A Wild Peace.

78 years ago today, at 7:48 AM, the Japanese Imperial Navy conducted a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. The attack was meant to cripple the U.S. Navy, and it nearly did, sinking The USS Arizona, capsizing the USS Okalahoma and damaging the six other battleships in the U.S. Pacific fleet. 21 ships in total were lost or damaged. 2,335 military personnel were killed, and 68 civilians. Another 1,143 military personnel and 103 civilians were wounded. Japan declared war against the US later that day. President Roosevelt called it “a date that would live in infamy.” It was the worst attack on the U.S. until September 11, 2001, nearly 60 years later.

These attacks defined generations. Pearl Harbor shook the US out of its neutrality, and plunged them into World War II. Since 9-11, the U.S. has been in a state of perpetual war. This past spring the class of 2019 graduated from high school in a nation that has known no peace. And despite our efforts, terrorism and war are not on the decline.

Of course, this doesn’t affect most of us, most of the time. These days, our military takes out enemy targets in relative comfort with a precision drone strike. And civilians. Donald Trump said on the campaign trail, “The other thing with the terrorists is you have to take out their families, when you get these terrorists, you have to take out their families. They care about their lives, don’t kid yourself. When they say they don’t care about their lives, you have to take out their families.” The war on terror has transformed to a war on children. And earlier this year, Trump revoked the Drone Strike Civilian Casualty Report. Once a tragic outcome of war, civilian casualties is increasingly our strategy, with little, or no accountability.


Isaiah’s Messianic oracle in Isaiah 11 gave a vivid depiction of eschatological peace—a peace which passes comprehension:

6 The wolf shall live with the lamb,

the leopard shall lie down with the kid,

the calf and the lion and the fatling together,

and a little child shall lead them.

7 The cow and the bear shall graze,

their young shall lie down together;

and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.

8 The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,

and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.

9 They will not hurt or destroy

on all my holy mountain;

for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord

as the waters cover the sea.

10 On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious.

Isaiah 11:6-10, NRSV

This is quite the menagerie! A wolf lying down with a lamb, a leopard with a goat kid, a lion with a calf and fatling. A bear forgoes a nice ribeye to graze with cattle and a little child plays with his hand in a snake hole.

Lets be clear, if you put wolves together with lambs, leopards with goats, lions and bears with cattle, I’m reporting you for animal abuse. If your child is left unsupervised in a snake pit, I’m calling child protective services. Predators kill. It is their natural instinct. If we allow that these images are metaphors for oppressors and their victims, this imagery is equally discomforting. In a #metoo and #churchtoo era, can you imagine women and child victims, cheerfully hanging out with their victimizer? It strains morality? We want the predator to be destroyed!

But Isaiah’s hopeful vision describes a world where the victimizers are victimizers no more. The vulnerable, the beatdown, the down-and-out the oppressed, the manipulated, the young and easily dominated, will be with the powerful, and not fear for lives. They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. No more war, no more fear, no more destruction.

And no more victims. The timid lamb and the young goat kid stumbling on skinny legs will be transformed into confident creatures, standing shoulder to shoulder with wolves, and lions, leopards and bears. The fatling, and calf will roar, the ox will bear its teeth. The strong will not misuse their strength and the weak will be made strong.


We are in violent times, and I fear that being an American puts us more in the predator column than the prey column, though clearly these are semipermeable categories. We hurt and are hurt, we kill and are killed. Our Advent Hope is that we are ever closer to the day when we shall be transformed. We will no longer be victims. We will no longer victimize. We will no longer be killed and no longer will we kill. We will all be gathered together by our King of peace.

The Politics of Advent

These days, if you here the term evangelical in the public sphere, it likely is a reference to a certain type of Right wing, religious conservative voters (speaking specifically of the U.S. American context here). Evidently 81% of evangelicals voted for Donald Trump in 2016, and that support has not diminished.

