Sunday, December 2, 2018


The real enemies of Christianity 
             are not our critics.
            They keep us on our toes.
The real enemies are so-called Christians 
         who smuggle their personal pathologies
into the faith and distort it into something false
         – something that makes people 
          cruel instead of kind, 
          judgmental instead of forgiving.

No one has done more harm to Christianity 
          than John Nelson Darby, 
         a 19th Century clergyman who invented 
        the modern heresy of dispensationalism,
  the currently popular version of religion 
  that threatens people
        with the Coming of Christ in vengeance.
It’s the God’s gonna get you kind of religion.

If you want to know the difference 
       between the orthodox faith 
        and the Left Behind heresy,
         I recommend Barbara Rossing’s book, 
        The Rapture Exposed.
For today, it’s enough that you know,
         that dispensationalism  isn’t Biblical 
         and it isn’t the orthodox Christian tradition.

We don’t dread the 2nd Coming as a disaster. 
We pray thy Kingdom come,
         because God’s kingdom is one 
          of freedom and peace.
We pray, Thy will be done,
         because the same God, whose love 
          gave birth to the Cosmos,
         wills mercy and healing all creation.
For centuries, the Church has read the lessons
         about the end times during Advent 
because the destiny of creation isn’t that 
 God will wipe it out,
       but that God will redeem it  
in something that looks like Christmas.

The essence of Christianity isn’t fear 
      but hope in the face of all the chaos 
      we read about in today’s gospel lesson 
      and what we read in the  newspaper each day.

We do not dread the coming of Christ. 
We hope for it.
Zechariah described our God-ordained destiny
         as a day in which there is no night.
Isaiah described it as a time when every tear 
                   would be wiped away,
         and the lion would lay down with the lamb.

In Advent, we are looking forward 
         to something like Christmas
         – when angels will sing and people
                  will be still and happy in reverence.
Hope is extraordinary. 
Hope dares to believe in something,
         to trust in something, we cannot yet see.
It’s the difference between Christianity 
         and the religions that teach 
passive acceptance of things as they are.
Christians are not satisfied with things as they are,
         and we do not want to be satisfied 
          with things as they are.
We hope for better. 
We strive for better.

The German theologian, Jurgen Moltmann, says,
         “ . . . (E)xperience and hope stand 
         in contradiction to each other . . .
         with the result that . . .  man 
         is not brought into . . . agreement    
         with the given situation, but is drawn 
         into the conflict between experience 
         and hope.”
He means hope sets us against the status quo.

Jesus describes that contradiction 
         in today’s lesson.
Our experience is sometimes pretty grim,
         but, in spite of experience, 
        we set our hearts on hope.
Whenever the world is falling apart,
         people faint with fear and foreboding.
But that is precisely the time, Jesus says, to
         stand up, raise your heads, 
         because your redemption is near 
         . . .  the kingdom of God is near.

Today, when war is raging around the world,
         the sea is rising as the polar ice caps melt,
         mass shootings splatter blood 
          in churches, schools, and malls,
 wildfires rage and storms drown the coastlands,
         things are falling apart on a grand scale.

When our families split into conflict,
         people we love are lost in addiction,
                  and we are falling apart ourselves,
we are apt to faint with fear and foreboding,
apt to panic or collapse into despair.
But Jesus says, this is precisely the time to 
          stand up, raise your heads, 
         because your redemption is near 
                  . . .  the kingdom of God is near.

That doesn’t mean to roll over 
         and go back to sleep
         because God will take care of it.
Quite the opposite.
To stand up and raise our heads 
         is to engage the world,
         to challenge the status quo,
         to do something godly, 
                  to do something Christ-like 
in the face of all the powers of death and darkness.

Moltmann says,
         . . . (H)ope causes not rest, but unrest,
         not patience but impatience. . . 
         Those who hope in Christ, he says, 
          can  no longer put up with reality as it is,
         but begin to suffer with it, to contradict it.
That means we roll up our sleeves 
         and do something about the melting ice caps 
         and the divisions that rend 
         our nation asunder.
In a world intent on waging war,
         we are even more intent 
          on waging reconciliation.
When the people we love disappoint us,
         we find new and better ways to love them.

Godly deeds and Christ-like actions 
         are not guaranteed to succeed 
         in the short run.
In fact, they are more likely to get us in trouble
         than to make our life smooth 
          and comfortable.
The adage, “No good deed goes unpunished,” 
          is usually true.

Mother Teresa kept these words on the wall 
         of her home in Calcutta as a reminder:

If you are kind, people may accuse you 
                  of selfish . . . motives;
                  Be kind anyway. 
If you are honest . . . people may may cheat you;
                  Be honest . . . anyway. 
What you spend years building, 
                  someone could destroy overnight;
                  Build anyway. 
Give the world the best you have, 
                  and it may never be enough;
                  Give . . .  your best anyway.
         . . . It was between you and God 
         . . . not between you and them anyway. 

That’s hope. 
Christian hope is that God redeems 
       all the righteous actions
-- not just the righteous people – 
every righteous act.
Everything that has ever been done 
            or ever will be done
for the sake of justice and peace and healing 
will be brought to completion by the hand of God
                  in the fullness of time.

Our part is to take those actions first, 
         take those actions now.
We act in hope regardless of the result,
         doing what God calls us to do,
         and trusting God to fulfill his purpose.
Advent is the season to practice hope,
         to do something generous or merciful or kind
         – against all odds that it will matter
         – because we trust God, not the odds.

Put a flash light in the basket 
          for a homeless person
         in the hope that it will light his way 
         to a better life.
Send a Christmas card to someone 
         who doesn’t like you.
Write a letter to your congressman 
         even if you don’t think he’ll read it.

This is the season to hope for Christmas
         to pray for the world to be made new,
         to pray to be made new ourselves.
When Lent comes, 
         we will repent of a whole laundry list of sins.
In Advent, we repent of only two sins
         – the sin of sin of satisfaction, that says, 
         We’re just fine, thank you.
         and the sin of despair that says, 
        It will never be better.
         -- both sins against hope.
In Advent, we dream of a better world
         and do our part to make it happen.