Advent Three: The Path of Trust.
Isaiah 12:1-6, Zephaniah 3:14-20, Luke 3:7-18, Philippians 4:4-7
How can we internalize a real trust in God in a time of fear?
We live in a culture of growing fears. Fear is a fire fed by terrorism, by media that highlights every tragedy, by political parties who use fear to bolster their power (and distract from less immediate/flashy issues), by the reality of climate change, by our own insecurities and movie-fed imaginations.
The issue of fear is huge right now. The attacks in Beruit and Paris and the mass shootings in the US have people thinking the world is spiraling into ever darkening depths.
And it is hard not to despair. This morning I heard reporters discussing Donald Trump and his statement that the US should have a "total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the US." After the attacks in Paris, he suggested the US should refuse all Syrian refugees. These are horrible, fear intensifying comments. More horrifying to me, however, is that there are actually people supporting Trump, agreeing with him, and creating ever more fear and stereotyping and hatred.
Isaiah 12:2"...I will trust and will not be afraid, for the Lord God is my strength and my salvation."
How do God's people claim this?
Isaiah is written in a time of spiraling darkness, the writer is looking toward future hope and encouraging his people to do the same.
I find this hard to read, hard to understand. Have you ever sat with someone who is utterly despairing or been there yourself---and been able to speak or hear words of hope? Those words ring so hollow, or feel so condescending, or just impossible. It's better to just be there in the moment to stare at the darkness together. Yet....at some point words of hope have to come, and this is the time Isaiah speaks.
Philippians 4:4-7 is a similar passage. The words are uplifting, almost Polly-annish, until we understand the context. Paul is writing from jail and Christians are being persecuted. Out of these situations, he instructs people to "let gentleness show...do not worry...pray...be thankful...God will give you peace."
How does Paul internalize this depth of trust in God?
I listened to the "Pulpit Fiction" broadcast http://www.pulpitfiction.us/ for the third advent, and was inspired by discussion on where to look for hope. The hosts remind listeners that too often we are looking for hope in the wrong places. We will not find it in the headlines. We should look for good news, not among the "lions" (headlions?), but look for it where it is actually happening.
It is happening among our neighbours, among people working to help refugees, at soup kitchens...it is happening wherever people are building relationships and "letting their gentleness show."
The advent hope does appear at the bottom parts of the dark spiral, as a buoyant and determined hope that refuses to give in to circumstance. (Idea pulled from Walter Brueggemann as quoted on the pulpit fiction broadcast.) True hope breaks through human darkness when we realize that we need God and that God really is there. That trust is possible. Trust frees us from our fears and gives us God's strength to do God's work of bringing and being hope to each other.
Question: What will be our advent act of determined hope that refuses to give in to despair?
Postscript. I can't end here without looking a bit at the fascinating passage from Luke. The people John calls "vipers" are people who have come to be baptized! He isn't preaching to the choir, but kind of cursing at them. They are coming for baptism, but perhaps not understanding that this baptism isn't just a declaration of belief, it is a symbol of real, substantial change! Being "in the fold" of Abraham isn't enough, they have to change how they live. They have to be more loving and generous (no hoarding, if you have two coats, give one to someone who needs one), they have to be honest (don't take more than you should), and use power judiciously (don't take advantage of others, be satisfied with your lot.)
The bit about having two coats and giving one away is so relevant right now when we see the great needs of refugees. We have so very much here in Canada. We can give our extra to refugees. Many of us can and should live with fewer coats and be satisfied with our lot!
There is so much more interesting stuff with this passage----if you have a chance, take the time to listen to the pulpit fiction podcast. You can skip to the Luke passage if you don't want to listen to the whole thing. Great stuff to push our thinking about sharing , hope, and repentance for Advent and beyond.