But while evangelical has become synonymous with a certain type of political expression, Evangelical theology in general self-consciously apolitical. Evangelicals describe the gospel as salvation for our sin-sick souls. At the recent Together For the Gospel conference, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary president, Al Mohler declared, “Justification by faith alone is not merely a way of describing the gospel, it is the gospel.” Belief in Jesus saves us at the end of life, and it guarantees our place with God in eternity. It is all about what happens after you die with no concern for the current social order. Progressive Christians for their part, are similarly committed to progressive politics, while holding to a privatized faith.

But despite our enmeshment in our chosen politics, or our apolitical envisioning of eternity, Advent is inherently political.

When Isaiah spoke of Messianic expectation, he envisioned a political leader— a king in the line of David. You don’t hope for a king unless you are hoping for a change to the political order:

Isaiah 11:1–6 (NRSV)

1A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.2The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.3His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear;4but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.5Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist, and faithfulness the belt around his loins.

Isaiah hoped for a king that God’s spirit would rest upon. A ruler who was full of wisdom, good counsel and knowledge. One who feared the Lord. A leader with righteous discernment who would not judge by what he saw and heard, but in ways that championed justice for the poor and equity for the downtrodden. One who would stamp out injustice. Righteousness and faithfulness would be the belt around his waist (he wouldn’t be caught with his pants down).

When Mary sang her Magnificat centuries later, she believed the Son growing in her womb was the answer to Israel’s suffering at the hands of Empire, “He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble.” (Luke 1: 52). When John appeared in the wilderness declaring that “the Kingdom of Heaven was at hand”(Matt 3:2), it was a hope which directly challenged the politics of usual in Ancient Palestine. When the early church declared emphatically that Jesus was Lord, it implied that Caesar was not. When John of Patmos saw a vision of the new Jerusalem coming down from heaven, he hoped for the end of Roman persecution. Advent hope is hope for the coming Messiah. And that hope is political hope.

And here we are 2019, on the cusp of an election year and feeling jaded. It has been another year of corruption and partisan politicking. We have a president who lies reflexively, who mocks mercilessly, who petitions foreign governments for political dirt on his opponents, and promotes policies that fall short of God’s justice. Some hope for impeachment, or a new election cycle, while others of us wonder if the Democrats offer any real alternative. After all, Trump has dedicated his first term to undoing Obama, except in the case of Obama’s militarism (lets increase that!), or border security (let’s amp that up!). People on the margins have been hurt by the politics of both Right and Left.

The time is ripe for Advent politics. What does it mean for the reign of Christ to break into our world a little more? What would it look likefor leaders to lead others with a commitment to care for the poor, the oppressed and marginalized? What would it look like to not pad the pockets of the powerful but to rule with justice? To listen to counsel, and to care for the poor?

Are politics is not what it should be. The American dream has fallen short of the Kin-dom of God. Advent is hope for a new kind of political order. When the messiah reigns, politics as usual will be no more. Justice, equity and peace will flourish. The military industrial complex will be no more. A new world order is coming. Whatever happens in Congress, or in the Primaries, Jesus is our political hope. Come King Jesus!

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A Green Shoot in the Midst of Struggle

I am a preacher. Currently my Sunday morning gig is to supply a small United Methodist church with sermons, and to help lead their worship service. I also do some visitation ministry for the congregation. I am functionally their pastor, but that’s not my job title. While I’ve been a pastor, I am not licensed by the UMC, and the church isn’t big enough to pay a pastor (the denomination and the conference has some guidelines for what their pastors should be paid). It is a small community church, and the membership is aging out. We are lucky if there is 17 or so of us gathered on a Sunday morning and the congregation has no idea what tomorrow holds. In the meantime, I hope to speak a hopeful word for them.

My passage this Sunday comes from Isaiah 11. There is some evocative imagery there about a wolf and a lamb, a leopard & a goat, a calf, a lion a yearling, a cow and a bear, a child leader, and an infant playing in a snake pit. But the passage begins with familiar words we quote while awaiting the Christ child this season, ” A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
    from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.” (Isaiah 11:1).

I know something about stumps (I am not an arborist, but I play one on tree-vee). Stumps are dead.

