a time for each of us: we are, each one of us, pregnant with hope

Jeremiah 33:14-16
Luke 21:25-36

It’s the first Sunday of Advent, 2012.
The Christmas tree lot across the street is set up,
and at night is lit up.
The church is decorated: wreaths, greenery, lights, trees,
nativity scenes, banners (and thanks again
to all who stayed around or came back last Sunday).
We lit the advent wreath candle earlier in the service.
We’ve sung advent hymns. We’ll sing a Christmas one later.
But, and I don’t know about you, but I’m not feeling it yet.
Maybe a little more now that we’re in here together,
but I’m still actually struggling with daylights saving time, to be honest.
Knocked me a little off center this year for some reason.

It’s Advent again. I’m not feeling it,
and I’m not sure I have anything new to say.
Of course, some things bear repeating. Thank God!
And so we start, as we do each year,
with a scripture-directed, stark awareness of our times—
some profound sense of things not being as they should be.

You know that, don’t you?
It’s in the back of our minds when we read the paper—watch the news—
the pain and fear and deprivation of children,
the exploitation of those without power,
the hunger of those without,
tragic circumstances, day after day after day.
It’s in our hearts when we consider our own covenant week in and week out—
ever-new concerns and prayer requests.
The world’s not supposed to be like this.
It’s the lump in our throat in face of the diagnosis,
the disintegration of the relationship,
the loss of the job, the possibility, the dream,
it’s the fear of rejection, the stress of responsibility,
the uncertainty of faith, the risk of love, the grief of loss,
the hope of … well, something else.

We are all, each one of us, stressed.
Different things cause our stress, sure,
and we can certainly always find those so much worse off than are we,
but stress is not a relative reality, it’s a personal one.
So in conversation with others, we find out what causes them stress,
and yes, the circumstances of so many are so much worse than our own,
but, at our healthiest, that doesn’t make us question
or feel guilty about our own stress levels,
it, rather, makes us feel compassionate toward them.
Things aren’t supposed to be this way—for them—for us.

That’s where our Advent Scripture finds us, this morning—
in the midst of the way things are.
And in our Jeremiah text, the prophet assures us,
in the midst of the way things are,
that God will fulfill the promise—
literally the “good word”—made to the people of God
(Terence E. Fretheim, Jeremiah in Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary
[Macon: Smyth & Helwys, 2002] 477)—
the good word of justice and righteousness.

For within what is, there is no justice.
And righteousness is not the way of the world,
but God will raise the righteous branch of David.

Probably worth noting,
here in the Jeremiah text, as is true throughout the entire Old Testament,
there is no separation of church and state.
God offers the assurance of justice and righteousness
working through the Davidic dynasty.
Political expectation and faith coincide.
Which is somewhat of a surprise
given the more typical perspective of Jeremiah of the dynasty as problem
(Walter Brueggemann, Jeremiah 26-52: To Build, To Plant
in International Theological Commentary
[Grand Rapids: Wm.B.Eerdmans, 1991] 98)—
which is indicative of what—this unexpected affirmation?
That the situation is so dire, or the hope so real? Or both?
Either which way, within the indifference of our world to possibility,
within the dangers of its mixed up priorities and defense of what is,
comes again, the good word of God.

And to be honest, it’s the kind of thing of which we’re a little suspicious,
isn’t it?
Things are bad, but God will take care of them … sometimes … later.
Be okay with what is because it won’t always be what is.
It can be a good word.
It can also have no integrity.
Pie in the sky by and by—
deflecting the harsh truth of what is
with the promise of a better tomorrow
that God’s going to bring about—
absolving us from any and all responsibility.
Course some of that just has to do
with translating a good word as a promise.

Then in Luke, we hear from Jesus,
whom we know to be the heir—the righteous branch of the Davidic line—
yet not king, not political leader at all.
Fulfillment, nonetheless though, right?
God’s good word made flesh. We believe.

And he’s teaching in Jerusalem—in the temple.
That’s our immediate context.
Addressing the people—presumably including the disciples.
Confronting the chief priests, scribes, and elders, some Sadducees
who confront him—making them mad—
because he doesn’t simply accept what is.

He’s addressing each one of us,
and he says (and let’s listen carefully, shall we?),
“There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars,
but I’m not going to tell you what they are.”
Mark does. The gospel of Mark parallel text
reads the stars fall, the sun goes dark,
and the moon turns to blood (Mark 13:24).

