Friday, November 29, 2013
Can You See It? (Advent 1, Dec 1 2013)
Yr A Advent 1, Dec 1 2013, St. Albans
Readings: Isaiah 2.1-5; Ps 122; Rom 13.11-14; Mt 24.35-44
“Can you see it?”
The last couple of Thursdays our St. Albans @ uOttawa club has been kind enough to let me hang out with them. They meet each week at the TAN coffee shop a few blocks from here. The club has a topic jar. The students write down discussion topics on a slip of paper, throw them in the jar and each week one of the topics is pulled out for discussion. Well, as it happened the last two weeks, the topics pulled out of the jar were about evolution and dinosaurs. And we had a lively discussion about what physicists, biologists and geologists understand about the beginnings of the universe and the origin of life and evolution and we talked about how we reconcile all that with our faith and with biblical texts such as Genesis which tell us that in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
And after a couple of weeks of lively discussions and going off on many, many tangents, I think that what I managed to take away from our explorations is this: it’s not really about dinosaurs! The reason that we’re interested in beginnings is because of what our understanding of beginnings means for us in the present, here and now, as we deal with the big questions of life. Who am I? Why am I here? How am I going to live my life?
The readings that we just heard, that were selected for us on this the first Sunday of Advent aren’t about beginnings. They are, rather, about endings. The future. The end times, the day of the LORD when God will set things right with creation, the day when the Son of Man will come again. Isaiah, in the midst of a time of war, has a vision of all the nations streaming to the mountain of the LORD to learn the ways of peace and to beat their swords into ploughshares. Jesus has a vision of God breaking into creation unexpectedly like a thief in the night and pronouncing judgment, taking one away and leaving the other. Sound scary? Yup, it’s meant to be. It’s not the last word on judgment, however, we’ll get that on Good Friday. But for now, hear the promise of judgment, which is that what we do with our lives matters.
Like our stories of beginnings, our stories of endings aren’t intended to promote speculation or enable us to make predictions. They are instead intended to give shape and meaning to our present tense. We are on a trajectory. We come from somewhere and we’re going somewhere and therefore where we are and what we do now matters. On this, Isaiah, Jesus and Paul are in agreement. All of them speak of the days to come, but for each one of them the conclusion is firmly rooted in the present tense: “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.
Beginnings and endings matter because of how they shape the present. Take as a counter-example a purely materialistic, scientific understanding of the universe. If we were to believe that the universe began as a random accident, and that life itself simply happened because a cluster of molecules in a super concentrated pool of water got a jolt from a random lightning bolt, and that one day in the future, life on this planet will end because the sun will run out of fuel in about 5 billion years or because before that happens our planet earth gets obliterated by an asteroid, what shape would that give to our present situation?
I’d venture to say that if that’s all we had to say about beginnings and endings, life might seem to be devoid of meaning and pointless. And a quick glance around the world, with its violence and wars and disease and injustice could easily lead us to despair, knowing that all we can expect is more of the same until we get obliterated by that random asteroid.
But our story is different and says much more. We believe that we were created for a purpose by the one who created the entire universe. We were created in God’s image and we were created for relationship, with God and with each other. And though we too can look around, as Isaiah did, as Jesus did, and see all that is wrong in the world, we believe that the days are surely coming when God will set things right. And we have been called to participate in the work of setting things right in the world. And as a result our lives matter, and how we live matters, because we’re heading somewhere, even though we may not fully arrive in our earthly lifetime.
This is a vision with the power to shape the days in which we’re living. There is more to the human story, there is more to God’s story than what we’ve experienced to date. Can you see it?
Isaiah can see it. The reading from Isaiah that we heard this morning starts out with a curious phrase. It says “the word that Isaiah saw”. Not that he heard, but that he saw. Because what we see makes all the difference.
When Isaiah looked at the world around him he saw terrible things. He saw an invading army doing violence to his people, cities burning with fire. He saw people in positions of power acting corruptly and oppressing the poor. He saw injured and sick people receiving no treatment. And yet he refused to believe that that’s all there is. His vision wasn’t limited to the devastation that was staring him in the face. He could see more.
Can you see it?
Can you see all the nations streaming to the mountain of God to learn the ways of peace? Martin Luther King Jr. could see it when he confronted the injustice of racial discrimination in the United States in the 1960’s. It’s no accident that he adopted the biblical language of the prophets in his speeches.
“We will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream” he said in Washington in 1963
“I have been to the mountain top . . . And I have seen the promised land” he said in Memphis in 1968.
He too had a vision of the end times, of God setting this world right. He could see it. And when we see it, despite all the evidence to the contrary, this eschatological vision exercises a tension upon our present tense. It generates both judgment and promise and it creates the possibility of ethical action in the world, action which is sustained by hope. Can you see it?
Isaiah had a vision of swords being beat into plowshares. Can you see it?
Jody Williams could see it when she first started advocating for an international ban on land-mines in 1992 after seeing first-hand the devastation they caused in Nicaragua. At first people thought she was crazy. Armies would never agree to give up any of their weapons. But she could see it, and she had hope and today the Ottawa treaty banning land mines has been adopted by 161 nations, and through extensive demining operations, by 2010, Nicaragua was declared free of land-mines and safe once more for its children to play in the fields.
Can you see it?
We begin our Christian year, we begin this season of Advent with a vision of the end times, when all the nations will come to the mountain of the Lord to learn the ways of peace, when swords will be beat into plowshares, when the Son of Man will break into our creation like a thief in the night to set things right, we begin Advent this way because in this season of preparation for the coming of Jesus into the world, we need to know that our lives matter, and that when we work to set things right we are not just hammering futilely on a wall that will never come down, rather we are participating in God’s work and we are creating glimpses of what will be so that others can see it too. We are a people of hope, not despair, and that hope enables us both to act and to see what others may not, that God is indeed breaking into our world and will one day set things right.
This morning we lit a candle for hope. Can you see it?