We had a giant maple tree in the backyard of the property we rent in Medford. It wasn’t a healthy tree, but it seemed stable enough. It was wide and tall and still had signs of life. But in early autumn a branch fell off onto our shed. I went in the backyard to inspect the tree and discovered that parts of the trunk were rotten. I could stick the handle of my garden hoe right through the trunk. I called our landlord and over the next several days, he had cut the tree down and only a stump remains.

Evidently the previous owner, had decided to make a raised garden bed around an existing tree, and covered the maple tree roots with soil, stressing the tree. While the tree looked alive enough for awhile, it was dying a long slow death. Now there is just stump left for dead.

When Isaiah had his vision, the northern Kingdom of Israel was taken into captivity by Assyria (circa 722 BCE), and the Southern Kingdom of Judah (where Isaiah was) was forced to pay tribute. While Judah maintained their independence, the golden age of David and Solomon was behind them. Judah found itself dominated by powerful nations all around them. They had a noble past, but their roots were distressed under a layer of dirt. Life had ebbed from the tree.

Isaiah has a vision of the dead stump of Jesse—the Davidic monarchy at its end (Jesse was David’s father). Lifeless. I am sure Jesse’s stump wasn’t from a maple tree. I picture one of those Lebanon ceders the Old Testament keeps mentioning, only dead. Just a stump, until a green shoot grows from its center. It was a renewal of hope in a Messiah—an anointed King in the line of David—a green shoot from the stump of Jesse. And with it, hope grows.

Joan Chittister, in Scarred By Struggle, Transformed By Hope (Eerdmans, 2003) writes ” Everywhere I looked, hope existed—but only as some kind of green shoot in the midst of struggle. (preface, ix).” With hindsight and a high Christology, we read of the green shoot in Jesse’s stump and wax eloquent about the Coming of Christ. I am not sure how comforting this was for Isaiah’s hearers, who remembered that stump and the grandeur of yesteryear. But as Chittister says, “Hope, I began to realize was not a state of life. It was at best a gift of life” (ibid).

Advent hope, then and now, is a gift of life. It is a green shoot in the midst of struggle. A green shoot in a stump of a failing monarchy doesn’t sound much like hope. But it became the hope of salvation for the whole earth. Christ’s return sounds to us like pie-in-the-sky escapism, but it is our hope for the renewal of all things, here. A green shoot in the midst of struggle.

I don’t know what you are going through and what it means for you to hold out hope. I don’t know what it means for our world threatened by violence. Or our a country with ever-deepening divisions. I don’t know what it means for the church I pastor that I’m not the pastor of. But each of us, are more than the stump of what was. Hope grows. A green shoot—life where we least expect to find it.

File:Spontaneous seedling of pine on a stump of cypress in Capbreton (Landes).jpg

Run the Mile You are In.

I’m training for a marathon. Well . . . nearer on the horizon, I’m training for a half marathon. For the past 11 weeks I’ve been doing a half-marathon training program with Katie Barrett I discovered on Audible (with some minor tweaks). Next week Saturday, I am headed to Eugene, Oregon for the Eugene Holiday Half. This will be the longest race I’ve run to date. I’m not in the best shape of my life, but I still expect to finish this in 2 and a half hours. And I hope it will be fun.

I start each Advent by reflecting on the meaning of the season, that we are waiting, and what we are waiting for isn’t here yet. The way Israel waited through their long exile, we wait for the return of the reigning Christ, when war, predation, suffering and grief will cease and we shall experience the renewal of all things. I believe practicing Advent means being dissatisfied with where we are, and being shaped by hope of what’s to come.

But guess what? Our world is not at peace. We are at war, there are mass-shooters that attack public spaces. Racism, sexism, ableism, ageism, homophobia are thriving, affecting vulnerable people in our society and in the world. And then there are broken relationships and betrayals, financial worries, discomforting diagnoses, and painful losses. The Advent of Christ feels a long way off.

Eric Liddell.jpg
Eric Liddell, OG Muscular Christian

When I started training for my half marathon, I committed to running four times a week, stretching, fueling my body appropriately and building in time for recovery. Twelve weeks later, I’m in better shape and better prepared to run. Because I’ve been training with an audible program, I’ve had a constant voice in my ear during my runs, reminding me to work on my form and stretch out my stride. I am coached when to push and when to run easy. At different times in my training program, I am coached to picture myself in my last mile, pushing as hard as I can. And at other times the exhortation is simpler: run the mile I am in.

