Margreta Silverstone: Whose Advent is it? And how should we wait?

Sermon for November 27, 1994
at Seekers Church
by Margreta Silverstone 

Whose Advent is it? And how should we wait?

Good morning. It has been a while since I stood up here and spoke. A few years at least. I asked Jeffrey if he were a part of my life when I last preached and he said that he wasn’t. So it has been some time.

Today is the first Sunday of Advent. Celebration Circle has chosen as the liturgical theme “Longing for the Mantle of Light.” But I don’t plan to talk about Light, and the only mantle that can be implied is the garment that I am wearing.

With the first Sunday of Advent, I wonder — whose Advent are we awaiting? In looking at the lectionary for this Sunday, two advents are mentioned. Jeremiah speaks of a righteous one who would come out of the kingly line and save the people of Israel. This is interpreted as a promise of the coming of Jesus Christ. But as people living in the 20th century, the passage of Jeremiah is a passage that reflects on a historical fact for us. Jeremiah’s future advent is one which has occurred for us in the birth of Jesus Christ. How do we wait in anticipation of an Advent that has already happened? Should this time be a time of waiting? Or should this be a time of reflection on the birth of Jesus and what relevance that this still has for our lives?

Alternatively, are we looking forward to the Second Advent mentioned by Jesus in the Luke passage? Are we to read the signs of the times and wait for “The Human One coming in a cloud of power and great glory?” Do we believe that there will be a Second Advent? Does it matter?

Whose Advent is it?

Actually, in both Jeremiah and Luke, the image presented is that of a King coming down to save, to restore, to bring justice. Why is the Advent of God the King important?

In Jeremiah’s time, the people of Israel were constantly embroiled in the battles and the power plays of the bigger nations that surrounded them. The Kings of Judah at that time sometimes didn’t rule for more than a few years, if not just a few days. Jeremiah prophesied of the time that his people would be taken away to Babylon. While his message was filled with gloom and doom, he also presented the promise of the ruler from the line of David who would bring them home again.

I am sure that the message of a King who could save Judah and have Jerusalem dwell securely seemed preposterous. Against the likes of Egypt, Babylon, and Assyria, the little land of Judah was insignificant. How could any King of Judah defeat these three big countries? How could any King secure Jerusalem?

But Jeremiah speaks the promise that the world could be a different place. Jeremiah holds forth the promise that Judah could find stability, could find a sense of home, in the coming of the King.

I confess that I have spent most of my reading time lately in reading and rereading a book that Ron Arms mentioned to the Learners and Teachers mission group this summer. The book is Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time by Marcus Borg. We aren’t in the position of anticipating the birth and life of Jesus. But it is helpful for us to meet Jesus for the first time, again. And Borg, in his book, attempts to acquaint us with the historical Jesus, removing the layers of storytelling and interpretation that have occurred over the last 1900 years.

Marcus Borg identifies in his book that the prophecies of coming of God follow along three different stories or strands. There is the story of God who breaks the bondage of the people. There is the priestly story of forgiveness of sins. And there is the story of return from exile.

In Jesus time, the story of exile still held incredible power. While the Jews were living in their country, they still recognized that there were bigger countries which ruled over them. Only the benevolence of Rome allowed them to stay. And the longing for freedom from Roman dominion was strong.

Jesus wasn’t recognized as the Messiah. He didn’t go about establishing a Kingdom rule against the Romans. Jesus did establish a way that allowed people to find acceptance instead of alienation, love instead of loneliness, home instead of exile. For as Deborah articulated so well last week, Jesus went about establishing a Kingdom where he served those around him. Jesus served the outcast, the refugee, the alienated people within Israel.

Whether a physical second coming will occur, the message of Jesus in the gospel lesson is also a message of a King. In a time of history when natural disasters are occurring, when people are filled with fear about the future, when nations are on the brink of dissolution or destruction, God will come with power and glory. The King will be there. When in our times have we not had natural disasters? When have we not had fear about the future? When have we not had nations that are on the brink of dissolution or destruction? Like the regularity of the seasons, we always need God the Servant King to help us find our way home. We need God the Servant King to bring acceptance and love.

