The Rev. Jennifer Adams – November 29, 2015
Advent 1, Year C: Jeremiah 33:14-16, 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13, Luke 21: 25-36
I’m going to open this season with a quote from Vaclav Havel, a Czechoslovakian artist, activist, environmentalist and statesmen from his essay called “An Orientation of the Heart.” This essay is one included in the book we’re reading this Advent, The Impossible Will Take a Little While.
In his piece, Havel wrote this:
The kind of hope I often think about (especially in situations that are particularly hopeless. . .), I understand above all as a state of mind, not a state of the world. Either we have hope within us or we don’t; it is a dimension of the soul; it’s not essentially dependent on some particular observation of the world or estimate of the situation. Hope is not prognostication. It is an orientation of the spirit, an orientation of the heart; it transcends the world that is immediately experienced, and is anchored somewhere beyond its horizons.
And that’s where we are as we begin the season of Advent. And our work is cut out for us these four weeks. I’m not talking about the planning, or the shopping, or the exams that are lurking out there for many of us. There’s that work too and it carries a certain weight; I know it does. We all have lists of various sorts that weigh on us as we walk through these weeks that take us to Christmas.
But here as church our work is different than that and I want us to claim it with some intention and some passion. Our work as church this season is very simply to hope, to re-orient ourselves and make room for hope in our hearts and in our lives! Our work is to risk hoping in the midst of a world for whom that could be the greatest gift of all. Hope is our Advent calling as we embrace the meaning of these four weeks which lead up to the celebration of Christ’s birth and invite us to look forward to Christ’s coming in what the collect this morning called “glorious majesty.”
Now we’ll look a little silly as we do this hope-thing, because by so many accounts we should be wary rather than hopeful, or in despair rather than hopeful, or maybe cynical is an even better option. Cynical allows us to sound smart and aware of what’s going on in the world but it also keeps us at a safe distance from it. There is so much that is happening in this world and I know it too weighs on our hearts and minds.
The divisions among us are expanding, the deaths in various places in this world, some very close to home, are more violent, more confusing. Oppressions of various kinds are rampant. Inequalities glaring. Every Sunday now I change the name of the community for whom we are especially mindful and prayerful – last week Paris, this week Colorado Springs. Every week Chicago. Every week the Middle East. “There will be signs in the sun and the moon and there will be stress among nations,” Luke said. Maybe it’s the perfect time to claim some Episcopal high ground on all of this and get our cynical on.
So I looked up the word “cynical” this week as I considered this popular and I found this definition, “distrustful of human sincerity.” Distrustful of human sincerity. And without too much thought, in a moment of faithful clarity, I decided that as people of God, cynical isn’t really an option at all.
Hope is. Because what we celebrate and look forward to this season is a God who loved this world, a God who loved this world so much that he came among us as one of us, in some ways to “re-sincere us,” to reclaim us as created in God’s image and capable of so much more than we were giving ourselves and one another. A God who came among us face-to-face to remind us that there is a God, a God bigger than all of this, who while present, also allows our hope to be “anchored somewhere beyond its horizons.”
Here’s another story from the book that is our Advent read. The story is by John Lewis, long-time congressman and one of the leaders of the Civil Rights movement. Lewis was a Freedom Rider, a colleague of Martin Luther King, Jr and a leader of the demonstration that became known as Bloody Sunday. He received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011. In this story Lewis talks about something that happened to him as a child, an experience that shaped is calling, his way of being in this world.
He was about four and was out playing in the yard of his childhood home which was on a farm in Alabama. His father was a sharecropper and on this particular day there were about fifteen kids playing at his aunts home when a huge storm blew in. And so his aunt called all the kids into the house. Which was fine, until the winds picked up and then Lewis says there was absolute quiet in the house.
And then the winds got strong enough that they house began to lift on one side. And so this woman in a moment of sheer brilliance had all the children hold hands and walk to that corner of the house. And together they held it down. Then, as luck would have it, the other corner began to lift and so together they moved. All of these little people holding hands and using their combined weight to maintain the household through the storm.
Advent is like this. “The powers of the heavens will be shaken,” Luke says. But in the midst of this Luke also says, “Do not let your hearts be weighed down.” Do not let your hearts we weighed down! Re-orient! Notice the signs and respond. Gather. Hold hands. Move with the winds and allow your little bodies to be the kind of presence that is not afraid, that keeps the house safe, that provides shelter and reaches out to the others who need it too.
Because there is more to be had. Not the more that is stuff like so much of what we hear about this season. Advent is about the more that is love. Human, holy, incarnate, transcendent love. And so rather than distance ourselves this season we orient ourselves as among, as with, as a people who look into the face of this world, the hungry faces, the hurting faces, the broken, confused distant, other faces and we see something of the God who loves us all.
And we claim this orientation that tells us and proclaims beyond us that things like reconciliation, healing, forgiveness love aren’t impossible at all. They just take a little while. And so every day we offer a little more. And we receive a little more. And pretty soon grace comes, casting away the works of darkness and putting on us all the light that hope can muster.