So we celebrate Advent in the strong hope of God’s coming to us in Christ. But just as the Isaiah passage from Sunday exhorted Israel, “Come, descendants of Jacob,let us walk in the light of the Lord”(Isaiah 2:5). Isaiah shared a vision of the coming of God when swords are beat into plowshares and all the peoples of the world come to learn the ways of YHWH (Isaiah 2:1-4) and then exhorts his hearers to walk in the light of the Lord. The grand goal of worldwide shalom and communion with God, and the exhortation: run the mile you are in. Walk now in light of the things to come

How do we practice Advent in a way that both keeps our eye on the finish line, and with awareness of where we are, run the mile we are in? What are the practices which help us prepare well for the coming of Christ?

Here are some suggestions:

1. Light candles. A lot of our churches have Advent wreaths which count down the Sundays before Christmas. Our family also has a home wreath, which I haven’t unearthed yet. This is great mindful way to practice advent. The warmth and light of the Advent candles are a visceral and visual reminder of the way light dispels darkness. Just lighting the candles is a ritual of hope.

2. Sing songs. Some cranky liturgists and young preachers will tell you that this is not the time for Christmas carols. We are in a season of waiting and longing, and the joy of Christmas is coming. This is bosh. Mary sang (Luke 1:46-55). Yes there is pain, and longing and dissatisfaction. Yes, there is the ache of the already but not quite yet. But there is also wonder and awe, and joyful anticipation. If singing ignites and keeps hope alive. Sing. Sing loud, off key and exuberantly. Sing of the things to come. When people smile when they are running, they can run farther.

3.Do Justice. Part of our Advent hope in the coming of Christ, is that justice and peace will reign when he comes. Part of running the mile we are in, is find ways to press into God’s peace and justice now. Is there an issue facing your community which you can address? Are ways we can promote peace now? Who, of your neighbors is facing injustice? Can we do something about it? This is walking in the light of what’s to come. This is running the mile we are in.

4. Welcome. When Jesus comes everyone is welcome. We are talking kings and shepherds, women and men, Jews and Gentiles, young children and old saints—people of every tongue, tribe and nation. The radical inclusivity of God’s kingdom is coming! What are ways we can practice inclusion and welcome now? Who can you show hospitality to? Is there someone you can invite over for dinner? Is there someone you know, who feels alone and excluded that you can invite along with you where you are going? Do you know someone who needs you to run along aside them for a while?

Jesus came, Jesus comes, Jesus is coming. Our Advent hope is sure, and in our hearts we can picture the finish line. These are just a few suggestions of how we can run now, the mile we are in, as we prepare for the Day ahead. How do you practice Advent?

Shaped by the Thing to Come

When I was in seminary (10 years ago), I took an ethics seminar where we read a number of articles each week from Bible scholars and theologians on various issues. We read a good cross-section of confessional and critical scholars, both theological conservatives and liberals. One of my classmates standing critique of our readings was the use various theologians made of the beginning and the end of the biblical story.

He’d say something like, “At creation, no one was there to see it, so we don’t know what it is really like. The end of the story hasn’t happened yet, so we can’t speak of what it is like. So we can’t base our ethical claims in either Creation, or the consummation of things.”

Spoiler alert: he was wrong.

His idea, capitulates to a metaphysical realism, where all we can do is make do with the way things are. We may have some resources from tradition to draw on and we may cling to some commands or ethical principles, but essentially all we can do is limp along the best we can. We just have to make the best of it.

The beginning and the end of our story is integral to our spiritual formation. The Hebrew Bible opens with a description of God’s creation of heaven and earth (Gen 1:1):

בְּרֵאשִׁ֖ית בָּרָ֣א אֱלֹהִ֑ים אֵ֥ת הַשָּׁמַ֖יִם וְאֵ֥ת הָאָֽרֶץ

Our Christian Bible closes with a vision of a new heaven, a new earth, a heavenly Jerusalem descending and Christ’s promise, “Surely, I am coming soon” (Rev 21-22).