So how should we wait for the Advent of God? What should I or we be about?

The answers to these questions can be found in the lectionary. The Psalmist speaks about an individual’s attitude toward God. Make me know your ways. Teach me your paths. Lead me. Let me trust you.

The more I worked with the scripture passages, did research, sat with the Word, the more I saw in here to talk about. But I can’t say everything. This passage in Psalms really excited me. What does it mean to ask God to make me know God’s paths, God’s ways?

The origin in the Bible of the phrase “God’s ways”/”know your ways, O God” comes from Moses. After escaping Egypt, after giving the 10 commandments the first time and then the golden calf, Moses went back to God and had a very personal conversation. Here’s what is written in Exodus 33:12-13:

Moses said to the Lord, “You have been telling me, ‘Lead these people, ‘ but you haven’t let me know whom you will send with me. You have said, ‘I know you by name and you have found favor with me’ If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways, so that I may know you and continue to find favor with you.'”

Out of a deeply personal relationship with God, Moses asks to be taught God’s ways. And later in Deut., God’s ways are summed up in the commandment to Love God and Love one’s neighbor.

In Learners and Teachers, we had a discussion recently about how our daily lives should reflect our faith. How do we recognize someone who is living out of knowing God? I have a good friend at work who I wish that I could see more often than I do. When we chat together either face to face, over the phone, or via messages electronically, we often are both wrestling with how do we live our work lives so that they have meaning. How do we work/act so that things are better? How do we serve others?

When the message of the Advent of God the King is how to break down the alienation that exists and bring people home, how do I bring that message?

One manifestation of alienation is a profound sadness in a person’s life. Marcus Borg identifies the manifestation of alienation in this way, “In our lives, the experience of exile as estrangement or alienation can be felt as a flatness, a loss of connection with the center of vitality and meaning, when one day becomes very much like another and nothing has much zest. We yearn for something that we perhaps only vaguely remember.” (p. 126)

In the federal government, I see many who feel alienated. In the organization in which I work, we have been about defining our vision, our values and our goals. Everyone has been asked/told to participate. While many are going through the motions, many are feeling that this is yet another game and that next month we will be about a different vision. When we see a new Congress coming in January that espouses that the business of caring for the poor, for children, for single parents should be the responsibility of the church, our work seems for naught.

For those in society who are poor or children or single mothers, the current culture of this nation is alienating. The poor are ostracized. The children are ignored. Single mothers are ridiculed or despised.

How do I do my work so that I break down the barriers of exile for the poor and the children? How do I do my work so that those around me can experience connection and meaning? Jesus demonstrated a way to encourage connection by serving those around him. I too can choose to serve those around me, any around me who pass my way.

In this past week, that service has taken the shape of teaching a secretary how to delete a row on a chart. It has taken the shape of finding a way to alleviate my supervisor’s dilemma of needing information from me when I am not in the office that day. It has taken the shape of fixing a computer program so that a person in another office can run a report of all the comments received by the public on a proposed federal regulation. It has taken the shape of identifying the federal policy around fair hearings. And it has taken the shape of deciding the ratio of federal funds the State of Arkansas can use for providing preplacement services to children. Service to others takes many forms, comes in many disguises and requires my attention, my care and my talents.

Service to others also requires an attitude of joy and an attitude of trust. Through joyful service it may be possible to encourage those I serve and to help them connect to a deeper level of meaning. I have to trust God that I am choosing wisely what to do right now and that those things which I do not choose to do will be cared for. I choose to work at the federal level, trusting that God will raise up others who will act at the other levels of service – others will provide a home for a child in need, others will counsel a family in difficulty, others will provide daycare.

The lectionary passages do not only speak about adopting a personal attitude in relationship to the Advent of God the King, there is a community responsibility. Jesus, in the Luke passage, was speaking to his disciples when he told about the last days. Jesus encouraged the group not to be heavy hearted. He encouraged the group to watch and pray.

And in Thessalonians, Paul encouraged the early church to increase and abound in love to all so that they will be ready for the second advent. Seekers needs to be about praying, watching for God, and acting in loving, compassionate ways toward all.

