November 29, 2009

Sermon 11/29/2009


Sermon for Advent 1 C
November 19, 2009
Michael Coffey



Waiting for God.
This is the theme of Advent,
and in many ways the theme of our lives.
Waiting for God... to do what?
Fix this mess?
Finish what God started?
Finally just show up?

For Jeremiah and his fellow Jews in exile
the wait was for God to finally fulfill his promises.
It had been a long time coming,
centuries since David has once been the great king.
Things went downhill after that,
and then the whole sorry dream was lost completely.
But God had promised.
God had promised a kingdom as good or better
than David had ruled over.
14 The days are surely coming, says the LORD,
when I will fulfill the promise I made
to the house of Israel and the house of Judah.
15 In those days and at that time
I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David;
and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.
16 In those days Judah will be saved
and Jerusalem will live in safety.
And this is the name by which it will be called:
"The LORD is our righteousness."
So for the faithful people of Jeremiah’s time
the God for whom they waited
is the God who made promises,
but the promises were still unfulfilled.

Who is the God for whom we wait?
And how do we handle the waiting?
For people of faith and no faith today,
this waiting often feels pointless,
hopeless, and meaningless.
Those feelings might summarize much of the 20th and early 21st century
as we endure and struggle and grow cynical at life.
They are the feelings that make faith such a struggle for so many today.

Perhaps the greatest play of modern theater
as many critics have said
is Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot.
In the play,
two main characters, Vladimir and Estragon,
wait for someone named Godot to show up,
and save them from their wandering and searching.
You get the sense that by the time you make it through this confusing
and absurd and disturbing drama
that waiting for Godot is in fact
pointless, hopeless, and meaningless.
If the many critics who cite this play
as the greatest work of modern theater are right,
this tells me that what characterizes much of the feeling and spirituality
of the last 100 years is in fact
meaninglessness and hopelessness.
If the God for whom we wait
is the God who never shows up
then we might only find despair in this life.

I’m going to claim
that biblical faith has more to say and more to grasp
than meaninglessness and hopelessness.
The God for whom we wait
is not the God who is absent.
We do not sit by ourselves lonely in a chair by the window
hoping for some one to walk in the door
throw off his coat and toss his hat on the rack
and say, “Honey I’m home!”
The God for whom we wait
is the God who is fully present with us.
The God for whom we wait
is the God who waits with us:
waiting for the story to be told in full;
waiting for the good things to come;
waiting for the fullness of divine love to fill every corner
of this world that God loves so deeply.

The waiting we speak of in faith and in Advent
is a waiting like one about to open a present
and the one who gave it is waiting to see it opened.
Both wait with eager anticipation,
both love the moment and the expectation
both receive a gift,
the receiver in getting the gift,
the giver in giving it.
This is the God for whom we wait.
The God who is fully present with us in the waiting.
The God is waiting with us in eager expectation,
of all that will be,
and how much love we will finally know and share.

The primary theme for this Advent season,
and I think for all of life,
is hopeful waiting.
Our waiting for God is hopeful
because it is rooted in God’s promises
and because we do not wait alone without God,
but fully living in the gracious Presence that is our hope.

I was talking to Donald the other day
about picking hymns for Sundays in Advent.
He named some and I said “yes”
and he named some more and I said “yes”
and he named some more and I said,
I love them all, they are all beautiful.
To me they are beautiful hymns
because they capture this hope that waits for God
this joy that wells up from faith in God.

The one hymn that captures it all so powerfully
is O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.
We will use selected verses from it each Sunday in Advent
for our offering song.
There is something about it that captures the heart of faith.
And it’s both in the music and the words,
like any great hymn the two are married together.
Listen for a moment to just the music
and see if you catch something about it.
I’ll just improvise on it a bit....