The beginning of the story is significant because it tells us what kind of story we are in. The end of the story is essential because it tells us our telos—the future God in Christ has envisioned for his Creation. Without the beginning and the end of the story, we are muddled in a middle, from nowhere and going nowhere. We can say with the culture around us, it is what it is. If we allow the bookends of history, the biblical narrative widens our vision: The good that was, may be again; what is wrong will be made right; the dying and decay of our enthropic environs will be restored; God’s peace will reign.

We may be fond of the idiom, “Life is a journey, not a destination.” There is some truth in that, and we can’t be so future oriented that we aren’t aware of what’s right here, right now. But even the metaphor of journey, implies we want to go somewhere. There is somewhere we want to end up. We don’t want to wander aimlessly forever in the dark.

The Advent story (both the first Advent and the final Advent) tell of God breaking into our wanderings and bringing about a whole new reality. Jesus came, Jesus comes, Jesus returns and everything old is new again. Injustice the degradation of nature, wars, and sickness, and the heavy feeling of grief which haunts and stalks us, even in our seasons of joy, will meet their end. Creation will be renewed and all that is broken will be mended. Everything will be as it should be. In words Dame Julian, ““All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.”

This is the end we are moving toward, or better, this is the end that God and Christ is moving toward us. May we all be prepared to see the reign of God break into our lives a little more. Come Lord Jesus, Come.

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14th Century Tapestry of John of Patmos watching the descent of the New Jerusalem (source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Jerusalem#/media/File:La_nouvelle_Jérusalem.jpg)

Last Things and the Thing to Come

You know what? We have never been home yet, to full justice, to full peace, full righteousness, full neighbor-love, full self-love, full trust and obedience. Never there even now. Advent is pondering what it would be like to end our common exile and come home. -Walter Brueggemann

Implicit in the season of Advent, is waiting for what is to come. Yes, Jesus was born in Bethlehem to a teenage peasant twenty centuries ago. If you were there you’d find him, wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in a manger. Yes, there were those who saw angelic visions and dreamed dreams of wonder, at who this child would become. Yes, just like in a musical, people and angels broke out in song.

But when we celebrate Advent, we do more than just remember that. We hope.

We dare hope that that one time, God came in the flesh and entered into the suffering of the world, was not a one time thing. We hope that God in Christ, will return and then we will taste in fulness the meaning of God’s salvation for us. That peace will reign on the earth. That:

The wolf shall live with the lamb, 
the leopard shall lie down with the kid, 
the calf and the lion and the fatling together, 
and a little child shall lead them. 
The cow and the bear shall graze, 
their young shall lie down together; 
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. 
The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, 
and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den. 
They will not hurt or destroy 
on all my holy mountain; 
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD 
as the waters cover the sea. (Isaiah 11:6-9)

Advent hope falls under a category of theology called ‘eschatology,’ the study of last things. In the evangelicalism I grew up in, we loved eschatology. The Bible camp I went to as a child, gave me a detailed chart of the book of Revelation describing the rapture, the beast, and the time of tribulation. It was fanciful and most of the things I was taught, I’ve come to reject as an adequate reading of ancient apocalyptic literature. Sorry, Kirk Cameron.

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Dispensationalist Eschatological Chart

But while mapping the Anti-Christ is no longer my eschatology, I still have one. I still believe that there is a hope that the story is moving toward. That the coming reign of Christ will bring about God’s justice, God’s peace, and fulfill God’s hope for the cosmos. With Walter Brueggemann and the prophet Isaiah I dare hope that there will be a day that no one will hurt or destroy on [God’s] holy mountain. And that we will come home to full justice, full peace, full righteousness, full neighbor-love, full self-love, full trust and obedience.

In The Coming of God, theologian Jurgen Moltmann, argues against a ‘end of all things’ idea of eschatology which envisions the end as ‘final solution’ to all that ails the world:

Christian eschatology has nothing to do with apocalyptic final solutions ofthis kind, for its subject is not the end’ at all. On the contrary, what it is about is the new creation of all things. Christian eschatology is the remembered hope of the raising of the crucified Christ, so it talks about beginning afresh in the deadly end.

