“What the World Needs Now”
First Sunday of Advent
December 1, 2013
First Christian Church
As most of you know, “Roger and Me” was a 1989 documentary by Flint native Michael Moore. Moore chronicles life in town that was dominated by one industry, the auto industry, and one company, General Motors. The 80s were not kind to Flint as external and internal forces led to layoffs and economic hardship. A number of Flint natives are not so crazy about the film because of the reputation it placed on the city, as a bleak post-industrial landscape. would tend to agree, the Flint of 1989 was not as bad as the film suggested. The problem is that Moore was about 20 years early. The Flint of 2014 is as bad and even worse.
In the last few decades since Roger and Me, the auto industry has continued to contract. General Motors ended up closing a number of plants, taking a number of job and plunging the city into economic tailspin.
The Flint that I drive through these days isn’t like the Flint I knew in the 1970s. That Flint was prosperous and busy with nice homes and kids playing in the streets. The Flint of the 2010s is poor with abandoned homes and neighborhoods, empty slabs where factories once stood, and empty buildings where stores used to be. My heart breaks a little when I see the city of my birth doing so poorly. Everyone knows that the best days of the city are behind it and there is uncertainty that the future will be better. Flint is very much like its big brother an hour to the south, Detroit. Both towns benefited from the auto industry, but with the good days behind them, they wonder if there is any hope left for a restoriation.
During Advent, we will be focusing on several passages from the book of Isaiah. This book was written during some interesting ties in the life of the Israelites. The nation is not what it once was; it has divided into two and started worshipping other gods. Assyria and Babylon, two powerful nations, were jockeying for control of the region where Israel resides. The best days for the Israelites are behind them. The future looks dim and uncertain. Hope seemed to be a distant memory.
And then we Isaiah enters the pictures. Right off the bat, we have an interesting choice of words, in that Isaiah saw words? Could it be that Isaiah had a vision? Whatever it was, Isaiah encountered God and was able to pull back on the curtain seeing what God was up to.
Isaiah saw that one day, the nations of the world come to God’s mountain wanting to learn God’s ways. This small nation, in the midst of two powerful nations, would become the beacon to the world, pointing the way to Zion, point the way to God. The nations would come and learn God’s ways, instruments of war would become farm implements and war will become a thing of the past.
This passage is a passage of hope and of waiting. The hope is that what bad times the people are facing won’t last forever. The waiting comes because this hope is something that will happen, but it hasn’t happened yet. Salvation was on the way, but it wasn’t going to arrive for a while, maybe even beyond their lifetimes.
Advent is a time of waiting. We wait for Jesus to be born, which we know will happen and has happened. But Advent is also waiting for the time when God’s kingdom will be in full bloom. We don’t know when that will happen and it may well not happen in our lifetimes. But that future hope is not out of reach to us. We can experience a bit of that future hope in our lives right now. We live knowing that God will bring healing and fullness to all of creation and we try to model that future hope in our lives, in our daily work and in and through our faith communities.
As Christians, we are to live as if that future hope is here already. We need to seek and help others come and learn God’s ways. Because we can hope, because we can see that what we see is not the final word, we can work to help people see a fortaste of the kingdom that is to come.
When I was a kid growing up in Flint, there was something I saw at church that always puzzled me. It’s common in the African American tradition to hear people calling each other, Brother so-and-so or Sister so-and-so. I never understood that as kid. In most cases, none of these people were related, so why were they doing this?
It wasn’t until college that I learned that the reason people did that is because in the outside world most African Americans weren’t treated with much respect. Sometimes they would be called by their first name or they might use more derogatory names. But in church they were viewed differently. Here, they were treated with respect and given a name that provided pride instead of shame. The church was treating its members as if the era of racial segregation had been overthrown. The titles were a future hope that was being practiced in the hear and now.
Jesus is coming. Hope is on the way. Live like it’s already here. Thanks be to God. Amen.
This is a sermon for the second Sunday in Advent. I preached it in 2009.
“Jesus is Coming. Look Busy.”
