“Power and Glory”

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Rev. Jocelyn B. Gardner Spencer

November 29, 2015 – The First Sunday of Advent

Luke 21:25-36

 

It’s not a very cheery text, this reading from Luke’s gospel. It’s not one that puts you in the Christmas spirit, not one that you would read while hanging ornaments on your tree, not one that makes you want to sing “Joy to the World” It’s more doom and gloom than all is calm, all is bright, more in the bleak midwinter than tidings of comfort and joy.

But in the church year, it is not yet time for Christmas—it is time for Advent, the season of preparing the way, of watching and waiting, of hoping and dreaming, of yearning and longing for a future brighter than the past or the present. And really, when you look around at this world, don’t you think this text is actually pretty fitting? Many of the events of the past days, weeks, months have been anything but cheery. Civil wars and terrorist attacks, earthquakes and wildfires, racial injustice and economic inequality—there has been more than enough news of hardship and suffering and uncertainty. Just as there was in first-century Palestine, in twenty-first century America there is more than enough reason to long for the day when the way things are is transformed at last into the way things should be.

When Jesus spoke to his followers of distress among the nations, he didn’t know that two thousand years later, the planet would be faced with a refugee crisis of unimaginable proportions. He didn’t know about ISIS and Boko Haram and al-Qaeda. He couldn’t know about nuclear weapons and drones, machine guns and suicide belts.

When Jesus spoke to his followers of fear and foreboding, he didn’t know about the epidemic of gun violence in schools, in movie theaters, in Planned Parenthood clinics. He didn’t know about terrorist attacks in Paris and Beirut and Baghdad and Bamako and Charleston and Colorado Springs. He couldn’t know about the killings of young people of color by those who are charged to serve and protect them.

When Jesus spoke to his followers of confusion and fainting, he didn’t know about cancer diagnoses and treatment decisions. He didn’t know about car accidents and sudden layoffs. He couldn’t know about the precise names and shapes and voices of the struggles you face in your individual life, or those we face together in the life of our community.

But he did know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, what struggle feels like, what suffering does to a body or a soul. He knew about political and religious turmoil. He knew about nations brimming with unrest and inequality. He knew about friends’ betrayal, about family strife, about loved ones’ suffering and his own pain. He may not have known the specific details of the distress among the nations, the fear and foreboding, the confusion and fainting we face in our world today, but he surely knew—he surely knows—the impact of these struggles on our bodies, minds, hearts, and souls.

And here’s what Jesus had to say about those times of struggle and suffering and uncertainty. He didn’t say, “It’s all part of God’s plan.” He didn’t say, “You’ll understand it better by and by.” He said that it is then, right in the midst of those times, that God’s power and glory show up most palpably. When reconciliation and harmony seem impossibly far away, it is then that God’s peace breaks in. When the powers of the heavens are shaken, it is then that God’s redemption draws nigh. Come what may here on earth, God’s promises will never fade, but will remain trustworthy and true until they come to their final fruition.

Here’s what else Jesus had to say. He said that our call as God’s people is to keep awake and alert, to watch for signs of God’s power and to catch glimpses of God’s glory breaking forth in our world. And, furthermore, it is our call as God’s people to look for the ways in which God’s realm is breaking forth within us, to listen for the ways in which we are invited to be part of it, to join together in preparing the way for God’s realm to come on earth as it already is in heaven.

So as we enter this Advent season, if your heart is aching at the plight of the Syrian refugees—perhaps that very heartache is a sign that Jesus is present and active right there within you, converting you and strengthening you to become an agent of God’s hospitality and welcome.

As we enter this Advent season, if you are shaken by the horror of yet more gun violence, yet more attacks on innocent people in locations that should be places of safety, yet more fear and terror in our nation and across the globe—perhaps you will also catch glimpses of ordinary people exhibiting extraordinary human decency and faithfulness, and perhaps you will find your place in their ranks.

As we enter this Advent season, if you are overwhelmed by the sheer number of names and faces and stories of young people of color who have been killed by those who are sworn to serve and protect them—perhaps you will find that God is planting in your heart not only sorrow but also the power and conviction to do your part in the movement for racial justice.

As we enter this Advent season, if you are burdened by the weight of your own personal struggles and sufferings—perhaps you will find that right there, right in the deepest, heaviest place in your heart, the tender power of God is moving to bring fullness out of emptiness, wholeness out of brokenness, joy out of sorrow and peace out of pain.

Friends, keep awake and alert. Do not let your hearts be weighed down, but stand up and raise your heads, for redemption is drawing nigh. The power and glory of our God are already at work, even in the unlikeliest of places. Advent is the season of the deepest blue, the weariest heart, the darkest sky—the season when the whole world longs for that coming power and glory and redemption. And just as the fig tree will sprout leaves again in the spring, just as the sap will run in the sugar maples and the buds will form on the daffodils and the songbirds will flit through the once-again-leafy branches, so too will even the longest night be followed by the dawn. The light yet shines in the darkness, and the darkness does not overcome it.

And in the meantime, when the days are short and the nights are bitter and the light seems hard to come by—even then, especially then—if you keep your eyes peeled, you will see glimpses of God’s presence. If you keep your ears perked, you will hear snippets of angels’ song. If you keep your hearts open, you will feel the stirrings of a world that is about to be born.

May it be so.

 


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