Friday, January 28, 2011

Our Lives Matter: Silent Night (Advent 1, Nov 28 2010)

Advent 1, November 28 2010
Readings:  Isaiah 2:2-5; Rom 13:11-14; Mt 24:36-44

Some of you may know that for many years I used to coach my son Jonathan’s hockey team.  And one of the roles of the coach of the team is to try to motivate the players before a game.  And so as coach, you come up with various techniques to get the players up for the game, depending on what age group you’re working with.  Now this was a competitive team, and so when the boys were 15 and playing minor midget hockey, it was what was called their draft year.  At the end of the season the Junior A hockey clubs would draft the most promising of these 15 year olds.  Of course, all the boys wanted to be drafted.  And so one of the motivational techniques we sometimes used as coaches before a game would be to remind the boys that at some point during the year, the Junior A clubs would be sending scouts to our games to evaluate our players.  Nobody knew what game they would be coming to, they would just show up  unexpected.  But they might be in the stands right now, waiting to watch you play tonight.

Have you ever noticed that whenever we’re talking about the future, we’re really talking about the present?  Each of readings this morning, from Isaiah, from Paul, from Matthew, each one speaks of the future, of the days to come.  But the conclusion each time is firmly rooted in the present, in the here and now.  “Now is the moment for you to wake,” says Paul.  “Let us walk in the light of the Lord!”, exhorts Isaiah.  “You must be ready,” says Jesus.  Here.  Now.

Jesus and Isaiah in particular are both speaking to peoples who are suffering, peoples who are oppressed by enemy armies.  All is not well in their present, there is injustice, there is pain.  But the message they are given about the future is clear.  God will act.  God will judge.  God will set things right.  It was a message that would have provided comfort to those listening, at least for most of them, because of what it said about the present.  God cares about you and the things you are suffering, and you can have hope right now that in the future things will be set right.

Some of us however, myself included, we hear Isaiah talking about judgment, and Jesus talking about how one will be taken and one will be left behind, and that makes us feel uneasy.  I get a little uneasy thinking about how God will judge me at some unknown time in the future, and the possibility of punishment that is implied.  I’m much more comfortable when I get to talk to you all about God’s love and forgiveness rather than God’s judgement.

But make no mistake, the word we get in today’s gospel is that we will be judged.  At some point in the future, we don’t know when, it could be today, God will hold us accountable for the way we live our lives.

How does that make you feel?  A little nervous perhaps?  Inspired?  Motivated?  Will you go out and play a better game knowing the scouts might be in the stands?

I’d like to persuade you this morning that this word of judgement is also a word of good news.  It is good news first of all because we know that although judgement is a word of God, it is not the final word.  This first Sunday of Advent we speak of being held accountable.  Next Sunday we will speak of repentance.  In today’s gospel Jesus speaks of judgement.   Two days later, Jesus will be crucified and from that very place of judgement on the cross, he will speak words of forgiveness.

But the word of judgement is of itself good news, because the knowledge that we will be held accountable for our lives by God is a gift.  It is the gift of knowing that God cares, and that how we live our lives matters.  It is a gift that provides purpose and meaning to our lives, here and now.

You are not irrelevant.  You matter.  How you live matters.  You are part of God’s plan to set right all that is wrong in our lives and our world.

Isaiah’s vision of the future is a vision of peace.  “In the days to come, they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nations shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.”

So often when we hear such a vision, there is a temptation to be overwhelmed by it.  Wars and conflicts seem so entrenched, or so far away, or so big and beyond our ability to make a difference.  It is tempting to feel that we are irrelevant, that we don’t matter.

 I imagine that many of those soldiers in the trenches in Europe in December of 1914 felt that way.  They had fully expected to be home by Christmas when they signed up for war in the summer of 1914.  As the conflict became mired in a seemingly endless stalemate of trench warfare, surely many of the soldiers became disillusioned and dared not dream of peace.

And then late on Christmas Eve, out of the darkness came the sound of one man singing Silent Night.  It was a moment of unexpected peace.  How do you respond when a moment of unexpected peace presents itself?  One by one, the English soldiers on the other side responded by joining in the singing.  Candles appeared.  An unexpected truce broke out.  The soldiers from both sides ventured into no-man’s land to exchange gifts and to bury their dead. 

As you might expect, not everyone approved of the truce.  Some thought that the fraternization with the enemy was inappropriate.  And, alas, the Christmas Eve truce was not a lasting peace.  War resumed the next morning.  It was simply a moment, a moment of hope, a foretaste of the days to come, a moment that mattered.

When a moment of unexpected peace breaks out in your life, how will you respond?  Will you be ready for it?  Will you reject it, or will you sing?  Might you even be the one who starts the singing?

This Advent, as we prepare once more for the coming of the Prince of Peace into our world, let us seek out ways to create moments of peace and embrace them whenever they present themselves, however unexpectedly.  And in this I want to be very concrete.  Look around your home, or your office, or your school or your church.  Each one of us will encounter a situation of conflict or tension or brokenness there somewhere.  You may well be caught up in it yourself.  When you encounter, or acknowledge, such a situation, seek to bring peace.  Whether it is by upholding those involved in prayer, or by offering care or hospitality, or by apologizing or forgiving, seek to create a moment of peace.  Let that be your preparation this Advent.

After all, what we do matters.  So be ready.


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