Advent I 2016

Preached at Trinity Cathedral, Trenton, NJ.

Advent expects a new world order.  Messiah will come and establish God’s own utopia, where there will be no more competition for well-being, where we’ll all be better off because everyone is well off, because the good of each is part and parcel of the common good.

Advent warns: cosmic upheaval will be required to get there.  Stars will fall.  Violent earthquakes will level mountains and raise valleys.  Climate change will flood deserts and dry up fertile farm land.  The very foundations of society will have to be shaken down to clear the ground for dramatic reversals.  Every human society privileges some at the expense of others.  When the gap between rich and poor becomes too wide, when unjust systems become too brittle for midcourse corrections, there’s nothing for it but “comes the revolution” that destroys the old to start again.

Advent warns: things will get worse before they get better.  Powers- that-be will do their damnedest (I use the word advisedly) to hold on to power and privilege.  The more desperate they get, the more ruthless they’ll become.  Advent warns: God’s strategy will be to let the powers of darkness play themselves out and do their very worst until they have exhausted their strategies and resources.

Advent expects: Christ will come in judgment to establish a new world order.  Advent warns: Whenever there is dramatic social change, for better for worse, there will be chaos in between.  Advent is that “in-between” season.  How are the people of God to keep faith when the world flies apart at the seams?

Most of us are old enough to have had a taste of chaos, when the pillars of our lives crumble or disappear, when the basics that we took for granted crash and burn.  Children lose parents, partners lose spouses to death, divorce, or jail.  Hard working bread-winners suddenly lose jobs, because the company moves or is bought out and downsized or because treacherous colleagues wanted them out of the way.  One way and another benefits get cancelled, and there is no money to pay the rent and buy food.  Our bodies let us down so that we can no longer do the very things that we thought made us useful and gave zest and purpose to life.  Or, we are confronted with that medical death sentence.  Some here at Trinity even know what it’s like to be caught in the middle of a violent civil war surrounded by slaughter and dismemberment.  When the world as we know it goes to smash, how can we to avoid falling apart with it?

Many of us here have learned the answer.  It is precisely in the midst of chaos that we come to know and feel what is always a reality:  God is the ground of our being.  Christ is the sure foundation.  In the midst of chaos, we must cling to God for all we’re worth.  We must hold fast to Christ our rock, so that we experience at the core of our being why “all our hope on God is founded!”  God loves us with an everlasting love that will not let us go forever.  We are safe in the clutches of Christ’s crucified and resurrected hands!

Biblical chaos is not brief.  The bible warns: the old world order will hang on “for a time, a time, and half a time.”  The bible teaches: the only way to retain our integrity is to root and ground ourselves in God and–by who we are and what we do and say–to keep on bearing witness to those core values that life together with God, companionship with Christ, have taught us to share.

Which values?  Archbishop Tutu, that veteran of chaos, of faithful testimony to entrenched but collapsing old world orders, makes them plain:

“Good is stronger than evil.

Love is stronger than hate.

Light is stronger than darkness.

Life is stronger than death.

Victory is ours through Christ Who died for us and rose again!”

In the midst of conflict and chaos, Archbishop Tutu faced up to the apartheid prime minister and grinned the invitation: “why not come over to the winning side?”

Love is stronger than hate.  Most hatred is defensive.  It credits the other with being a real threat to who we are and what we mean.  Hatred easily believes that we will not be safe unless those others are destroyed, or made to go away, unless their style is cramped so that they cannot live into their full potential.  But God is Boundless Love.  What makes us all safe at bottom is that there is enough life to go around and enough love to go around, because Divine love is generous, has a positive tendency to share itself out, to create room for us to be.  Rooting and grounding in God’s love, is what enables us to love family, friends, and neighbors.  And rooting and grounding in God’s love will make us strong to love our enemies, too.  We come to realize that because in God there is enough life and love to go around, God can be good to our enemies without being any less good to us!

Light is stronger than darkness.  Truth is stronger than lies.  We all know, lies can be persuasive.  We have all watched people get ahead by lying and playing false with others.  Because lies don’t correspond to anything real, they allow us more flexibility.  The current flack about “Fake News” on the internet shows how lying allows us to make up whatever we want.  All the same, Truth is stronger than lies.  Compared to Truth, lies are ephemeral, flimsy and fleeting, there’s nothing to them because they aren’t grounded in reality.  Besides, God is Truth.  Lies may hold sway “for a time a time and half a time.”  But Christ the Truth will come to judge the world.  Lies will be exposed for what they are.  Lies will not be allowed permanently to stand.

Rooting and grounding in God’s Truth, safely planted in the really Real reality of God, we learn that we afford to face the world as it really is, that we have nothing to gain by trafficking in lies.  Whether or not we can do something practical to stop them, we are nevertheless called to bear witness to the Truth, to frustrate complacency and cover-ups by calling a spade a spade, to keep it up “for a time a time and half a time,” for all seasons.  The Gospels assure us: bearing witness to the Truth is even a way of loving the liars, because it is a way–like Gandhi and Martin Luther King–of recalling them to their own true selves.

Life is stronger than death.  Divine life is creative.  Life-forces build up.  St. Paul says that Death is the Creator’s enemy, because it tries to tear down and destroy what God has made.  Rooting and grounding in Divine life, convinces us that we have to stay constructive.  The old may have to go to make way for the new.  But we will not be on God’s side when we make wreckage and ruin our principle aim.  The bible’s God has no permanent commitment to flawed and twisted human institutions.  But “God hates nothing that God has made.”  The Love of God is powerful and persistent to fit each and all of us for Christ’s eternal reign.

Victory is ours through Christ Who died for us and rose again.  To the extent that we are rooted and grounded in God, to the extent that we let Love and Truth and Life take hold of us, we have come over to the winning side.  Elsewhere in the Gospels, Jesus encourages the disciples with the seemingly ridiculous idea that faith moves mountains.  Geologically, mountains are among those stable features of the environment, the ones from which we get our bearings.  Our dysfunctional criminal justice system can seem immovable as a mountain.  The culture of lies and cover-up in high places can seem as fixed and unbudgeable as sunrise and sunset.  Death-dealing policies that deprive people of food and housing, meaningful work and medical care, that slam the door on asylum-seeking refugees, can seem to have an iron grip.  Jesus challenges: a mustard-seed’s worth of faith can move those mountains.  Staying rooted and grounded in God, relentlessly bearing witness, doing what we can to make nuisances of ourselves and turn things around–this is the stuff that moves mountains.  One day when we least expect it, the Son of man will come like a thief in the night, and we will wake to discover that ominous mountain range is no longer there.

In the in-between time, we can make Archbishop Tutu’s declaration our creed:  “Good is stronger than evil.  Good is stronger than evil.  Love is stronger than hate.  Light is stronger than darkness.  Life is stronger than death.  Victory is ours through Christ Who died for us and rose again.”  Thanks be to God!