Advent 1, 2013
The following sermon was preached by Jenna Pulkowski, LSTC student, in Augustana Chapel at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago on Thursday, December 5, 2013.
Isaiah 2:1-5, Romans 13:11-14, and Matthew 24:36-44
One of my dearest friends, Annie, once shared with me what her mother calls “Grinch moment” music experiences. You know when in “How the Grinch stole Christmas” his heart grows three sizes bigger? Annie says this is the feeling we get when a piece of music moves us so profoundly that our heart aches, yearning to be released from the confines of ribs and flesh. Our very being feels the longing, and while it’s inspired by something hopeful and beautiful, it’s still painful because we’re limited—by our senses, by our bodies, by our earthbound-ness. It’s a feeling I experience every time I hear “Gabriel’s Oboe” from The Falls soundtrack.
I’ve begun to use this “Grinch moment” expression in other areas of my life. I’m starting to think that what we experience with these visceral responses is the overwhelming nature of God’s kairos breaking through our chronos. Those amazing, incredible, gut-wrenching moments when it all lines up.
I can hear the longing in Isaiah's voice, a longing that the terror and destruction and death of war be transformed into safety and creation and life. As we hear these words from a long-gone prophet I can’t help but cry out, “how long oh Lord? How long must our broken, hurting, destructive and destroyed world wait for your return, to set things right, to heal it all?” Isaiah’s words wrench my heart in a not-so-pleasant Grinch moment. Isaiah isn’t a fool though. His vision for this future where weapons of war are turned into agricultural tools isn’t some Pollyanna hope. God’s revelation to us in both testaments “come to us from the future, longing to shape the days in which we are [now] living”. (http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1896 - 1st reading commentary )
The season of Advent gives us the time and space to voice our longings, hopes, and prayers as we wait for the Now and Not Yet of Christ’s birth. We who cry out to God, “Oh Lord how long?”, hear in response God reminding us that our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. And while we don’t know—can’t know—the timing of it all, God expects us to do the work in order to be ready. To make use of the waiting time.
The waiting of Advent takes us up to the moment of birth, of the new life and way that enters the world in the person of Jesus the Christ. Now, I’m not a parent, but based on what I’ve heard from those who are, they’ve talked about the profound joy and loss they experienced in becoming a parent. Joy that they are finally able to have the person in their lives who they’ve waited so long for—not just necessarily 9 months, but years of waiting. Waiting to be financially stable enough; waiting on an adoption agency’s lists; waiting for the fertility drugs and procedures to finally work; waiting for the biology of the human body to allow for a new life to take shape.
But we forget that there is loss and grief in becoming a parent. The loss of an old identity, even though the new one is desired. Loss of independence—forever responsible for another person’s life, and their needs. Relationships with others change—no more spontaneous hang outs after class, or impromptu 10 pm gatherings at Jimmy’s, or random weeknight evening events, all because of the beautiful being who has changed their schedule.
Birth brings change, and change, even when we’re gaining all that we’ve prayed and longed for, always means loss. Today, as we say goodbye to several of our classmates, whose time here at LSTC is coming to an end, I find our lessons for this week particularly poignant. There is pain in leaving this place, this community. There is pain in being left behind, missing those who belong with us. Even as we sigh with relief that the semester and its workload draws to a close, we grieve that life as we know it is truly about to change.
It’s the kairos breaking into the chronos as everything lines up and we feel such intense longing for the future God has promised us, even though it means saying goodbye to what we’ve known and grown comfortable with.
I imagine that even in his longing for God’s transformation of war into peace, Isaiah knew that it would mean the end of everything as the world understood it. War holds such a permanent place in our own culture that children in grade school have never known a world that was not ravaged by terrible and unthinkable destruction. In the ancient near east, war was a way of life, a way of gaining dominance and power, and ensuring submission by those deemed less worthy. For that to be transformed, it would mean that the world as a collective whole would have to let go and allow God to go to work. We too may ache for, and work towards, a world where all live in safety and abundance, but until we let go of our need for power and dominance, it won’t happen. We may ache for our academic studies to be complete, but when it becomes a reality, suddenly we aren’t so sure we want what we’ve gotten ourselves into…
And it is in these Grinch moments of our lives, where we feel the overwhelming pain and longing of the now and not yet; the can’t wait to be done with school and moving on and the oh God really, I’m done; the moving on and the left behind, this is where we experience advent. Where we experience God’s presence in a radical and deeply mysterious way. We take comfort in God’s promises to make the future longing of Isaiah a reality, even though the waiting, let’s be honest, sucks. We trust that our salvation, the kingdom of God, is nearer to us now than it was when we first believed. We hope that God will continue to watch over us and guide us even when we’re whisked away from all we’ve come to know, or we’re left behind and uncertain as to what the new community will look like. This is advent, and we wait, believing, trusting, and taking comfort in the one who knows the how, when, and where of this crazy thing called life.