Jesus goes on, “There will be distress among the nations
confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves.”
Very confusing, waves, I’ve often thought—the sound of the ocean.
I mean, I guess you could think freak tsunami waves, here,
but that’s not what it says.
Just confusing waves.
Hmmm.

And people will faint from fear and foreboding
of what is coming upon the world.
Now I don’t know about fainting,
but I know there’s a lot of debilitating fear and foreboding going around.
Of course there always has been.
How many of you all remember those school drills—
hand behind your neck, head over your knees,
under your desk or against the wall in the hall—
in case of a bombing—
not a terrorist bombing, but a Soviet attack?

Then they will see “the Son of Man coming in a cloud” with power and glory.
Yay!
And when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads
because your redemption is drawing near.
Yay!

Okay so when you see the Son of Man
coming in a cloud with power and glory
you’ll know to get ready for …
the coming of the Son of Man … in power and glory.
Okey dokey.

Then Jesus gives us the parable of the trees:
when they start to turn green, summer’s close.
Ah.
Yes.

And when you see all these things
you’ll know the kingdom of God is near.
When we see trees turning green?
When we see the waves coming in?
When we see people living in fear?
And the Son of Man in a cloud?
Seriously?

One scholar wrote “if [this text] isn’t satire, it’s prophetic Jell-O”
(Richard B. Vinson, Luke in Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary
[Macon: Smyth & Helwys, 2008] 658).
A little shaky—
even if apocalyptic text do always offer
less some vision of tomorrow
as perspective on and insight into today.

In the terribly funny, frighteningly insightful movie Life of Brian,
there’s one scene in which we move through
an open air farmers’ market of prophets.
And one in the lineup can be heard mumbling:
“There shall be in that time rumors of things going astray,
and there shall be a great confusion as to where things really are”
Indeed.

It’s almost with a laugh that Luke mixes the Son of Man
in with indicators that make us wonder
when these are not the times of the world.
As if amidst the way things are—
amidst that sense that things are not as they should be,
the kingdom of God is near particularly when it seems to be so distant?
What’s up with that?
And amidst the way it’s always been,
the signs of the times are the signs of all time.

This generation won’t pass away until all this has taken place.
Right.
No generation will.
Waves, spring—these are the things of all generations!
That generation didn’t pass away without witnessing them,
and neither will this one.
But the Son of Man appearing in power and glory?
Heaven and earth will pass away
but my words will not pass away.
Until the very end of time, summer follows spring,
the waves roll in with the tide,
and the good word of God washes over us with power and glory.

So be alert. Be on guard.
You don’t want your garden to surprise you.
You know all of a sudden it’s summer and you missed spring.
Or all of a sudden it’s Advent,
and you’re not feeling it.
Be on guard that your beach trip doesn’t surprise you—
those confusing waves, that roar of the sea.
So that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation
and drunkenness and worries,
and that day catch you unexpectedly.
What day?
Every day.
Catches you unexpectedly like a trap—
weighs you down with the way things are.
But you can seize the moment
at which you’re invited to live into another reality.
For that day will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth—
every day.

Be alert at all times
praying that you may have the strength
to escape all these things that will take place
the waves and green trees and such—
the unfolding of the way things are—
the fear and drunkenness in response—
to stand before the Son of Man.
Don’t ignore the import of the day—this day—every day.

And the image I get is the yellow brick road.
It starts right here and now in front of us—
extending on ahead. Follow the yellow brick road.
Here’s the way into your future—
into hope and possibility.
Here’s the way home.

Better yet, that commercial for, I don’t know, some financial institution,
and there’s that green line you’re supposed to follow.
Different for each of us—
the one that makes meeting all your financial goals easy, right?
But, of course, the green line’s just a suggestion, right?
You still have to choose it all the time—find the discipline.
And when you indulge in too many caramel, mint, mocha fraps—
or something,
you put yourself in a different place.
The green line adjusts.
And you have to readjust.
So, too, with God—
with the kingdom of God.
For every day comes upon all who live on the face of the earth
and we are presented with a choice:
what to do with the way things are today.
Make me to know Your paths, God, today.

