The following sermon was preached by Linda Johnson Seyenkulo, former Dean of the Community, in Augustana Chapel at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago on Wednesday, December 7, 2005.
Isaiah 40:1-11; 2 Peter 3:8-15a; Mark 1:1-8
Please pray with me
God of our waiting and our wanting, God of our hopes, dreams and desires, fill our hearts with your presence as we live in this "not quite" time. Help us to know and to understand how your presence makes our lives and our world so much more than they seem. Speak through me and may all of us hear something from you today. Amen.
When I was a kid----I really got Advent. I mean I really got it. I lived---as soon as Thanksgiving was over----in a spirit of anticipation and joy. I COULD NOT WAIT! For four weeks—I was just quivering with excitement-------my heart was "STIRRED UP"---and sure, partly it was the tree and the lights-----and sure, a lot of it was the anticipation of presents (I really liked them)----but a lot of it had to do with the wonder of it all------the whole story-----the bridemaids—both prepared and unprepared-----the whole idea of "keeping awake"--- preparing the way---and then the big night with Angels and shepherds and mangers, a mom and a dad and a baby---so special. And the next day with the Word becoming flesh and dwelling among us-----what a wondrous thing! And I really got it. I lived in anticipation ---It was a joyous time.
I really got Advent as a kid----it wasn't so much that I got it intellectually-----I reveled in the experience—the EXPERIENCE of Advent---heart, soul and body.
And the whole idea of comfort----didn't really enter into my Advent experience. That was then.
And here we are at Now. And today at Now time----I find myself grateful for the word of Comfort that comes to us through the prophet Isaiah. Isaiah who prior to this chapter is speaking words of lamentation and challenge, comes to us today with an exhortation to the divine Council----to God's angels to Comfort, comfort my people. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem that her term has been served.
I am grateful those words this day---especially as they stand next to the Advent texts we have had this past few weeks. Texts which point to a new reality and stand in stark contrast to the realities of this NOW time we live in.
Because of these texts, I have found myself asking this past few weeks:
What does it mean to hope for a time when as it says in Isaiah 65 "no more shall there be in it an infant who lives but a few days"---when in NOW time we prepare for the funeral service of a still born baby girl?
What does it mean to hope for a time when the lion lays down with the lamb, when in NOW time war continues all over the planet, young people are preparing to be soldiers, and Christian peacemakers are missing in Baghdad?
What does it mean to prepare your hearts and your lives for the coming of Jesus, when in NOW time all you can think about is everything you have to do before the end of this week?
What does it mean to live in hope and expectation when in NOW time your own hopes and expectations have been dashed away by things outside your control?
What does it mean to have your heart STIRRED UP and your mind focused on the coming of the Son of God, when in NOW time the cares and responsibilities of family and friends weigh heavily on that heart and that mind?
I have to think it was like that for the people Isaiah spoke to. They had been in exile for a long time-----so long that -----where they were was what they knew---one could even think they had gotten used to being exiles---it was what they knew. They heard the stories that they were to live in hope of the return of the Messiah----but the stories had gone on for a long time---generations----when would the hope be realized and the stories be fulfilled?
Isaiah comes and speaks a word of comfort, a tender word, and reminds the people of Israel that while life is grass---and grass withers and flowers fade----the WORD of the Lord stands forever.
It's pure poetry, this word of Isaiah, beautiful words, beautiful sentiments that come to us today and remind us that there is MORE than this NOW time we live in. There is MORE to life than what we can experience and know---that in the midst of exile and despair, there is homecoming and joy. This is transforming poetry which helps us to see a new reality…..
Walter Brueggemann puts it this way, "Poetry helps us imagine a world not yet visible and not yet accessible."
And in imagining, we like the people of Israel live in a both/and world---both the realities of really terrible difficulties of life-----and the reality that God's vision for the world is something different---and as God's people, we share in that vision. It's actually-why we are here, isn't it????---studying theology, working in a place that prepares women and men for ministry, teaching the word and ways of God. If we didn't know there was something more----we wouldn't be here.
This isn't just pie in the sky stuff, this Advent living---someone once said, "What we can imagine heaven is like forms our actions and our way of being here on earth."
What we can imagine heaven is like, makes us wait in breathless anticipation this Advent season----we wait like the bridesmaids, we prepare the way like John the Baptist, we mourn with those who grieve, we work to end war by praying and lobbying, we remember the poor with our offerings and our presence, we sit with those who need our help, we prepare meals to nourish someone else, and we do all those things because we live in the sure and certain hope-----we wait with body, heart, and soul engaged because God's poetry has helped us to envision something more. We live in NOW time with the expectation with a sense of NOT YET or COMING SOON.
May God's comfort and presence fill you this Advent season. May your heart be stirred, may your NOW time be transformed with anticipation and a hope of a world not yet visible and not yet realized.