Jurgen Moltmann. The Coming of God: Christian Eschatology (Kindle Locations 82-83). Kindle Edition.

I believe Jesus came. I believe Jesus comes to us. I believe Jesus is coming again. And when he does, we aren’t at the end. It is the beginning of the life we are meant to have. In the mean time we live toward that day.

This is Not the Way It's Supposed To Be

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When I was a kid, during the month of December, there was a Peanuts cartoon on the front page of the daily paper, announcing how many shopping days left until Christmas. The month of December was deemed Christmas shopping season. But that was then, now our Christmases, in all its commercial glory begins sometime late September. It is about then that our big box stores begin receiving their Christmas order, and not wanting to clog the back rooms, make space for Christmas décor somewhere on their sales floors.

            And this past Thursday was Thanksgiving, If it was a good one, you likely ate too much and stumbled from your dinner table to the couch, in a turkey-induced Tryptophan haze, trying to stay awake through a football game, or a holiday movie. Our consuming doesn’t end with one holiday meal. There is Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday and holiday sales designed to get us to spend more  money. This is the season of giving, but often it’s the season for overspending. And why not? For many of us Christmas is not the most wonderful time of year, it is the season where we feel the dull ache of what we miss. Loved ones, we’ve buried, family we’re estranged from, and all the things we’ve lost. What better way to get through the holidays, then with a little retail therapy?

                But then we come to church, and we discover that here we mark the season in a wholly different way. Advent. The word Advent simply means ‘arrival’ or ‘coming.’ This is one of the preparatory seasons on our Church calendar, and it is our way of preparing the way for the coming of Christ. Traditionally Christians have thought of this on a couple of levels. There is preparing to remember well, Christ’s nativity—the mystery of Incarnation, the sacred moment of his birth, when light shone in darkness, but the dark did not overcome it. It is also a time for preparing for Christ’s second Advent when Christ shall come with shouts of acclamation. And in between these comings are all of Christ’s little advents, the ways Christ comes to each of us and meets in the quietude of our hearts.

                In Isaiah 2:1-5, and Mathew 24:36-44, our passages for the first Sunday this year, we hear twi descriptions of God’s coming:

Isaiah 2:1–5 (NRSV)

1 The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem. 2 In days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it. 3 Many peoples shall come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. 4 He shall judge between the nations and shall arbitrate for many peoples; 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. 5 O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!

Matthew 24:36–44 (NRSV)

36 “But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 37 For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 38 For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, 39 and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. 40 Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. 41 Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. 42 Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. 43 But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.

 Matthew’s passage describes this as great and terrible day of the Lord, when God returns to the judge the wicked, Just like in the story of Noah and the flood where the wicked were swept away, Jesus says “two will be working in the field, one taken and the other left, two women will be grinding meal, one will be taken and the other left. Keep awake therefore because you do not know when the day your Lord is coming.”   19th and 20th Century dispensationalism had an idea called “the rapture” where Jesus took the faithful in Christ out of the world before things really got bad. Chances are you may have come across this idea if you’ve ever saw a Christian movie about end times. It is a relatively new idea, and it reverses the thrust of Jesus words. Like in the flood, those who were taken, were those under God’s judgement, those who were ‘left behind’ were the ones who escaped it.

                The Isaiah passage is a little happier to our ears. In the days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house will be established as the highest and all the nations of world will stream into it. Isaiah imagines a future where nationalism is no more, and Israel has fulfilled its calling to be a blessing to all nations. People from all over the world would come to be instructed in the Lords ways. God will judge between all peoples and all the war mongers and weaponizers will beat their swords into plowshares, and not study war anymore.

Both passages give us a little taste of God’s coming advent, but in a couple of different ways. I think these passages have several lessons for us as we enter Advent this year.