There’s a scene in the Lawrence Kasdan movie Grand Canyon.
I’m sure I’ve probably referred to it before,
but it bears repeating.
Mack’s on his way home from an LA Lakers game,
and his car dies in a sketchy neighborhood.
He calls for a tow,
but before the truck gets there, a gang of four does.
Into this scene fraught with danger, Simon, the tow truck driver, pulls up,
hooks Mack’s car up to his truck, then says to the gang leader,

Simon: I’ve gotta ask you for a favor. Let me go my way here.
This truck’s my responsibility, and now that the car’s hooked up to it,
it’s my responsibility too.
gang leader: Do you think I’m stupid? Just answer that question first.
Simon: Look, I don’t know nothing about you; you don’t know nothing about me.
I don’t know if you’re stupid, or some kind of genius.
All I know is that I need to get out of here, and you got the gun.
So I’m asking you, for the second time, let me go my way here.
gang leader: I’m gonna grant you that favor,
and I’m gonna expect you to remember it if we ever meet again.
But tell me this, are you asking me as a sign of respect,
or are you asking because I’ve got the gun?
Simon: Man, the world ain’t supposed to work like this.
I mean, maybe you don’t know that yet.
I’m supposed to be able to do my job without having to ask you if I can.
That dude is supposed to be able to wait with his car without you ripping him off.
Everything is supposed to be different than it is.
gang leader: So what’s your answer?
Simon: You ain’t got the gun, we ain’t having this conversation.
gang leader: That’s what I thought: no gun, no respect.
That’s why I always got the gun.

The key line, I think, is Simon’s:
“Man, the world ain’t supposed to work like this.
I mean, maybe you don’t know that yet.
I’m supposed to be able to do my job without having to ask you if I can.
That dude is supposed to be able to wait with his car without you ripping him off.”
We’re supposed to be able to walk the streets of our downtowns without fear.
We’re supposed to trust that our children will not grow up afraid—
that they will not grow up with not enough to eat—
that they will not grow up
and not receive the opportunities due children—
in this and every country.
“Everything is supposed to be different than it is.”

That’s the key line.
But the key fact may well be the gun. We can’t ignore the gun.
That’s the reality of our violent, selfish, scared world.
And it’s into such a reality, day in, day out, comes the good word of God—
today, in the words of Vaclav Havel: “Hope is a state of mind,
not of the world…. it is a dimension of the soul,
and it’s not essentially dependent
on some particular observation of the world or estimate of the situation.
Hope is not prognostication [not prediction of the future].
It is an orientation of the spirit, and orientation of the heart;
it transcends the world that is immediately experienced,
and is anchored somewhere beyond its horizons ….
Hope, in this deep and powerful sense
is not the same as joy that things are going well,
or willingness to invest in enterprises that are obviously heading for success,
but rather an ability to work for something because it is good,
not just because it stands a chance to succeed….
Hope is definitely not the same thing as optimism.
It is not the conviction that something will turn out well,
but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out”
(Vaclav Havel, Disturbing the Peace:
A Conversation with Karel Hvížďala [New York: Knopf, 1990] 181).

And so we are those, I suggest,
now transitioning into our common, everyday image of truth,
we are those, this and every day, pregnant with hope.
What an act of defiant hope—
to risk one we will love more than ourselves
into a world such as this one.
We follow God here too, don’t we?
We are, each one of us, pregnant with hope.

And what is some of what it means to be pregnant?
Well, it means the way thing are can make you uncomfortable even sick.
You’re carrying weight you’re not used to where you’re not used to it.
You have a new center of gravity
It means you might crave things other than normal.
It means you’re waiting—anticipating.
It means you’re expecting.
It means you’re taking care of yourself for what is to be.
It means your clothes don’t fit you anymore.

So, pregnant with hope?
The way things are might make you uncomfortable even sick.
Oh, you’re feeling it!
You’re carrying a weight that gives you a new center of gravity
(that’s what picking up your cross and following will do for you).
You’re craving something other than what is,
and you’re waiting—anticipating—expecting—
taking care of yourself for what is to be,
and as you make sacrifices for another,
old ways of being don’t fit anymore
and you need to put on love.

A future has been created that did not exist—
a possibility that was not.
But it has to be nurtured and cared for.
It’s not just a future that is given to us,
but one for which we prepare—
ourselves and the nursery and the priorities—
living into it what’s becoming—
praying all the while things won’t stay the way they are.
May it be different for this one to come.
May he/she know a good word.
May she/he know a better world.
And what am I doing to make it so?

It’s the first Sunday of Advent, 2012.
I may or may not have the feeling.
And I don’t have anything new to say.
But I do have a good word.

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