If Advent is about God providing a way to wholeness and connection instead of alienation, how do we as a body follow the same example? If we look again at Jesus and the message that he spoke, we may find an answer.

In the culture of Jesus time, the primary cause of alienation was because of the culture of purity. Those alienated in Israel were the people who could not be pure – through birth or circumstances or actions. But Jesus’ message to them and to the culture of the time was one of compassion and love. Jesus spoke truth to the leaders within Israel. Jesus turned the values of the world upside down.

In our culture, there are remnants of the purity mentality. We don’t always name it that, but we find a culture that alienates based on income, on position, on power. We find a culture driven by individualism. And the message of compassion and love speaks truth against this.

About this Borg speaks:

“In the midst of our modern culture, it is important for those of us who would be faithful to Jesus to think and speak of a politics of compassion not only within the church but as a paradigm for shaping the political order. A politics of compassion as the paradigm for shaping our national life would produce a social system different in many ways from that generated by our recent history… A politics of compassion would generate a more “communitarian” dimension in our political life to balance the excesses generated by the dominant politics of individualism. The issue of community (rather than the maximizing of individualism) would become the primary paradigm for thinking about the political order.”(p. 60).

Deborah asked us last week:

“Is it, as Church of the Saviour has consistently said, our obligation to provide direct service to those who have less than we do? Are we called to provide another soup kitchen, jobs program, daycare center, hospice, or free clinic? Or, can we communally do what many of us do individually in our work lives: work to change the system, rethink and rebuild the structure, confident that other parts of the Body will continue to feed the hungry and clothe the naked more immediately and directly?”

We need to be about compassion at both levels, at the individual and the structural/societal. When I first started coming to Church of the Saviour, I interpreted the line “to work towards the ending of all war, both personal and public” as requiring us to work at both levels. To end the alienation of war, I must be about breaking the individual barriers and the structural barriers that cause alienation to occur. This is tough work. It’s tough as an individual and it is tough as a community to be about such serious business.

What supports are there for us to continue in this effort? The power of prayer. Watching and praying in combination. We are called as a group to watch for evidence of God breaking down the walls of alienation. We are called to pray for strength in continuing to follow Jesus’ example.

I confess that I am not the ideal prayor. But every Sunday I appreciate the prayers that I hear in the worship together, spend that time quietly agreeing with the prayers that I hear and praying that God knows me enough to know what I should be praying. This weakness on my part has made me conscious of my shepherd role in the School of Christian Living classes. I am reliant on God to provide what I cannot name for the class. Thankfully, Thomas Merton, in his book Contemplative Prayer, says that it is OK that individual contemplative prayors are few, as long as the Church as a whole maintains contemplative prayer. If the Church can do so, it’s actions in the world can be informed by prayer. But if the church cannot pray deeply, it risks becoming simply a pawn of the societal values and norms no matter how much we may want to say that we stand in opposition. I truly appreciate the prayors within Seekers, especially the group that gathers regularly to pray and I encourage all of us to use the prayer book so that our actions can be informed by prayer.

We, as Seekers, need to be about watching for God, pointing out where we see God acting to destroy the barrier of alienation. We should name the places where we see God bringing people into belonging. How many of you saw the cartoon “Close to Home” in Monday’s paper? It’s a picture of a gymnastics class at the balance beam and the caption is “Dan just wasn’t working out as a spotter for the gymnastics team.” Dan, in the picture is saying and pointing at a young woman who just went “WUMP!” on the floor, “There she is right there, about four feet away from me.” Our watching needs to be more than just telling out, which we need to do too. Watching needs to translate into action when needed. We can assist in God’s work of bringing others home.

Our lives as a corporate body cannot reflect the marks of alienation evident in heavy heartedness, if Jesus provided a way home. The disciples couldn’t be sad with Jesus around. As Jesus told the Pharisees, when people are welcome to the feast is a time to celebrate, not a time to mourn. We are a post-Advent people. We can claim the joy of knowing the path that Jesus has provided. We can celebrate the Advent of God the Servant King, the God who brings us home.

But we live in the paradox of God has come among us but God is also still coming. A way home from exile and alienation is provided, but exile and alienation still exists. O Come, O Come Immanuel. Amen.

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