Saturday, December 3, 2016

Advent 1: From Thanksgiving to Resistance


Today we travel form from Thanksgiving to Resistance

it’s the end of Thanksgiving weekend.  And the beginning of Advent. The seasonal urban forest has sprung forth again and the tree sellers are back from Quebec.  We usually go straight from Christ the King to Advent but I wanted to pause a moment think about Thanksgiving before we move into Advent. 

Walter Breuggeman says that resistance begins with doxology…thanksgiving…and since we have been placed in a time that calls for faithful resistance, I want to begin with thanksgiving. We celebrated as an interfaith community last Wednesday night at St.Paul &St. Andrew’s.  I got to sing with my friend rabbi Steve Blane. And I got to have Thanksgiving with my boys and sister and mom.  Lots to thankful for. My question to you…..what are you thankful for?

(Not surprisingly for most people, it begins with family….and friends…people we care about…)

I want to begin with a communication from the Micah Institute…inspired by Psalm 122…and I’ll create Peter Heltzel with this..)

Tomorrow is the first Sunday of Advent.

What does the word Adventus in Latin means?  There are two advents discussed in Holy Scripture: The incarnation of Jesus Christ and the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. 

Liturgically, we enter the season of advent that is a season of preparation for Christmas or the Christ-Mass where we celebrate the birth of Jesus.  For the next four Sundays we prepare our hearts and communities to receive the Christ child, “the Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6)
In Psalm 122, the psalmist offers a vision of peace for the city:

Psalm 122
I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the Lord.
2 Our feet shall stand within thy gates, O Jerusalem.
3 Jerusalem is builded as a city that is compact together:
4 Whither the tribes go up, the tribes of the Lord, unto the testimony of Israel, to give thanks unto the name of the Lord.
5 For there are set thrones of judgment, the thrones of the house of David.
6 Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: they shall prosper that love thee.
7 Peace be within thy walls, and prosperity within thy palaces.
8 For my brethren and companions' sakes, I will now say, Peace be within thee.
9 Because of the house of the Lord our God I will seek thy good.

As the Psalmist prayed for Jerusalem, we are to pray for the peace of our city, New York City. 
The Prophet Jeremiah writes: “Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” (Jeremiah 29:7).

Yesterday Faith Leaders, Labor Leaders & Millennial Activists stop to remember Eric Garner, Deborah Danner and victims of Police Brutality at African Burial Ground. Today we are join congregations around the city to celebrate worship services for love and justice. 

While the prophets had a message of love and light, they also had a message of justice and judgment. 

There is a second sense of the term adventus that refers to the Second Coming of Jesus. 

The “last days” often refers to the whole period between the first and the second advents (Acts 2:17, 1 Cor 10:11). The bodily return of Jesus Christ to this earth of the exalted Lord (Matt 24:30, 20:64; Mark 13:26; 14:62; Luke 21:27; Rev 1:7). Jesus will descend from heaven with a shout, with a voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God (1 Thess 4:16). 

When we enter the realm of eschatology, reflections on the future it’s important that we don’t succumb to the temptation of Hal Lindsay, the author of the Late Great Planet Earth who said: “I might not know the day and the hour that Jesus will return, but  I do know the year and the month.” Well, Hal Lindsay was wrong as he predicted that Jesus Christ would return in 1988 (Revelation 16:15). 

Scripture says that Jesus will come like a “thief in the night” (1 Thessolonians 5:2; Revelation 16:15). Nobody knows the day or the hour, but the coming God does shape our present reality. 

When we think of the Second Coming of Jesus, James Baldwin’s Fire Next Time comes  to mind where Baldwin starts with an epigram:
 “God gave Noah the rainbow sign
No more water, the fire next time!” 

While we don’t know when Christ is coming, we do know that the parousia shapes our faith-rooted struggle for justice. Baldwin interprets this epigram at the end as a judgment on America if we do not “end the racial nightmare, and achieve our country.” 

In No Name In the Street (1972), James Baldwin sang of a song of death and resurrection: “An old world is dying, and a new one, kicking in the belly of its mother, time, announces that it is ready to be born. This birth will not be easy, and many of us are doomed to discover that we are exceedingly clumsy midwives. No matter, so long as we accept that our responsibility is to the newborn: the acceptance of responsibility contains the key to the necessarily evolving skill.

What does it mean to be midwives of the new world? 

Baldwin challenges us to work for police reform: “The white cop in the ghetto is as ignorant as he is frightened, and his entire concept of police work is to cow the natives. He is not compelled to answer to these natives for anything he does; whatever he does, he knows that he will be protected by his brothers, who will allow nothing to stain the honor of the force.” 

It is the “brotherhood” of the PBA that continues to protect Officer Pantaleo, but many officers have told us he is a bad apple and agree that he needs to leave the police force for the choke-hold death of Eric Garner. We will stay strong in this police reform struggle. 

