Sunday, December 15, 2019

Walk in Darknesss & Practice Peace: Why Christmas needs Advent ~ Isaiah 2:2-5; 9:2-6 (O Coming King series)

Advent is a funny season. It’s not one that often gets much attention. Growing up in my Baptist Church I had at least heard of Lent, even if we didn’t practice it, but not Advent. And so it’s a bit funny to me in my adult years, as I have begun to learn the rhythms of the Church year – the different feast days and holidays that have become part of the Church’s tradition over a millenia, Advent has truly become one of the
more meaningful seasons for me – giving greater flavor and heartier sustenance to my spiritual life. And our two titles today for this Coming Christmas King: O Radiant Dawn and O King of the Nations make sense in a certain context that only Advent provides, the BC time (Before Christ) that we spoke about last week. So let’s jump in to see how Isaiah’s prophecies and Advent time frame and set the stage for the Coming King.

We walk in real darkness
Actually, Advent is more than the recognition that we walk in darkness but Is. 9:2 reminds us that we live there. The “deep darkness” is not merely a lack of sight but a deep fear of death [literally “death’s shadow” in the Hebrew]. Advent is the season that allows us to say what’s very real, “I walk and live in darkness. And I’m afraid.” That’s not being unspiritual, or pessimistic, but a real wrestling with boots-on-the-ground facts which can’t, won’t, and shouldn’t be explained away. We celebrate Advent as a spiritual discipline to practice good spiritual truth-telling – for truthfully “all is not calm and all is not bright” no matter how many times we sing it. Sometimes though, particularly in church, the darkness we seem to suffer from is not because of our surroundings but because we close our eyes to it. Vs. 1 mentions real places of war-torn conflict, actual death, sites of military siege and starvation from Assyrian forces which were brutal and oppressive. So the older I get the less patience I seem to have for those who call darkness “day”; for those who refuse to admit where they live, who deny the threat of death’s shadow. And I’ll
tell you a little pastoral secret. Do you know one of the main things I counsel people for and pray with them about? It’s not so much the darkness but unsolicited advice when they find themselves in it – it’s the shame, the blame, the guilt, when well meaning people think it’s so easy to see. We will never be able to recognize the dawn, if we don’t first acknowledge we live in the dark and we aren’t the light. We need to be a community of both darkness and light, to allow people to live in both. And when people find themselves there don’t close your eyes – but first close your mouth. We will never be able to actually lean into the titles of Jesus if we don’t acknowledge the setting from which they come as well as the setting of our own lives. We must walk with each other – hold hands – in the dark.
Advent is a season we honor every year that refuses to allow us simply to jump to Jesus and say everything is great. It reminds us, despite every Christmas commercial and well-decorated Starbuck cup, that appears between Hallothanksmas (from Halloween to Jan. 1st) that Christmas hasn’t begun, yet. And yet our culture wants celebration quick and now to hide our fear of the dark. Advent, in other words, first beckons us to pause and to look at the darkness, hold space for our grief, and it
reminds us that all of us, in one way or another, are not only wounded by evil in the world but also wielders of it. We are the reason for darkness. The darkness is even inside us. It reminds us what Christians and even Atheists can actually agree upon: our world is a dark place. G.K. Chesterton wrote that original sin is the “only part of Christian theology which can really be proved.” You can’t escape it. We live and walk in darkness.
Even when I attended a church that didn’t celebrate Advent we had to invent it any way. We would hold a “Blue Christmas” service for those who found the season hard and alienating never realizing that that was Advent’s purpose. Advent demands that we hold in tension darkness and light, despair and hope, night and the breaking of dawn. It’s recognizing that only days before Christmas is the winter solstice – the longest night of the year – when the darkness seems to have won.

Show the Way - David Wilcox (click on the title to hear the song)

You say you see no hope
You say you see no reason we should dream
That the world would ever change
You say that love is foolish to believe
'Cause they'll always be some crazy
With an army or a knife
To wake you from your daydream
Put the fear back in your life

Look, if someone wrote a play
Just to glorify what's stronger than hate
Would they not arrange the stage
To look as if the hero came too late?
He's almost in defeat
It's looking like the evil side will win
So on the edge of every seat
From the moment that the whole thing begins

It is love who mixed the mortar
And love who stacked these stones
And it's love who made the stage here
though it looks like we're alone
In this scene, set in shadows,
Like the night is here to stay
There is evil cast around us
But it's love that wrote the play
For in this darkness love can show the way
A real light has dawned, is dawning, will dawn, and we’ve got work to do.
I’m sure you’ve already noticed how our text plays with time. It speaks of God’s redemption as past,  And this child has something to say, something he wants us to do. The radiant dawn connects to this coming king who teaches us how to walk and live in a dark world by instructing us in peace. And the king is not some George Washington warrior or Frederick Douglas orator but a little kid who counsels love and peace. Love and peace are not the logical choices when facing real darkness but they are the redemptive one. Love and peace will win, Isaiah says. Just remember Midian.
present and future in ways that have them bleeding and running together. It’s the “day of Midian” all over again and a future not yet realized. And it’s not an idea or thing that’s dawning not something you buy or wrap but a person – a coming king. And once again there is the flirting between this king and God. The “you” of vs. 3, the child of vs. 6, the Lord of 2:3, who teaches us “his way” are all interconnected and seemingly interchangeable. The light is a coming king over everyone, who will get rid of “every” warrior’s boot because he is king over everyone. How can we fight our brother or sister?
You remember Midian, right? It hearkens back to Judges 6 & 7 and the story of Gideon who was to lead Jewish forces against an enormous horde. He begins with 22,000 that God whittles down to 10,000 and then to 300. God says, “I can work with that.” And then rather than pick up swords or ancient M-16s – these warriors are told to blow trumpets and grab jars and break them which creates confusion and leads to victory without “firing a shot.” Everyone got the point: this crazy conflict was to prove that God was King, that God was the determiner of destiny. The manger is Midian all over again. Advent reminds us that victory will come not by boots stomping, arrows flying, but by a baby who teaches peace. That baby is our general. That baby calls the shots. That baby is the king. And the
challenge for us, I suspect, is that many of us would rather die at war than look silly like Gideon, be irrational as those who refuse to study war any more, look as ridiculous as those who follow a child and his way.
Haggai 2:7 refers to the coming messiah as the “desire of the nations.” The irony, however, is that this “desire of nations” was in fact rejected by his own nation, to whom he came, and crucified by the power of an empire which comprised many of the known nations. If there is something within us that deeply longs for Jesus, we must also be aware of and confess those other forces and desires within us which despise and reject him: our desire for boots stomping, for war machines, for hero stories with cool guns. But here’s the truth – he still won – will win.
Advent reminds us that to follow this king will change our world. But to change our world we have to change our practices. Do you want to desire this baby and love him?

Then you must do this.

We must use our imaginations to seek out ways to practice peace, to study war no more, to lay down weapons – not because we are weak – but because of this baby, this backwater baby who is light and who is King shows the way. Advent sets the stage for what we are to do in the darkness.

Now the stage is set
You can feel your own heart beating in your chest
This life's not over yet
So we get up on our feet and do our best
We play against the fear
We play against the reasons not to try
We're playing for the tears
Burning in the little baby's eyes

It is love who mixed the mortar
And love who stacked these stones
And it's love who made the stage here
though it looks like we're alone
In this scene, set in shadows,
Like the night is here to stay
There is evil cast around us
But it's love that wrote the play
For in this darkness love can show the way