Stand Up and Lift Your Heads
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A few years ago here at Blythwood, we were having a lunch together in the Friendship Room. It was after an infant dedication. It was one of those afternoons I will never forget. The Spirit that was in that room with us. The fellowship. The communion. The friendship. The kinship. The family. As I was speaking to people in between plates, somebody said to me “This feels like home.” They meant home as in the country of their birth. It started me thinking though, about what it means for us to be at home with God, as followers of Christ, living with the Spirit of God in us. Not long after that, I wrote this – “Home is a place where you are accepted, safe, cared for, caring, free of judgement, free to be yourself, free to be vulnerable. In a word, loved.” Here’s a quote that put it even better: “Home is that place or space where we do not have to be afraid but can let go of our defenses and be free, free from worries, free from tensions, free from pressures. Home is where we can laugh and cry, embrace and dance, sleep long and dream quietly, eat, read, play, watch the fire, listen to music and be with a friend. Home is where we can be healed. The word “home” gathers a wide range of feelings and emotions up into one image, the image of a house where it is good to be, the house of love.”
This Advent series is called “Come Home For Christmas.” Some of us (if you’re like me) aren’t sure what Christmas is going to look like for us this year. We may or may not be going to a place we know as home. We may or may not be inviting others into our homes or accepting invitations into the homes of others. Some of us may know and some of us may not, and we’ve been living with a lot of unknowns of course over the course of the last two years.
No matter our circumstances, however, it is my prayer that we know this year what it means to be at home with God in a whole new way. Of course, going home or having people into our homes requires preparation. It requires planning, list-making, etc. It is my prayer that we spend the next four weeks in preparation for welcoming Christ – in preparation for being welcomed by Christ and God the Father and God the Holy Spirit at that table that I talked about a couple of weeks ago.
I don’t want Christmas to be ruined for anyone. This is some of the talk we’ve been hearing, isn’t it? “Supply Chain Nightmares Threaten To Ruin Christmas.” “Will Supply Chain Issues Ruin Christmas?” “The Global Supply Chain Might Ruin Christmas.” “Yuletide Logjam: How Supply Chain Woes Could Ruin Christmas For Shoppers.” Which makes me pray, “Lord help us to stop.” I don’t want Christmas to be ruined for anyone. “What then should we do?” you ask. Let us go through the journey of Advent together. There is a lot of literal and figurative darkness about right now. I encourage us all to put together an Advent Candle situation in our homes. Get five candles together if you haven’t already, and if you need help getting five candles, please let me know. Let us light a candle each week against the darkness in holy defiance. Let us light a candle each week against the darkness in hopeful defiance.
This is where we start. With Hope. It is with hope that we are called to look around us and look within ourselves as we start this Advent journey. Advent is not about creating some sort of “perfect Christmas” or creating some sort of perfect retail fantasy. It is my prayer for all of us that we come to know hope, peace, joy, love, Christ in a new way this Christmas of 2021. We are called to look within ourselves and called to look around at our world. Do I need to list the things that go on within ourselves? Do I need to list the things that go on in our world? At the same time, we are called to take heart. Take heart dear sisters, fear not, dear brothers, all you who yearn for the Lord. We long for something different, don’t we? If we stopped and considered ourselves and the world, wouldn’t that be our conclusion no matter where we were on the whole God thing or the whole faith thing? Someone has said, “The longing that things ought not be as they are, and cannot be accepted in the state they are, is an eschatological longing.” We’ll come back to this eschatological thing, just file it away for now. In many ways, we live in a time of fear, but we live in it with the one in whom the hopes and fears of all the years are met. God with us. God at home with us; we at home with God.
We turn to God’s word together. We hear from the prophet Jeremiah at a time when the Babylonian army has surrounded Jerusalem. Talk about a supply chain crisis. If that weren’t enough, the king has thrown the prophet in jail for bringing the word of the Lord that Jerusalem will fall. Its people will be killed or carried into captivity. Many of us have no idea of such a thing as we worry about what we will and won’t be able to buy. Listen to this description of devastation (Jer. 33:10a). Someone else described a wasteland like this – “What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow/ Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man,/You cannot say, or guess, for you know only/A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,/ And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,/And the dry stone no sound of water.”
