptist has been saying it.

And I’m also grateful that John the Baptist quotes Isaiah 40.

There is the call for repentance.

And then there are the words offering comfort.  Comfort, comfort, O my people, says your God.

Your sins have been paid for, and you have received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.

And when we read about God’s paying double for sin, we often conjure up images of God’s wrath being poured out on humanity.  Punishment for our sin.

But as Christians, we don’t believe that God treats us as we deserve.   We believe in grace.

A quick aside:

Grace is the free and undeserved gift of God’s favour that is always there, always available, even in our times of failure.   And even sometimes offered in double doses.  It’s the gift of God’s love, God’s mercy, God’s forgiveness that reaches out to the sinner at the saint.

But Grace is not freedom from any consequences of sin.  Or freedom from public accountability. Goodness no.  One of the worst phrases in the English language is “Forgive and forget.”  Forgiveness is a journey that we all work at, yes, but forgetting means that we’re just setting ourselves up for a repetition of the negative action.  If our 16 year old kid trashes our car, we don’t just go buy them a new car.  Rather, we send them back to Driver’s Ed and tell them to have fun walking all winter.  Also, we don’t just shrug aside allegations of abuse and call it forgiveness… We work very hard at making sure destructive patterns aren’t allowed to continue.

Okay. Back on track.

As we wait, we say yes to repentance, and we say yes to God’s comfort, because we are in need of both.

The Lord is coming to set the world right.   And we get the joy of not only waiting for Emmanuel, God with us, but also actively participating in setting the world right.


Is 34 young or old?, Random Molecules, & Buddy the Elf

A short First Advent sermon, based on Isaiah 64:1-9

We start Advent in the depths of Isaiah with a poem begging God to come down and shake the mountains.  That God would enter our world like brushfire to make God’s name known among the nations.  That God would come and save us.

Throughout Scripture, we often read calls for God to come and intervene in our world.  Life seems out of control, and we call to God for help.

I’m 34 years old, and while some of you think that 34 is really really old, and others of you think 34 is still really really young, but no matter, after being alive for 34 years, I am still amazed at how much we strive for control.  Control over our lives, our jobs, our finances, our health, our faith life.  We love control so much that we even invented buttons to close elevator doors faster.

But then, even as we strive for control, there are reminders everywhere that we are not in control.  There will always be natural disasters.  All our bodies will eventually stop doing what we want them to do.  Grief unexpectedly rears its head and simple tasks become daunting.  Let alone all the times where the mistakes we make come back and relentlessly haunt our thoughts.

In the midst of our broken world, we cry out for healing.  In the midst of our own brokenness, we cry out for healing.   We cry out for God.

Here’s one of the many things about calling out to God.  When we cry out to God, we don’t really get to be in charge anymore, do we?  By calling out, we give God permission to shape us.

We invite God be the Potter, and we let ourselves be the clay.

A lump of clay that is not in control anymore.

On one hand, I acknowledge that that is really depressing.   The image of a boat that has run out of gas just being tossed around by ocean waves comes to mind.

But on the other hand, if we really are a lump of clay, then it is absolutely audacious that we believe God has breathed life into us and cares about us.  It is audacious that we have hope that our existence is more than a bunch of random molecules making up our flesh and bones.

It is audacious that that we gather at First Advent in anticipation of God coming to live among us.   It is audacious that God relinquishes controls and enters our frail, human existence as a child. It is audacious that the Potter becomes the clay.

As mentioned earlier, our theme this Advent is “Let it be.”

When Mary, the mother of Jesus, is visited by an angel and told that her child is the son God and his reign will never end, she responds with the words “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”  Luke 1:38

Let it be.

For some of us, we approach Advent with a sense of hope, excitement, and enthusiasm.  I’ve seen some of your Instagram feeds, and you’ve had Christmas trees up for weeks already.  The words “Let it be” can be so easy and natural. buddy

At Christmastime, we give, we sing, we share, we laugh, we decorate, the world is beautiful,we act like Buddy the Elf, and we can get onboard with Mary saying yes to God.  We got this.  It’s go time, God.  You’re coming into our world to cheer our spirits and disperse the gloomy clouds of night and put death’s dark shadows to flight.  Let’s build a mountain of toys!  Let it be.

For others of us, the words “Let it be” are a cry to God for help, because the darkness is overwhelming.  We cling to hope that that Jesus can set us free from Satan’s tyranny and save us from the depths of hell and give victory over the grave.  “Let it be” God, because we need you to come and order all things far and nigh.  “Let it be.”

Across the spectrum, from it’s the most wonderful time of the year and peace on Earth to all people to the depths of darkness and struggle, Let it Be, O God.  That is our cry to you.  That is our plea.  Let it be is us joining you in relinquishing control.  Let it be is us giving you consent for you to change our lives.  Let it be is us giving you consent to change our world.  Let it be is us hoping that the light will come and overtake the darkness.

O come O come Emmanuel.