Every Advent lesson is about God’s promise.
Call it the Kingdom, salvation, the 2nd’ Coming;
or call it Christmas.
We live in the light of that hope.
God’s promise is of cosmic proportions,
healing and new life for all creation.
Waters shall break forth in the wilderness,
and streams in the desert;
the burning sand shall become a pool;
and the thirsty ground springs of water.
God pledges to make the whole creation flourish and blossom.
That includes humankind.
So God’s promise is cosmic
but, at the same time, it is intimately personal.
God will make us blossom too – each of us.
The promise is about the wilderness in us,
the burning sand in our souls,
the thirsty ground of our hearts.
Into the barrenness of our lives,
the waters of grace and mercy will flow.
The eyes of the blind shall be opened,
and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
then the lame shall leap like a deer;
and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.
When messengers ask Jesus if he’s the one
who fulfills the promise, he answers:
The blind receive their sight; the lame walk;
the lepers are cleansed; the deaf hear; the dead are raised;
the poor have good news proclaimed to them.
What do ya think?
That’s what it looks like
when God’s will is done
on earth as it is in heaven.
Today’s lesson from James applies this promise
to our relationships with each other right now.
He doest that becauseJames sees that relationships are hard
because we are all broken,
and the people around us are broken too.
In one way or another, we all have broken hearts and spirits.
Our own brokenness is painful.
The brokenness of the people we love is even more so.
That’s why the philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre said,
Hell is other people.
We need people to truly see us. But they prove blind.
From our loneliness, we call to them. But they prove deaf.
We long to hear their words of consolation. But they prove mute.
We need leaders to walk ahead of us showing the way,
followers to walk behind us continuing our mission,
brothers and sisters to walk beside us
– but they prove to be lame.
We are routinely mad at each other, afraid of each other,
disappointed in each other,
or hurting in sympathy with each other.
Love hurts and so does anger.
That’s why Sartre says, Hell is other people.
And what is the essence of Hell if not despair?
The words over the gate of Hell are
Leave all hope, ye who enter here.
People disappoint us until we despair of them.
We lose hope; so we look away from their faces
and thus we become blind too.
Sartre said, Other people are Hell;
but St. Paul calls them the Body of Christ.
Scripture teaches that we encounter Christ,
not alone in flights of mystical ecstasy,
but together in the earthy life of community.
Chicago philosopher Jean Luc Marion
and Cambridge theologian David Ford
agree that if we truly seen another human face
it will break open our fixed concepts of the world,
and in Paul’s words, lo a new creation.
If we are to find Christ at all,
it will be in these broken people who frustrate,
disappoint, and sometimes enrage us.
But we won’t find him there if we give up looking.
St. James exhorts us to wait patiently for Christ
like the farmer waiting for the crop.
In a short lesson he tells us four times: be patient.
Strengthen your hearts, James says,
for the coming of the Lord is near.
Then in the very next sentence, he adds,
Beloved, do not grumble against one another.
There is no segue. In the original Greek,
there isn’t even a punctuation mark.
He hasn’t changed subjects.
Waiting patiently for the Lord
and not grumbling against one another
are two sides of the same coin for James.
Patiently waiting for Jesus has something to do
with being patient with each other.
Our hope for the manifestation of Christ,
is cut off by grumbling attitudes, resentments,
against one another
against one another
because, when Christ manifests, it is in people.
The lame walk. The blind see. Lepers are cleansed.
The broken people we love flourish and blossom.
Our hope in Christ is inseparable from our hope in each other.
We sometimes despair of individuals.
We sometimes despair of larger social networks
like the nation or the Church.
We say of the Middle East, O they’ve been fighting forever.
We can’t make peace there.
But Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin didn’t despair;
they met; so Israel and Egypt made peace anyway.
In the 90s, people said of the Balkans,
They’ve been fighting forever. We can’t make peace there.
But the genocide was stopped
and the dogs of war, restrained.
In America, we’ve all been wounded in our souls
by a racialized society.
After decades of struggle, the divisions are just getting deeper.
We are tempted to stop trying.
Spencer Perkins and Chris Rice in their book More Than Equals
call this resignation race fatigue.
But James says,
Strengthen your hearts for the coming of the Lord is near.
In the light of Advent hope,
we cannot give up on each other.
Hope and despair are the basic fork in the road
-- the two possible attitudes toward the future.
The choice between them is ever before us.
The future lies open, unknown.
It is part and parcel of the God’s mystery.
Our attitude toward the future depends entirely
on who we believe God is.
It we believe God is the one who makes the desert blossom,
the lame walk, and the blind see,
if we believe God is the field of unlimited possibilities,
that changes how we look at each other.
All we know about someone’s future is what God has promised.
I don’t mean we persist in pestering others
to conform to our standards.
Quite the opposite – pestering is anxiety, not hope –
hope waits patiently for Christ to appear in them.
St. John writes,
What we shall be, does not yet appear.
But when he appears, we shall be like him.
When William James was teaching physiology at Harvard,
one of his students was a totally scattered
geeky young woman.
She missed classes more classes than she attended
and just didn’t get it.
But William James believed in her
and gave her an A for the course.
That student was author Gertrude Stein.
Advent is the time to cultivate hope in each other,
to practice not writing people off.
In Advent, we wait patiently for Christ to appear
in the people we love and the people who make us crazy
– often the same people.
I’ll close with a spiritual exercise that is one way
to prepare our hearts for the birth of Christ
to happen in us this Christmas.
Sit still and quiet for 10 minutes
letting random people come to mind in free association.
Just randomly recall the faces of people you know
and people you don’t know.
Think of your father, Angela Merkel, the lady at the dry cleaners,
your favorite talk show host, Dwayne Johnson,
your accountant, someone from church, and Johnny Depp.
As each person comes to mind,
hold their image just long enough to think,
Equally a child of God,
equally destined for likeness with Christ.
Try it between now and Christmas.
You’ll discover that we are all acorns for now,
but the eyes of hope see a majestic forest of oaks.