Out of this wasteland, a righteous Branch will spring up from the line of David. God has always been about promises and the keeping of promises. “He will strike your head, and you will bruise his heel,” said God to the serpent. “He will feed his flock like a shepherd, he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them gently in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.” Listen to this promise from God in Jer 33:10b-13. “I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David.” The Branch will make it possible for us to be at home with God in a whole new way, and to look forward to being at home with God in a whole new way. A present reality and a future hope. The future hope is described as a day when swords are beaten into ploughshares, when spears are turned into pruning hooks. Instruments of war are turned into instruments of agriculture and growth. It’s described as a day when God himself will be with them, and he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more. Mourning and crying and pain will be no more. It’s described in songs like “I’m gonna lay down my sword and shield, down by the riverside.” Home is going to be called “The Lord is our righteousness.”
How wonderful! This is the end, beautiful friends. This whole thing does not end with a bang or a whimper. We’re talking eschatology now. We were talking theology not long ago and someone in one of our small groups said such language often leads us to think of something reserved for academia or experts (which are helpful of course). Someone else reminded us that we all do things like psychology, sociology all the time. We put them into practice in our daily lives even if we do so unknowingly. We said theology is simply put, putting Biblical truths into practice in our daily lives. Let us do the same with eschatology. The end. Where this whole thing ends up. Jesus is coming again. We need to talk about this. We can’t just leave it to so-called prophets who trade in fear and sell buckets of survival food on satellite tv.
How does Jesus talk about the end? The Branch is giving his last public address in Luke 21. Jesus is talking about what happens when this whole thing ends. He doesn’t talk about when note. “When will this be, and what will be the signs that this is about to take place?” is the question that is put to Jesus. Jesus tells them many will come in his name claiming to be him, and claiming the time is near. “Do not go after them,” says Jesus. Jesus answer to “When?” is “Do not be terrified.” Do not fear. Jesus is coming again. Someone has put it like this:
“The Gospels proclaim that there is a sure hope for the future. This hope is grounded not in history, logic, or intuition, but in Jesus’ declaration that in the final day the Son of Man will return in glory and power to judge evil, end suffering, and gather his own to himself.” This is the hope to which we are called to hold fast. Jesus does not call us to speculation and observation but to behaviour and relationship. Wars and insurrections, nation rising against nation, famines and plagues, distress among nations – these have all been going on for 2,000 plus years. As signs they’re vague and I believe Jesus is being purposely vague here. Jesus is not calling his followers to prepare for his coming by forecasting but by watchfulness and faithfulness in our present. By watchfulness and faithfulness in His presence. Watchfulness and faithfulness in the presence of the One who promises “I am with you even to the end of the age.”
The call is not to fear. This “making all things new” which God will one day bring about has already started, and we are invited to join God in this making of all things new, starting with God’s work in us. To know in our hearts that things are not as they ought to be – that things cannot be accepted the way they are is too long for the one who was and is and is to come.
So let us stand up and raise our heads for our redemption is drawing near. Let us meet the renewal of all things in Jesus with active anticipation. Rather than wondering “When?”, let us listen to the voice of our Shepherd, who tells us to look at the fig tree and all the trees. This time of year we need to use our imaginations of course. Think of the leaves that sprout which tell us that summer is already near. Think of how they remind us that in the midst of all that goes on in the world and in us, the kingdom of God is near. The kingdom of grace and mercy and justice and hope and peace and joy and love is near. Think of the many ways we see the Kingdom of God all around us. In the prayers that speak of hope. In songs and carols that tell of peace. In words and acts of love and kindness and compassion. In warm welcomes and embraces.
Let us light a candle in holy and hopeful defiance that we might be able to see by its light. The Psalmist sings, “For with you is the fountain of life; and in your light we see light.” “Be on guard!” says Jesus. “So that your hearts are not weighed down by dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life.” Dissipation (I had to look that one up). The squandering of money, of energy, of resources. What a challenge for we who live in relative affluence. Drunkenness. Being lost in the things we use to numb ourselves or distract ourselves or soothe ourselves. The worries of this life that can rise about us like the thorns that are the cares and riches and pleasures of this life which choke off the fruit. Stand up. Raise your heads. Be on guard. Be alert, at all times praying…
Praying what? We can look to our Psalm for that. We can consider this candle as a beacon that’s calling us home to life in the house of God’s love. I’ve always appreciated the Irish tradition of putting a candle or lamp in the front window to signify welcome. We can pray “Do not let those who wait for you be put to shame…Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me in your paths. Lead me in your truth, and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you, I wait all day long.”
Let us stand together this Advent season dear friends, heads raised, on guard, alert and praying – before the One who has come, who comes, and who is coming – Christ our Lord. Thanks be to God for the hope which is ours. Amen