Sunday, November 29, 2015

"Stand Up and Raise Your Heads" -- a sermon for the First Sunday of Advent

Preached by the Very Rev. Mike Kinman at Christ Church Cathedral on November 29, 2015

‘People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see 'the Son of Man coming in a cloud' with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.’
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All this has happened before, and it will all happen again.

Today is the first Sunday of Advent.

Today we begin again to tell the Jesus story, the story of God’s epic love for humanity. The story of a love so strong, so deep, so wide that it could not be contained or kept separate from us but had to be with us as one of us.

Today we begin again to tell the Jesus story. The story of a God whose solidarity with us and love for us is greater than any fear.

Today is the first Sunday of Advent. And like children at the feet of our grandmother, just after she has closed the storybook. Just a week after we have seen Pilate wash his hands and seal Jesus’ fate, we cry out “Again! Again! … Tell the story again!” And with great patience and love she relents and smiles sweetly and says:

“OK, just one more time.”

Today is the first Sunday of Advent and we begin again to tell the Jesus story. Not because we don’t know it. But because we need to keep hearing it. Because like the retelling of the story itself, we need to be reminded that God’s overflowing passion for us wasn’t a one-time event. That the Good News of God in Jesus Christ is reborn again and again and again.

That indeed all this has happened before. And it will all happen again.

And that with every retelling, with God’s help, we can trust in its truth in this telling just a little bit more than the last.

The story begins in an all too familiar place.

Jesus says:

“There will be 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.”

It’s been nearly 2,000 years since Jesus said these words and yet in every retelling in every year since, we have been able to look around us and say “How did he know?” How could he describe this day so perfectly? Because we look around us, and this is exactly what we see.

There is distress among the nations. It feels like we are in a time of gathering darkness. And the people’s reaction to it … is fear.

The world is a fearful place right now. Fear is a commodity that is being sold to us -- and everywhere people are buying.

Fear is sold to us so we will buy guns. Fear is sold to us so we will fund prisons.

Fear is sold to us so we will continue to believe that people who are Christian need to be protected from people who are Muslim.

Fear is sold to us so we will continue to believe that people who are White need to be protected from people who are Black and Latinx and Syrian.

Fear is sold to us so we will not see the humanity in one another and then object to the dehumanizing way people different from us are treated.

Fear is sold to us so we will elect and empower the same people who are telling us both to be afraid and that they are the ones who can protect us and then charge us for the pleasure.

Fear is sold to us because fear is big money. Fear is big power. Fear is what keeps those of us who are wealthy rich and those of us who are poor in chains.

We see it all around us. We feel it in our hearts. On the earth there is distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. And people are fainting from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world. And it seems the very powers of the heavens are being shaken.

And we are tempted to join them. We are tempted to lose hope. We are tempted to buy the fear.

We are tempted to keep our heads down. To not stick our necks out. To not speak up for fear of being shouted down. To find a place of refuge and safety and hole up there … just until the storms pass … only the storms never really ever seem to pass, do they?

We are tempted to buy the fear. And then we remember. We remember that we are not people of the world but people of the Story. And so we say “Again! Again! … Tell the story again!” And we hear the nations in distress and the people fainting from fear and foreboding and the heavens themselves being shaken. And just at the moment we are about to join them. Just at the moment we are about to buy the fear, we hear Jesus' next words:

"Then they will see 'the Son of Man coming in a cloud' with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near."

We hear the story, and we remember. We remember what is planted deep inside us, the heart of the God in whose image we were made.

We remember that we are not people of fear.

Yes, we see what is happening around us.

We see the roaring of the sea and the waves.

We see violence and degradation.

We see the cause of evil prospering.

But that is not all we see.

Because we are people of the Story.

And people of the Story don’t keep our heads down.

People of the Story stick our necks out.

People of the Story speak up even if we will be shouted down.

People of the Story don’t look for a place of refuge and safety to hole up until the storms pass.

We are people of the Story, and we stand up and raise our heads.

And because we do, we see what others do not see.

We see Jesus.

That’s right.

We are people of the Story. And we stand up and raise our heads and when we do, yes we see the storm clouds gathering but in those clouds in power and glory we see the Son of Man. We see Jesus.

It’s not that the darkness fades away or the nations are no longer in distress.

We still see what is happening around us.

We see it but we do not keep our heads down. We stand up and raise our heads and in the midst of the darkness we see a great light. A light of love. A light of power. A light of hope.

We stand up and raise our heads and we see our redemption drawing near.

We stand up and raise our heads and out of the darkness we see the light of Christ.

And because we see the light, because we see Jesus, the world can sell all the fear it wants but we are not buying. Not today. Not ever.

We are not buying the fear because the hour is coming and now is when Jesus is coming into the world. And when we stand up and raise our heads, we see Jesus breaking through everywhere.

In individual acts of compassion.

In communities welcoming the stranger.

In volunteers tutoring after school.

In young people standing in front of store entrances crying “not one dime until there is justice for all.”

We see Jesus breaking through in the perseverance of the love that Kurt and Richard have for one another as at long last we bless their marriage today – a love that is greater than the fear so many have had and still have of that love.

As the darkness gathers and the storms rage and the nations tremble, we stand up and raise our heads and we see Jesus in a million lights that cannot be extinguished, in movements for justice that will not be stopped, in a perfect love that casts our fear.

All this has happened before, and it will all happen again.

Today is the first Sunday of Advent. Today we begin to tell the story again.

Today we look around us and yes, we see deep darkness, but that is not all we see.

Today we join together and when we are told the darkness is too deep, when we are told to duck and cover and cower, instead together we stand up and raise our heads because our redemption is coming near. Together we stand up and with one voice sing “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” knowing that Jesus is not only on his way but indeed he is already here.

People of the Story, rejoice and sing for this is our time.

All this has happened before, and it will all happen again.

The world is trembling. Same as it ever was.

The world is buying the fear that so many are selling. Same as it ever was.

But same as it has been for countless generations of the faithful, in the midst of despair, we who believe in hope, in the midst of darkness we who believe in light, in the midst of slavery we who believe in freedom will not rest until it comes. And hope, light and freedom are coming riding on a cloud in great power and glory. Hope, light and freedom are coming in Jesus and no power will stand against it.

People of the Story, though the skies look dark, rejoice and sing. It is the Advent of the Christ.

Stand up and raise your heads.

Our redemption is drawing near.

1 comment:

  1. The Rev. Clare L. HickmanDecember 22, 2015 at 11:20 AM

    This is an absolutely wonderful witness to the power of the Story. Many thanks, Mike: it will help flesh out my Christmas Eve sermon. I'm talking about why God took the long way round on the journey to Bethlehem, and this speaks beautifully to the "we need time to face our fear" part.

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