Waiting for Peace - Pastor April's Sermon - 11/17

Waiting for Peace

Rev. April S Blaine, Given on Sunday, November 17, 2013.

Today, we begin the season of Advent, the beginning of the season of Expectancy, and in the Christian tradition, the start of a new liturgical year.  The word Advent means “Coming” – and it is during this season – that we wait for the coming of Christ into the world – we remember the first coming and we look forward to the second.

 

So, Advent is this interesting season – where we are waiting for both something that has already come and something that is still to come in the future.

 

Now – you may have noticed a few things that were unusual about the space and about the day.

 

First – the room is different – it is a reminder that there is something shifting – something new happening – and that we should be looking and watching and waiting.

We change the colors during this season to remind us of the hope and expectation of this season.  The blue of Advent  - deep, dark blue is the color that covers us in the dark, cold hours before the sun dawns.  And we mix that with the color of purple – the color of royalty – of the coming King who will be born into our midst in the coming weeks.

 

But as Mark mentioned as well – the thing that probably many of you have been noticing is that we are starting Advent earlier this year than we ever have.

 

Now many of you have asked – wait a second, can you do that?

Isn’t it tradition?

For the first 700 years that Advent was observed, it began this week.

Pope George the 6th shortened it by two weeks in the 11th century, but he didn’t change the scripture readings that were found.  And so – the lectionary readings designated for these weeks – still reflect the expectancy of the season.

 

So – first of all – it has some precedent in our Christian tradition.

 

But – more importantly – in the culture we live in today – it is getting harder and harder for us to “wait” with expectancy for the coming of Christmas.

 

How many folks observed Christmas decorations and things at the stores before Halloween?

Well, what often happens in churches is that we have 4 scheduled weeks of Advent – but let’s be honest – we really only celebrate 2 – because by the time we get to the second of half of December, everyone starts getting itchy and they want to sing those Christmas songs and they want to do a cantata and celebrate the season.

 

So – this year – in an attempt to help us truly embrace the fullness of this season – we are joining a group of lots of other United Methodist churches across the connection –

to observe Advent early –to spend 4 full Sundays listening, expecting, and WAITING.  We won’t put up our Christmas decorations until after that.

 

But then we will be spending 3 full weeks sitting with the powerful message of Christmas.  Not pretending that Christmas has arrived yet – but allowing ourselves to sing the music and ponder the stories.

 

So that’s a bit of a roadmap about where we are headed.  I hope it will be a meaningful season for you.

 

Now, the interesting thing about Advent – is that we begin this new year – we begin to tell our story anew – not by going to the past.  Not by remembering and celebrating what has happened, but by telling the story of our future.

 

Every year – the Scriptures that we read during Advent are Scriptures about the future, they are about the promise –

We begin telling our story with “the end in mind.”

 

We do this while still acknowledging the present and the place where we are now – but with our orientation toward the future.

 

And we do this to remind ourselves that –WE are a people in waiting.

 

We are a people who are expecting something.

 

Central to our story – is that we wait in the present for a future that is not yet here.

 

So, our Scripture today, in what used to be the beginning of Advent, is rich in the kind of hope-filled imagery that we expect during the season of Advent.

For generations upon generations, this Scripture from Isaiah chapter 2 - has resonated with God’s people -   It has been something they have spoken and sung and proclaimed and prayed.

 

It paints a picture of a future –

Tell me what that future entails - …

Where all the people of the world, in all their diversity,  will go to the mountain of the Lord and receive instruction,

God will settle disputes, and all the while the people will take their swords and they will beat them into sickles – into plows to use for farming.  They will take their spears and they will reshape them into fishing hooks.

War will end – not just for the people, but even the animals – will be at peace.

 

This is a powerful image of a future that is marked by PEACE.

 

It came during a time where peace was the farthest thing from people’s minds.  The Assyrian army was hovering on their doorstep, the fact that they would be conquered – was self-evident.

 

The poor were not cared for, the rich were worried about losing their positions, no one was living in peace.

 

And while Isaiah also speaks to them about the hardships to come.  He is clear that the end of the story – the ultimate future is grounded in God’s peace.

 

Now, I talk to a lot of you throughout the week and over the year – many of you share with me and with others here at Summit what is going on – and often, I will ask you – how can I pray for you?

 

And invariably, the answer has something to do with a longing for Peace.

 

Peace of Mind.

Peace of Heart.

Peace of Spirit.

Peace in our Relationships.

Peace in our Homes.

In our families.

Peace in our neighborhoods.

In our cities

In our nation and across our world.

 

If there is something that we have seemed to name and wait for and long for as human beings over the centuries – it is this idea of peace.

 

And this longing – really goes beyond our identity as followers of Jesus.

 

Every religious tradition, every culture across the globe, has a way of articulating a picture of a world where our individual lives and our lives in community are defined by peace.

 

John Lennon wrote a very well-known song during a season in our country that was anything but peaceful.

 

Imagine all the people –

Living Life in Peace

You – You may say I’m a dreamer,

But I’m not the only one.

I hope some day you’ll join us.

And the world will live as one.

 

There is a reason that this song is so powerful and so popular.

Why this song – out of all of John Lennon’s songs – continues to resonate with so many of us after so many years.

 

John Lennon paints for us a picture – a picture of a future – that all of us long for –

A future that we want to believe – is really possible.

 

So, what are we to do with such visions?  Such beautiful pictures of realities that are so different than what our present reality entails?

 

Our Christian tradition tells us clearly –

We are to wait.

 

Now, I don’t know about you – but I am actually quite bad at WAITING.

 

We talked about this in our Tuesday evening Bible Study last month when we read this passage –

Quick commercial to all of you –

 

And we talked about the challenge of waiting.

 

But we got into an interesting discussion about the difference that waiting entails when we are waiting for something where we know the outcome – and when we are waiting when we don’t know.

 

Our expectation makes all the difference.

 

Waiting with expectation and with confidence changes the very nature by which we wait.

 

When I was waiting for Marcus to be born, I was not idly sitting by passing the time.  I was preparing.  I was going to the doctor, I was eating special foods, I was making a room that was ready, I was gathering the things I needed, and I was learning all I could about how to care for and nurture him.

 

Another member described the work she did in waiting to retire.  There were many preparations that needed to be made so that when the day finally came – she was ready.

 

And one person described the struggle of waiting for the day when marriage would be legal for her and her partner.  She talked about the work she did in the meantime, the active urging and protesting and bridge-building so that the day would soon arrive where it would be real.

 

When we have a picture of what we are waiting for – when we can see it, imagine it, and in the case of the Christian story, perhaps, believe that God is responding and WILL respond

 

Then it changes our posture in the present moment.

 

Isaiah says it in these words

 

5O house of Jacob—people of the promise—come, come walk with me

by the light of the Eternal.

 

And John Lennon says it in these –

I hope some day you’ll join us – and the world will live as one.

 

Our Christian story begins, with knowing what it is that we walk toward.

 

And knowing that it is not a dream

 

But a promise.

 

So, As people of that promise - we are to wait

 

But we are to wait with EXPECTATION.

 

Which means that our waiting ought to be an active kind of waiting

 

A participatory kind of waiting.

 

A courageous kind of waiting –

That refuses to believe that peace is not possible

 

that sends out back out into our neighborhoods

And our workplaces

 

And our families

 

And our relationships

 

And our homes

 

And into the dark places of our own hearts

 

Ready to participate in that promise, now – even now, in the PRESENT.

 

May it be so.