Are you feeling overwhelmed and anxious, these days?
Don’t worry, you’re not alone.
Many of us these days are starting to feel the crunch of the end-less “to-do” list:
Christmas shopping, card-writing, decorating, planning the Christmas parties.
In my extended family, this is the year my wife and I are scheduled to host almost 30 family members for Christmas dinner at our house!
But even at a deeper level, for me, the season of Advent has a way of bringing into sharper focus a tension, a disturbing dichotomy between, on one hand the Advent message of hope, peace and goodness, and on the other hand, the actual hard realities of our lives and world today, realities which seem to defy and discredit the hope-filled scriptural message of this season.
We have, for example, the often quoted, wonderful words of the prophet Isaiah this morning, a vision of God’s reign: “They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.”
But does anyone believe them?
Isaiah’s words are actually carved into the wall across from the United Nations building in New York City.
But are they taken seriously?
Do they mean anything…
…as world leaders debate sanctions and military action against Iran,
…as world leaders seem incapable of responding to 115,000 Syrians killed by their government, the 9 million ordinary Syrians needing basic assistance, and the 300,000 civilians living under a constant state of siege, mostly at the hands of the Syrian regime.
The “worst humanitarian disaster” in decades.
We cry out:
“How much longer, God?”
“Where is your peace and justice in all of this mess, in this world of persistent violence, hunger, illness and poverty that just doesn’t seem to be going away any time soon?
It’s interesting to remember that the writers of the scripture passages we heard this morning (from Isaiah, Romans and Matthew) were immersed, almost drowning, in very anxious, discouraging and dangerous circumstances…
…the Israelites in the time of Isaiah, watching the powerful Assyrian army threatening to invade their borders, even as political in-fighting threatened to destroy their government and religious communities…
…The Apostle Paul writing to the Romans, having survived shipwrecks, hunger, imprisonment, abuse, all for the sake of advancing the message of God’s love in Jesus Christ…
…and the early Christians, having just witnessed the Roman army pillage and destroy their city and Temple, and trying to figure out their fledgling identity in relation to their Jewish brothers and sisters….
All of this turmoil, uncertainty and unrest.
And yet, emerging from these difficult historical contexts, we have some of the most inspiring, insightful, and encouraging texts…
Isaiah’s visions of all peoples gathering on the mountain of God, walking together in peace and joy, beating down their swords and spears, and making out of them plowshares and pruning hooks…
Or the Apostle Paul’s buoyant encouragement to be attentive to God’s nearness and presence, and to walk in God’s light…
Or Matthew’s admonishment to be awake to the presence of the Holy One, to be ready for the revelation of God, whom we cannot predict or know fully, but in whom we can still trust and have a relationship.
Do you remember when Jesus dying on the cross cried out-loud: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Even Jesus experienced deep down in his gut the utter absence, and silence, of God.
Even Jesus knew what it feels like to have evil and injustice completely dominate, crowding out every last glimmer of hope and goodness.
The best wisdom of the ages and of the Holy Scriptures says that it is in our confusion, it is while mired in discouragement and difficulties, in our feelings of utter abandonment by God and everyone else, that the Holy One somehow, mysteriously and inexplicably shows up.
And somehow, we know God to be with us, no matter what…
…In the love, given and shared… in community.
You know, maybe that’s what the early people of God writing those beautiful words of scripture we heard this morning, it’s what they knew in their hearts to be true.
Maybe that’s what diplomats, peacemakers and on-the-ground aid-workers know in their hearts to be true, even as they work in the rubble of the Philippines, the spilled blood of Syria, and the crowded tents of the Zaatari Refugee camp in Jordan.
Maybe that’s what we know in our hearts to be true, even as we wake in the middle of the night to tend to our four-year old who’s peed his bed for the third night in a row, or as we face mountains of laundry and dirty dishes and upset teenage daughters at home…
In the weariness of the mundane and ordinary, in the rubble and blood of a confusing and pain-filled world…
We may not feel it, but God’s light still shines, God’s promises still stand, and we have reason to step forward in faith, hope and loving actions to one another.
Behind the cottage we rented this past summer is a campfire, set right on the edge of the property line, which backs on a deep and dark forest.
Sitting in the middle of this campfire is an old, rusty, what looks like a drum from an old, discarded laundry machine.
Inside were kept the wood chips and logs and ashes from previous campfires.
The purpose of this drum, it seems, is to help contain the fire and ashes so as to prevent live ambers from floating out too far, and potentially causing the fire to spread.
As you can also imagine, the drum has a series of holes in its side.
And so, as the fire burns and crackles on, it sends out little, dancing, pin-pricks of light, in playful motion, piercing the darkness of the trees and forest nearby, bringing just a little more comfort and warmth and joy to an otherwise dark and scary surrounding.
I thought to myself – even a crude, rusty-old, discarded drum from an abandoned laundry machine can still be used in such a good way, enabling the light of the campfire to shine out in such a wonderful way.
God’s light still shines, through us, through the cracks and fissures and brokenness of our lives, bringing the healing light of Christ to our broken world.