Can you hear it?
Can your ear pick up the depth of the melody and harmony?
It has depth and power, I think,
because it is written in a minor key.
Major keys sound big and open and easy on the ear.
Minor keys sound deep, and rich, and longing.
Now the genius of this hymn comes at the refain.
Listen as I play into the refrain,
and think for a moment what word is there.
You know it well....

Did you get it?
Rejoice! Rejoice!
But the marriage of the word “rejoice” first with a minor chord
captures all the depth and power
of this faith we share.
Rejoicing in a minor key
is what so much of life is like
when our faith is honest and open.


Rejoicing is part of a life of faith,
and without it, we would just get together
in despair and grumbling
with no Godot ever showing up to save us.
But we do not rejoice
in simple, easy, empty happiness,
like so much pop music and easy entertainment always in major chords.
We rejoice with the depth of a minor key,
rejoicing like this because we know grief,
rejoicing like this because we know failure and pain,
rejoicing like this because we don’t live in denial
or false happiness
or painted on smiles.
We know and fully admit to ourselves and to God
that God’s promises are not yet fulfilled
and we are not yet what we need to be
and we suffer along with the world.
But, even in the depth of the minor key of life,
we are still rejoicing,
we are singing the joy that is our birthright,
joy that rises up from within all the tears and pain,
joy that does not depend on today’s news
or tomorrow’s stock market,
or next week’s charismatic leader.
And the only name I can come up for this
rejoicing in a minor key
is hope.

Joy for us who still live with the mystery of faith in us
even in this modern and post-modern era of depair and cynicism,
is a great gift.
We know joy because we know hope
and hope is simply our trust in God
and the future that God brings.
We will not settle for false happiness
or shallow satisfaction
or momentary pleasures
although a little of those every day don’t hurt.
Knowing what it is that God promises,
we will cling only to hope,
hope embodied in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus,
hope tasted in bread in wine today as a gift,
hope shared together in the embrace of peace,
hope seen in each other’s eyes
that we can barely put into words.

Maybe in today’s world this kind of joy,
this hope that rises above the day to day reality of life,
maybe this seems naive or quaint or self-deceiving.
But I think we know different.
I think we know in a way that the word “know” doesn’t capture,
because it is deep in our souls and hearts.
We know that we do not wait alone,
but that God is with is as we wait.
And we have a calling in a world lost in hopelessness
to live openly this minor key rejoicing,
this hopefulness that wells up from somewhere in us
we do not understand and cannot bottle,
but can only humbly name and sing.

When I listened to the reading from Luke
and Jesus paints the picture of the world falling apart,
it doesn’t look very good.
It doesn’t sound like what we’re waiting for.
But Jesus tells it with hopefulness and full expectation
of the good things to come from God.
So when he talks about the sun and the moon and the stars
and the roaring seas and all the people who will be afraid,
you’d expect him to say:
Run for your lives!
Or at least he might say duck!
Remember all those duck and cover films for school kids?
At least they got a warning and a chance to hide!
But Jesus tells those who believe in him and in the good news of God
not to duck and cover.
He says:
28 Now when these things begin to take place,
stand up and raise your heads,
because your redemption is drawing near."

And then he says:
34 Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down
with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life.
Well, with the picture he paints,
you kind of think you might want to get weighed down
with a little drunkenness,
and he isn’t exactly helping us not worry with all the warnings.
But that’s what he says.
And that’s what he wants.
And that’s what he expects of his people.

During the trials and troubles of life,
there are some folks who are waiting,
and they know they don’t wait alone.
They are waiting for God,
and not the God who is absent and never comes.
They are waiting for God who is fully present now.

As we wait with our gracious God,
we rejoice in a minor key.
We stand up, lift up our heads,
and don’t get weighed down with fear and distress.
We might look foolish,
and we might be the only people who are still singing.
And if we can bring the music of God’s love in Jesus to the world
even in times of distress and fear,
we might be just what God wants us to be,
just what this unfinished, lonely, waiting world needs:
Hopefulness.

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