NOTES FOR A MORE COHERENT SERMON
10:00 AM., Sunday, January 4, 2009
St. Andrew’s Old Catholic Church
Small Meeting Room, 138 Pears Ave. (Toronto)
1st Lesson: Isaiah 9: 2 – 7
The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.
Thou hast multiplied the nation, and not increased the joy: they joy before thee according to the joy in harvest, and as men rejoice when they divide the spoil.
For thou hast broken the yoke of his burden, and the staff of his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, as in the day of Midian.
For every battle of the warrior is with confused noise, and garments rolled in blood; but this shall be with burning and fuel of fire.
For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this.
Gospel: Luke 2: 15 – 21
And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.
And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.
And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child.
And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds.
But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.
And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.
And when eight days were accomplished for the circumcising of the child, his name was called JESUS, which was so named of the angel before he was conceived in the womb.
SERMON PROPER BEGINS
I don’t think that the world is seeing much light these days. The media is full of darkness—missiles aimed at Sderot and massive air raids on Gaza; civil wars in many countries in Africa; drought and floods; even a new anti-biotic resistant strain of leprosy resulting—darkness is all around us, most of which is the result of the conscious decisions of humanity.
This is not a unique time in human history—there have been more bleak moments in history. But for those in the midst of human initiated and sustained tragedy, knowing that the past has been hard doesn’t really provide motivation to get through the evils of the moment.
At the time when the words of Isaiah were put down, the people of Israel were facing deep despair. A long period of foreign occupation, exile, civil strife and corrupt and unjust government beat down upon the people of Israel. There was hunger and sickness in parts of the land.
What they had to keep them going was a promise, the hope that the ultimate arc of the covenant was not a physical object but the ongoing movement towards a kingdom in which peace and justice permeated every aspect of society. What existed in the moment was hard to bear, but what could come into existence and was already permeating through the people was the knowledge that this would pass. Evil would not last forever. It would not be sustained.
By righteous living in their private relations the covenant with God would be made real. There would be peace in the land, there would be milk and honey for everyone, justice would roll down like water. Those that ruled were called to justice, but everyone else was also called. It wasn’t just the rulers that had to not cheat their subjects. Individuals had to not cheat their neighbours. It wasn’t just the rulers that had to not go to war. Individuals had to not harm one another. The covenant was for everyone and the more it was lived out by individuals, the more the divine will would be established within creation.
We know that there is darkness around us in current times because we know what is in the light—peace and reconciliation; compassion and comfort; sharing of resources with those in need. If we did not have the light in front of us, darkness would overwhelm us.
Accepting the temptation of being overwhelmed by the potential of darkness—war and hatred and oppression and hunger and fear—is all too easy. It is only human; it is nothing new.
And yet, from Amos to Archbishop Romero, it has proven to be just as human to speak truth to power, to care for others, to refuse to use violence against others, to seek in both private and public for a just social order.
Just as we can nurture an infant and show an example of loving and caring for one another to the child as it develops, we can nurture a society in which love does get passed on from one to another, sustaining and nurturing a society in which the temptations of violence and oppressive behaviour cease to be dominate themes in the world around us.
In this season of winter and time with wars raging in many parts of the earth, perhaps Pablo Neruda’s “Prayers for the Earth”, speaks loudly for hope in moments of hopelessness, the possibility for a transforming experience within everyone:
For once on the face of the earth
let’s not speak in any language
Let’s stop for one second
and not move our arms so much.
It would be an exotic moment
without rush, without engines.
We would all be together
in a sudden strangeness.
Fisherman in the cold sea
would not harm whales
And the man gathering salt
would look at his hurt hands.
Those who prepare green wars,
wars with gas, wars with fire,
Victory with no survivors
Would put on clean clothes
and walk about with their brothers
in the shade doing nothing.
What I want should not be confused with total inactivity,
Life is what it is about.
I want no truck with death.
If we were not so single minded about keeping our lives moving,
And for once could do nothing,
Perhaps a huge silence might interrupt this sadness
of never understanding ourselves
And of threatening ourselves
Perhaps the earth can teach us when everything seems dead
and later proves to be alive.
God demands little of us but to seek to live as if we were always in the light. We know that war is not inevitable—there are times of peace that show us that war is not inevitable; We know that oppression is not forever lasting; there are moments of celebrations throughout the secular calendar of the end of repressive regimes. We know that no matter how powerful the temptation to despair—it is only a shadow that is being offered, not the true substance of creation.
About 2,000 years ago something wonderful happened in the middle east—a fragile god reached out to us in vulnerability, trusting that we would find a way to let the divine will find a home among us. That divine infant felt love and betrayal, community and loneliness, pleasure and torture, life and death. And, having gone through all that humanity could offer, the divine presence promised to be with us always. The divine will offers us something concrete—a call to work hard to build the shalom kingdom of peace and justice in the current moment in our homes, our neighbourhoods and in the world.
Micah tells us about the end time (4:3,4):
He will judge between many peoples
and will settle disputes
for strong nations far and wide.
They will beat their swords
and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up
sword against nation,
nor will they train for war anymore.
Every man will sit under his own vine
and under his own fig tree,
and no one will make them afraid,
for the LORD Almighty has spoken.
In this ongoing apocalyptic time, a moment stretching back for centuries, we have a vision of God’s plan for us to share and make real. There may be darkness, but there is always light; there may currently be war but there is always peace.
As we prepare to share in our communal meal, we are also preparing to share in our communal call to love one another in all its difficult and challenging forms. When we are dismissed to love and serve the Lord, we are dismissed to live in ways that show that in the divine kingdom, in our world that we are to ensure that justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream (Amos 5:24) and peace is real for those who are near and for those that are far away (Ephesians 2:17 ).