by Mia Benjamin, Seminarian from Church Divinity School of the Pacific
Advent 5 - December 10, 2017
The readings for this sermon are: Isaiah 40:1-11, 2 Peter 3:8-15a, Mark 1:1-8.
Therefore, beloved, while we are waiting for these things, may we strive to be found by God at peace. Amen.
Last year, my very pregnant neighbor decided it was time for her overdue baby to come. She tried everything: bouncing on yoga balls in the courtyard, taking long walks, even eating super spicy pizza at a pizzeria that my classmate swore by.
Of course, nothing my neighbor did made the baby come any faster.
Little Samara came on her own time, in her own way, overturning her parents’ lives with beautiful chaos, as all babies do.
Like Samara’s new family, the early Christian church was shot through with ill-disguised impatience for a long-awaited arrival. The author of the Second Letter of Peter from our epistle today is writing to a Christian community waddling in the weight of an overdue promise. Before the passage we just read, the writer acknowledges scoffers who’ve been pointing out for some time now that Jesus promised to return generations ago.
In God’s own time, the writer reminds them and us. This Christian’s advice is to trust in God’s promise and, in the meantime, shape ourselves into the kind of people we’d like God to find us to be.
In the meantime, we might as well confront one of the terrifying truths of Advent: Nothing we do or say can make the kingdom come any faster. Nothing the world does can stop it from coming.
It is simply just not up to us.
The knowledge that it is not up to me to save or damn the world is both liberating and downright terrifying, as most things of faith seem to be.
Sometimes, I feel paralyzed when I contemplate the enormity of my human responsibility. Especially in this society in this moment. Other times, I’m overwhelmed my desperate fear that everything will fall apart without my help. Especially in the hectic panic of the Christmas season. Maybe you feel that way, too, to varying degrees.
That’s what I am grateful this Advent perspective forces me to stare into my own insignificance. And it calls out my own need to be important and necessary for the completion of God’s mission in the world.
All people are grass, their constancy is like the flower of the field, announces the Prophet Isaiah. The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand for ever.
And yet, from that Word, a voice says, “Cry out!” A prophet proclaims, “Prepare!”
So how do we, the withering grass and the wilting flowers that we are, live out the eternal word of God in our lives?
By doing the same things we are doing now, those things we promised to do in our Baptismal Covenant. It’s a subtle theological distinction, but it matters. We feed the hungry, resist that the forces oppress our siblings, and speak love to the unloved. Not out of fear, not out of pride, but out of faith and hope in God.
We do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God. Not because we are afraid it is all down to us. Not because some part of ourselves believes God can’t do it without our help.
When I find myself doubting this—and God knows I do often enough—here’s what I come back to. I know that I feel God’s grace most when I move out of hope and when I rest in love. God’s movement in the world is here when I act out of my desire to find God. Or when I strive to be found by God right where God has promised to be.
The in-breaking of God’s kingdom is present when, and where, I love and hope, and act like it. Not because I act. Not if I act.
The terrifying truth of Advent is that to prepare is to respond to and proclaim the coming of the Kingdom, not to bring about.
It occurs to me that there is another familiar Christmas fable that warns us about the folly of believing we can either stop or cause Christmas to come. In Dr. Suess’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas, none of the Grinch’s stealing, destroying, or complaining prevents the advent of Christmas. On the flip side, nothing the Whos do—not their gift buying, house decorating, and Roast Beast basting makes Christmas come either. It is in their joyful singing, in their assenting to the promises of old, that the truth of Christmas is heard and seen and believed.
Lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings, lift it up and do not fear.
In today’s urgent political climate, surrounded by injustice after injustice, we can be forgiven for seeing the world as little more than a battle between the Grinches and the Whos, the ones who are building the kingdom and the ones who are tearing it down. All the more reason, then, to remind ourselves that our faith tells us something much more profound.
It is God who builds the kingdom, not us. Yes, we can choose to participate with glad, hope-filled hearts, and yes, we can choose to screw up our ears to its singing.
But Christmas, you see, comes without ribbons, and it comes without tags.
It comes without Amazon packages, jewelry boxes, or reusable bags.
He comes without protests, he comes without prayer,
He comes regardless of donations, petitions, or churches that care.
The world cannot stop Jesus from coming, he came.
Somehow or other, Jesus will come just the same.