  1. Advent means being dissatisfied with the way things are.  Jesus words in the first century come  at a time when the nation of Israel is occupied by Rome, and the whole conversation that Jesus is having with his disciples in this passage, hinges on Jesus’ prediction of the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple (which happened in 70AD). Isaiah began his prophetic ministry, under King Uzziah of Judah reign. The Assyrian empire. had laid waste to the Northern Kingdom of Israel, and Judah was forced to pay tribute to them. In both cases, things weren’t as bad as they could be. In Jesus’ time and Isaiah’s time, God’s people could still worship God in the temple. And there were people that made do with the world they were in. After all, even though things weren’t as bad as they could possible be, things could be worse right?

In our country today, we enjoy religious freedom. Every once and a while you hear someone talk about the war on Christmas, but nobody has stopped us from meeting, and celebrated the birth of Christ. But we have been at war. War perpetually since 9-11.  Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and there is the rumor and threat of war with Iran. And there are worries about fair trade and tariffs, even with our allies. In our own borders, we are also not at peace. We suffer, political unrest, with the great divide between east and west. Are hearts break whenever we hear about another shooter at a school, church, synagogue or public venue. Things are not the way we should be. This is not the way it is supposed to be. And yet, we could busy ourselves in the holiday we can ignore everything wrong with our world and just sing, “Have yourself a merry little Christmas/make the Yuletide gay/ from now on our troubles will be miles away.”

But the message of Advent is this, right now is not the way things are supposed to be. God is coming and we have hope for a different future. Which brings me to our second lesson.

  • Advent means holding out hope for our bright tomorrow. Jesus is coming!

Isaiah tells of a new future where God’s temple, is not only not ‘under siege’ by Judah’s powerful neighbor’s but the place where all the nations come to pay tribute and learn and discover the ways of God. He envisions a future where countries aren’t racing to make weapons of mass destruction, but are joyfully, turning their old weapons into farm tools.  Isaiah holds out hope for the future of God’s promise, even if his current reality falls dismally short. When God sits enthroned in Jerusalem, things will be completely different. All the good things God has in store will come to pass.

In Matthew, Jesus warns of coming judgment. Trained as our imaginations are by American style revivalism, we often hear this as “you’re going to get it,” but I think the sense that Jesus speaks these words is, “they’re going to get it.” A new age is coming and the people that are oppressing you, who are taxing you harshly and conscripting you into service, or even slavery, the occupying military that threatens you, they will meet there end. And the justice of God will reign! When the baby Jesus was born in the village of Bethlehem, the region of Judea was besieged by the Roman empire. But a baby child would come and bring salvation, not only to the Jews, but the whole world.

The good news for us is that where we are is bad. Maybe not the worst case scenario but bad enough. But the good that God has in store for us, is exactly everything he promises and is so much better than our wildest imaginings.

  • Finally, Advent means walking in the light of the Lord (Isaiah 2:5). Isaiah exhorts ‘the house of Jacob,’ Israel and Judah to walk in the light of the Lord. I think this is an exhortation for us too. Walk in the light of the Lord.

What does this mean? What does it mean for us?  There is a Mahatma Gandhi quote that I learned by way of Martin Luther King, jr., “The ends and the means are convertible terms.” King applied Gandhi’s wisdom to non-violent resistance, concluding the way we get to the ends we want to get at, is to enact them. So for King and his struggle for civil rights, the Beloved Community where blacks and whites joined hands in universal brotherhood, meant that the way he envisioned getting there was by enacting the vision of racial peace he envisioned. If wanted peace between whites and blacks, he wouldn’t get there through violence; he’d only get there through non-violent, peaceful means.

In the words of Jesus and Isaiah we have heard the promise of future justice and peace. We have heard about the promise of a world at peace, where all violence ceases. What does it mean for us to be shaped by this vision? What it does it mean for us as a church? What would it mean for us to invest in a future where it isn’t us vs. them, but believing in God’s shalom, where all that is wrong with the world is put to rights, all injustice is brought to an end, and everything that should be, is, and everything that should not be is not?

In a broken ancient world, Jesus was coming. In our present, national and international divisions, Jesus is coming, in the quietude of our hearts Jesus comes. In Advent, we pause and prepare for the coming of King Jesus. We look honestly at the broken world we are in, we hear God’s hope for our tomorrow, and we live our lives in the light, shaped by God’s promise for us. Merry Advent. Come Lord Jesus, Come.