I want to talk this morning about waiting. After all, Advent is supposed to be about waiting, right? But waiting for what? The chance to officially have permission to sing Christmas carols instead of Advent hymns? To open that one package under the tree that has captured your attention? To gather with family and friends whom you may not always get to see?
-Sermon by Lindsay Ross-Hunt
“Grant us stillness of heart, oh God, that we might have eyes to see and ears to hear the moving of your spirit among us. Amen.”
These are all lovely things to look forward to, but they are not what we are waiting for during this season of Advent. The waiting of Advent, as we see in this morning’s readings are not a passive “can’t wait” sort of attitude, but rather an active preparation for what is to come. Because what is to come is beautiful. And hard.
I was a little worried about what to preach this week. After the ruling (or lack thereof, really) in the Eric Garner case, I saw a friend on post on Twitter, “preachers, if you didn’t preach last week on how #blacklivesmatter, you now have another chance.” The weight of yet another situation where an unarmed black man was killed by a police officer–an agent of the state–and this time entirely on video, left me at a loss for words. And not just a loss for words, but almost a kind of inability to even understand what I was feeling. I felt full of emotion and yet empty at the same time. And so I found myself asking, along with the individual in Isaiah, “What shall I cry?” Everything I could come up with felt inadequate in the face of such injustice and pain.
To the individual in Isaiah, God says, “All people are grass, their constancy is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breathe of the LORD blows upon it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever.” This may seem strange comfort to us, who live in a culture where we’re told we can be and do anything–and we believe it!–and that we as individuals matter and have an impact on the world. Being told we are like grass doesn’t seem like much comfort.
But imagine you are in exile. Imagine your conquerers have told you your God has been defeated and is dead. Imagine you are a stranger in a country where you are different from everyone else and where those who destroyed your home continue to endeavor to destroy your culture and identity by trying to make you more and more like them. Where you are subject to the rules crafted by those in positions of power, not those who understand what life is like “down here.” Perhaps, in a place like this–in a place like the Israelites in exile in Babylon, in even here in Black or Native America, these words may sound different. Equalizing. Because if we are all grass, then that person in power is not so powerful after all. In fact, the only true power is the word and promise of God to bring salvation and shalom.
This is what we hope for. This is what we wait for.
In our readings this morning, we are drawn a spectacular vision of just what this salvation of God looks like, and especially in the Psalm. We chanted this morning, “Truly his salvation is very near to those who fear him, that his glory may dwell in our land. Mercy and truth have met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other. Truth shall spring up from the earth, and righteousness shall look down from heaven.” Wow. Did you catch that this morning? I think this is one of the most beautiful passages in all of scripture. “Mercy and truth have met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other.” And God is in the midst of it all. God’s presence dwells in the land among God’s people.
But while this picture is beautiful poetry, it is also a profound statement on human society. God’s shalom involves not just mercy, but truth. And not just peace, but righteousness–or right relationships. This is super important. Because the absence of conflict without right relationships is empty–in fact, it may describe any number of oppressive societies throughout our history. And mercy without truth is incomplete. In the New Testament reading this morning, Peter says that on the day of the Lord, “the earth and everything that is done on it will be disclosed.” Again, another reference to how the salvation of God involves transparency.
Why is that transparency so important? Why does mercy also need truth? We don’t like to talk much about sin anymore, it’s loaded with all sorts of theological and emotional baggage for many of us. But in our efforts to distance ourselves from those seemingly judgmental religious systems we throw the proverbial baby out with the bath water. We can’t escape the reality of sin in our world, and the way in which we are tangled up in it, the way we are involved and perpetrate it, the way it impacts and harms us and those we love. This is a part of the active waiting of Advent: looking with fresh eyes at the truth that needs to be identified so that right relationships, mercy and peace can move forward.
I heard Cherokee theologian Randy Woodley, a professor just down the road at George Fox say once that, “Shalom is always tested on the margins [of society]–if it’s not working on the margins, it’s not working. Repentance is choosing to use your power for the benefit of others.”
Ten minutes on any news broadcast can tell you that it’s not working. People are afraid. People are dying. People are taking to the streets all over this county desperately asking to be heard in whatever way possible, crying out all over the land for truth telling and right relationship. For shalom. When I heard the text in Isaiah say, “God will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep,” I couldn’t help but think of the countless images of these heartbroken and outraged mothers calling for change. Of the letters going around Facebook from one mother to another pleading for white folks to have eyes to see and ears to hear . . .
Isaiah’s words this morning are both words of comfort in the midst of this pain and words of challenge. Let’s remember that to be comforted is dramatically different than being comfortable. We are not called to be comfortable. On the contrary, as Advent people we are called to step into all the broken and messy places of this world and work towards the salvation and shalom of God. Theologian Debra Dean Murphy says, “hope is not wishful thinking; it is risk and action and the courage to undertake both.”
So how will you wait this Advent season? How will you, in your own way, “prepare the way of the Lord through the wilderness” and work towards the mercy, truth, righteousness and peace that is God’s promise of salvation? There is no shortage of opportunity around us. Saint Augustine once said, “it is solved by walking.” Let us walk together.