Living in Two Worlds (December 2, 2018)
Let me begin with the old joke: I’ve got some bad news and I’ve got some good news. I’ll start with the bad news, but before I deliver it, I have to tell you that we’ve dressed it up as good news. We’ve even made a song of it —
“Oh, you better watch out, you better not cry,
you better not pout, I’m telling you why:
Santa Claus is comin’ to town.
He’s making a list and checkin’ it twice
Gonna find out who’s naughty and nice
Santa Claus is comin’ to town
He sees you when you’re sleepin’
He knows when you’re awake
He knows if you’ve been bad or good
So be good for goodness’ sake.
Now can you think of any worse news than that? A list? Checkin’ it twice? Watching you asleep and awake? I don’t know about you, but I’d never survive!
And here’s the good news. In the midst of all the pain and disruption and chaos of this world, in the midst of all the bad news that we hear about politicians and natural disasters and one crisis after another, God is coming to wrap us in love.
I want to use this as an image for the reality that we are living in two different worlds at the same time. We Christians are caught in a clash between two cultures, two very different ways of seeing things and doing things, two very different sets of values.
And we have a foot in each camp.
On the one hand, we are God’s people. Michael Curry, Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church, reminds us again and again that we are part of the Jesus movement.
God’s gospel values are compassion, justice, generosity in giving, grace, and above all, love. The dream of God is a welcoming and inviting community which reaches out to embrace all people within the love of God.
And we are called, we are given a vocation—to love God with all that we are and to love our neighbours as ourselves. Our vocation is to make every decision on the basis of love. Every choice depends on love.
Our lives are patterned according to God’s gospel priorities.
That’s one culture, one world, we live in.
But we also live in another world. Even as we seek to be shaped by the dream of God, we are also deeply shaped and influenced by the world we live in.
Think about it for a moment. We spend an hour a week in worship, and maybe a few minutes or even an hour a day consciously in God’s presence. We spend the rest of our time worrying and thinking and acting and wondering about how we are going to make our way.
We are bombarded on every side by advertisers who work their tails off trying to convince us to make different kinds of choices. Buy this! Get that! It’s the latest, the newest, the best, and it’s going to make our lives even better. It used to be laundry detergent and perfume. Now it’s computers and cars and big ticket items. Our wallets and budgets reflect the subtle pressures of the shopping mall and the constant bombardment of commercials and ads.
In the same way, how we vote is often more determined by the claims and fear–mongering of politicians and by our economic desires than by gospel values.
Or we choose to live in gated neighbourhoods which keep those who are not like us out. We build bigger and stronger walls instead of bridges. The list goes on.
And I think we feel that pressure most keenly at Advent and Christmas. We are caught between two cultures …
In our Christian culture, Advent is a time of waiting. We look for signs of Jesus being born in our lives. We tell a story of God’s love for the poor and the down trodden, a story of vulnerability and hope, a story of love and grace. We tell the story of a moment when the light shines in the darkness and the darkness does not overcome it.
In the culture all around us, we participate in an orgy of consumerism and partying and over–eating. We had Black Friday … followed almost immediately by Cyber Monday. And the message is that if you don’t join in, you’re going to lose.
We are caught. Sometimes it feels as if we are trapped.
And in the middle of all this, Luke strides into worship and calls out, “Be on guard. Be watchful. Be alert.”
And I think what Luke’s getting at is to encourage us to live in this world, but to be always aware of the values of God’s gospel world. Don’t get sucked in by the values of the world.
See the world through God’s eyes. When we vote … when we set our budget and decide what we’re going to buy … when we walk the streets and notice the people … when we decide whether to give or how much to give … when we choose how we will live in the environment … or how we will treat other people, and especially the marginalized … how we will listen to residential school survivors … how we will welcome members of the LGBTQ community.
Be alert, says Luke, so that you can live by God’s gospel values. Be watchful, so you can live in this world by the values of the dream of God.
Sometimes it may seem that everything is falling apart. Luke reminds us that there are going to be all kinds of signs that things are not going well— “signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.”
The translation called The Message puts it this way. “It will seem like all hell has broken loose—sun, moon, stars, earth, sea, in an uproar and everyone all over the world in a panic, the wind knocked out of them by the threat of doom, the powers–that–be quaking.”
When it seems as if all hell has broken loose … “don’t be afraid,” says Jesus. “Stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
Don’t be afraid. Rather, stand tall and confident. Raise your heads. Raise your eyes. Raise your vision, because God is crashing into our world. God is present, and God’s love is eternal and strong.
We begin our church year standing resolutely on the promise that God’s love is eternal. God holds this world, even when it seems to be descending into chaos.
And because we have such a powerful hope, we are bold to act, strong to claim our faith. We resolutely refuse to get sucked in by the advertisers. We seek God’s vision, not the vision of the shopping mall.
Because I promise you this. The one who is coming is God. Not Santa! There’s no list we need to worry about.
Rather, God stands with arms stretched wide to welcome us home. Jesus walks with us in the chaos that sometimes threatens to overwhelm us.
As we enter this new year in the life of the church, we have a choice to make.
We can choose to live by the empty promises of the world we live in.
Or we can choose to live as the people of God’s dream. We can choose to live as the people of God’s hope. We can choose to live as the people of God’s love.
Thanks be to God.
Rev. Dr. Yme Woensdregt
December 2, 2018 (1st Sunday of Advent — St Peter’s, Cobourg, ON)
Jeremiah 33: 14–16
1 Thessalonians 3: 9-13
Luke 21: 25–36