Since Police protect the ruling elite and their economic power, Baldwin challenges us to do prophetic economic analysis. 

 “To study the economic structure of this country, to know which hands control the wealth, and to which end, seems an academic exercise – and yet it is necessary, all of it is necessary, for discipline, for knowledge, and for power” 

In the context of America’s slavery and segregation, Baldwin honestly admits: “blacks have never been free in this country, never was it intended that they should be free” 

Ain’t nobody free, till everyone is free.

We are committed to stay in this struggle until every Black life in America is free at last.

Thank God Almighty  

We’re free at last. 

Traditionally the four weeks of Advent are  Hope. Peace. Love. And Joy.
Today…we consider hope….
Hope comes from the prophet:
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 any more.

That peaceable kingdom we spoke of before is back again. And the passage about not learning war anymore that we sang about…I was always struck by the Soviet Union's gift to the United Nations, from a communist country, a statue based on a Biblical quote"Let Us Beat Swords into Ploughshares", by the Soviet sculptor, Evgeniy Vuchetich.

"Let us beat swords into plowshares"

And across form the United nations is Ralph Bunche Park. Named for our first African American UN representative and Nobel Peace prize winner. And at the back of the park is the The Isaiah Wall and the Sharansky Steps, named for Soviet Jewry activist Natan Scharansky. The small park is clearly an expression of hope. And has frequently been the location of actions for peace and justice. 
Ralph Bunche Park and Isiah Wall

As we know, HOPE is not optimism…As Jim Wallis said, it is belief in spite of the evidence…and the courage to  work to make the evidence change   (Jim Wallis) Or in the words of DR. Martin other King, Jr., The arc of history, though long, bends towards justice..…that’s Hope…

Advent…and the gospel…pushes us to a sense of the apocalyptic…just like the weeks building up to Christ the King are also apocalyptic in anticipation.

I think we can all only handle so much apocalyptic energy. Certainly the election has pushed us that way. Advent can feel as if we’re cramming for a test. Like the annual high holy days of reflection are for our Jewish neighbors. All this getting readiness…BUT….more of that NEXT week…

Our challenge is to focus on daily living….how we live every day…

The Gospel…is possibly confusing…all this thief in the night business…and it sounds vaguely like a call for retributive justice…the message to Jesus’ people was that the hell we are living in now will end. 

Who are we in the parable? I think the owner is the occupying power..

Life is fragile…we need to take care…there are frightening reports from Standing Rock…the treatment of the protesters/protectors  …barely making the news…so keep paying attention….

Three days of action

And this week, there have been three days of action…jointly sponsored by the Justice League and MICAH Institute working together…First “Black Friday” disruptions and die-ins in Macy’s, Sax and other iconic homes of capitalist commerce…yesterday there were  marches and vigils and the reading of names…victims of police.violence…

The plea for justice for Eric Garner continues…the time is ripe…for action, for change…. 
a plea for justice

We are preparing  not so much for a cataclysmic event but for ongoing life in community prepared to resist whatever may come our way…

We are getting ready….Getting ready for Christmas DAY

                                                      Getting Ready for Christmas Day


During our prayers, Russ lifted up the life and witness of Fidel Castro. I recalled my personal connection, having dressed as him for the 1959 Halloween parade complete with a black yarn beard. Whatever else, he remained faithful and steadfast to a vision. 

We sang Down by the Riverside….and the first version Barbara Lundblad’s rewriting of O Come Immanuel…

O come, O come, Immanuel
And bless each place your people dwell.
Melt ev’ry weapon crafted for war,
Bring peace upon the earth forever more.
Rejoice, rejoice! Take heart and do not fear,
God’s chosen one, Immanuel, draws near.

and ended with Soon and Very Soon…

Advent table


First Reading Isaiah 2:1-5

1The 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 any more.

5   O house of Jacob, 
          come, let us walk 
          in the light of the LORD!

Psalm 122:1-9

1   I was glad when they said to me, 
          “Let us go to the house of the LORD!” 
2   Our feet are standing 
          within your gates, O Jerusalem.

3   Jerusalem — built as a city 
          that is bound firmly together. 
4   To it the tribes go up, 
          the tribes of the LORD, 
     as was decreed for Israel, 
          to give thanks to the name of the LORD. 
5   For there the thrones for judgment were set up, 
          the thrones of the house of David.

6   Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: 
          “May they prosper who love you. 
7   Peace be within your walls, 
          and security within your towers.” 
8   For the sake of my relatives and friends 
          I will say, “Peace be within you.” 
9   For the sake of the house of the LORD our God, 
          I will seek your good.

Second Reading Romans 13:11-14

11Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; 12the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; 13let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. 14Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.

Gospel Matthew 24:36-44

36“But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, or the Son, but only the Father. 37For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 38For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, 39and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. 40Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. 41Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. 42Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. 43But 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. 44Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”

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