First Sunday of Advent – Nov.29/15
Based on Jeremiah 33: 14-16 & Luke 21: 25-36
Two years ago, walking in the city of Jerusalem, I noticed a sign across the street. I’m still not sure what the building was but the sign gave hope to my heart. It was written in Hebrew, Arabic, and English. It read: “Olive trees will be our borders”
The season of Advent opens with scripture readings of tumultuous times – times of uncertainly, war, rumours of war, and ever so faintly… hope.
Jeremiah, the reluctant prophet was called to ministry when he was a teenager. It is call from God that quite frankly, he doesn’t want. He lives his days moody and reluctant – telling people of destruction to come. They of course ignore him, or call him a lunatic. When the prophesied destruction does come to their beautiful city of Jerusalem, when all seems lost, he plants a seed of hope.
Jeremiah speaks to an uprooted people. `Our family tree has been cut down’ he says, but amazingly, a righteous branch will grow from this seemingly dead tree and bring new life.’
I expect Jeremiah’s listeners could imagine an olive tree as the metaphor for their family tree. Its importance to the Holy Land is ageless. It is first found in the Bible in the Noah’s ark story, where the dove bringing back an olive branch in its beak – the sign of new life for everyone. Genesis 8:11
Let’s look again at what Jeremiah says: He doesn’t say `a branch’ but `a righteous branch’ – not a self-righteous branch and NOT a big stick! “Speak softly and carry a big stick” was the slogan used by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1901. It summed up his foreign affairs policy.
The current Israeli government has learned well from its American allies, in the `big stick’ way of dealing with the world. Israeli PM Netanyahu recently met with President Obama to ask for an increase to the annual 3-4 $ billion in military aid given every year! This is NOT Jeremiah’s vision.
The word `righteous’ is about right relationships. From Jeremiah’s time people have looked forward in hope to this righteous branch. That same word of hope has been read, looking back for the past 2000 and some years – as each generation of Christians has marked a Galilean peasant, named Jesus, as that righteous branch of King David’s family tree.
Chapter 21 of Luke’s gospel is full or turmoil. In this passage, it sounds like Jesus has a very definite view of how things are going to be. During this time of chaos and fear, they will see `the son of Man coming on a cloud’ with power and great glory. In verse 32 it reads, `Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place.’
There is ongoing speculation about what `this generation’ means. I’ve been told it means this – our generation – and so we better get on the heavenly band-wagon and be saved. But I’m pretty sure the people Jesus was addressing in his humanity, 2000 years ago, though he was talking to them.
The phrase `the son of Man coming on a cloud’ is in quotations marks, and comes from the book of Daniel, Ch. 7:13. In that reading it is not really clear if the `son of Man’ is descending from heaven or ascending from earth.
A few years back, Janet Silman in a UC Observer article on this passage, said that the popular Christian view has Jesus as the son of Man descending from heaven. Yet maybe a better interpretation is the Spirit of Christ rising in human movements of peace, justice and regeneration on earth. And that would mean it would have something to do with us, wouldn’t it! Verse 28 says `When these things happen look up and raise your heads, for your redemption is drawing near.’
We are no strangers to chaos and turmoil. I’m not sure if there has ever been a generation that is not all too familiar with such things. So, in the midst of the chaos, can we find that still calm center, holding our heads up, while keeping our feet firmly rooted in the sacred soil of God’s love? Can we be grafted on to that righteous branch and produce fruit for the healing of the nations?
As Christians it ought to be the way we orient ourselves in the world – in relation to all other living beings, including reconciling with our historic apathy toward the plight of First Nations and other vulnerable groups in our own country, and to the plight of millions of refugees fleeing the huge bashing stick of delusional terrorists.
Where is that righteous branch sprouting; where are the signs of hope? Three examples:
The tension and violence and violation of international law continue with heartbreaking regularity in the Holy Land today. Many Palestinian Christians and Muslims are denied access to the Holy City and some who do live there face threat of displacement. The Israeli peace group “Women in Black” which started in 1988, meet every Friday evening in the streets of Jerusalem in silent vigil, to grieve the death of every person – Palestinian and Israeli, and to stand in protest of the military occupation of the Palestinian territories.
In our own country the Truth and Reconciliation Commission has many recommendations including that learning about the residential schools and our history with First Nations people be a mandatory part of our school curriculums.
And finally, Avaaz, an online international advocacy group wrote a statement and asked humanity to sign on to this pledge in light of the recent terrorist attacks:
To all those extremists who would divide us, and to our fellow citizens and leaders who must choose how to respond:
We citizens of the world have grown wiser. We see the game to drive us apart. To use horror to make us turn away from each other in fear, and turn on each other in a spiral of brutality.
And we resolve, today, that every act of hate and cynical manipulation will only bring us closer together. We, Muslims and Non-Muslims from every nation of the world, resolve to love each other more fiercely than ever before, to listen more deeply to each other than ever before, and to let the pain of each fresh atrocity committed in the names of our faiths or nations or cultures be the birth pangs of the more united, more loving world we are determined to create.
We will build that world, because the truth is on our side. The truth that we are all one people, one tribe. Our fates are bound together, and together we will rise, undivided. The Avaaz statement
Let’s make that four… As Advent unfolds, in the midst of difficulty and fear and calamity, may we not be paralyzed by fear, but faithfully do what we can. As your Board met yesterday, we have been giving an invitation to join with others in the Shuswap, partnering with First U. C. in Salmon Arm as they have committed to sponsoring a Syrian refugee family. This is something I believe we can contribute to, beyond the wonderful work we already do! First we want to put the challenge and invitation to you personally to search your hearts and see what you are willing to contribute. We also decided that our Christmas Eve offering will go to support the refugee family, and looking at the budget, the Board is hoping to top up the offering.
Jesus says `lift up your heads, be alert, don’t cower or hide or try to escape in addictions. May we be part of the Spirit of Christ rising in human movements of peace, justice and regeneration on earth.