Malachi 3:1-4, Luke 3:1-6
December 6, 2009
Second Sunday of Advent
First Christian Church
I don’t watch as much television as I used to, but when I do I tend to like a lot of the reality television shows. I have been an avid fan of “Top Chef” for years. But the one that I have really enjoyed over time is the series, “What Not to Wear.” For those of you who don’t know, the show consists of two hosts who go around the country finding people who are terrible dressers. They ambush them at their place of work and then they have to watch video of their clothing choices. Then they are flown to New York with their wardrobe. It’s there that the hosts, basically pick apart their clothing style and throw out the old wardrobe.
Then the contestant is sent shopping with “rules” on what to buy. This is the interesting part because this is where we can see some resistance. Some people take a while to get used to new ways of dressing and for some this is an emotional journey.
After a new hairstyle and some makeup tips, the contestant is presented to her friends and family with her new clothing style. At the end of the show, we learn that went on was not simply a change of clothing, but an internal change. People who were ashamed of their bodies, learned to love and accept themselves. It can be a rough road for these contestants, but in the end, it seemed to be worth it.
One more note. The two hosts tend to be somewhat biting in the comments. But that’s nothing. “What Not To Wear” is an American version of a British television show of the same name and I can tell you that the two British hosts are far more brutal.
When we think of this time of year, we are usually thinking of angels and shepherds, babies in mangers and stars at night. It’s supposed to be a time of peace and good cheer. At least that is what we are taught to believe. But Advent is not simply a time of waiting and it isn’t always a time of good feelings. It is also a time of preparation. “Prepare the Way of the Lord,” is what we hear during this time of the year. It should fill us with happiness that hope is on the way. But if we should also feel a bit of apprehension, because when God comes, playtime is over.
The prophet Malachi talks about a messenger of the Lord that will come to prepare the people for God’s coming. The way Malachi talks makes one wonder if the people hearing this message would be eager to roll out the welcome wagon. This messenger would be a like a “refiner’s fire or fuller’s soap.” None of this sounds nice.
Then we read Luke which talks about John the Baptist. Here is a man that comes from the wilderness and then preaches that God is going to fill the valleys, straighten the crooked roads, level the mountains and then after all that save all of creation. And just to make sure we get the message, John castigates those who come to the baptism of repentance. He isn’t interested in people doing this for show; he wanted people to change their ways and their hearts. Playtime was over.
What does this all mean? None of this seems like it fits with the whole Advent-Christmas thing. Isn’t God supposed to be about love and all?
Well, God is about love, but not in the way we like to think. God wants to heal all of creation. But that means that we are going to have to change. God comes and examines us and cuts out all the bad habits to make a people of God. It’s like what a friend has said to me: “God accepts you just as you are, but loves you enough to not leave you that way.”
What we are talking about here is discipleship. It is about learning how to be a people of God. It is about taking our faith seriously and not for granted.
What do you think these texts have to do with First Christian in its current situation? I do think this time in our life as a faith community is a time of pruning and preparation. It’s time of learning about what it means to be church and letting go of bad practices and things that have become idols. It might mean taking risks and leaving the familiar. It could mean realizing ways we have not welcomed the stranger. I don’t know what it might mean. But I do know that this time of refinement could make us a stronger and more faithful community. That’s the thing about God coming with a refiner’s fire, we can end up better than we were.
Back in the 90s, I remember seeing a bumper sticker that said “Jesus is Coming. Look busy.” Being someone that enjoys sarcasm, I can say that I totally loved that sticker. But there is something about that sticker that conveys a truth. In someways, we want to “look busy” for God. But God is not interested in us playing games. God wants us to be busy preaching and doing justice and loving those we meet.
Advent is a time of preparation and expectation for Jesus. But it is also a time of “winter cleaning.” It’s time to examine ourselves and let God refine us, and make us more and more like Christ.
When Jesus comes, it’s not an easy thing. It can be quite hard to deal with. But the end result makes it all worth it. Thanks be to God. Amen.