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Sermon transcript for December 21, 2014

“Mary, Servant of God”
Luke 1:26-38
Belmont UMC—12-21-14
Fourth Sunday in Advent

We have reached the 4th Sunday in Advent, 4 candles of our Advent Wreath have been lit, and we’ll gather again at Belmont for the Christmas Eve Service and light the Christ Candle. Our Advent journey has focused on repentance, hearing the words of John the Baptist, calling us to turn our lives toward God, and to do the spiritual work of preparation. Last Sunday our journey took us to a renewed understanding of light and hope in the Advent story. We are the ones who are to go out into the world with the message that the light of God has shined upon the earth.

On this fourth Sunday of Advent, we read a surprising story about a strange encounter between a young teenage girl and an angel, Gabriel. It’s a story with which we may be too familiar, too familiar to read it as though it is the very first time, but try to hear this story again with a fresh understanding.

An angel of the Lord appeared to this poor teenage girl to tell her that she was going to give birth to a child and “he will be great—and will be called the son of the most high and the Lord God will give to him the throne of David, his father. He will reign over Jacob’s house forever, and there will be no end to his kingdom.” Is that all?

While that sounds glorious, try to put yourself in the place of Mary. Not only was this stunning news, but there were complications. She was betrothed to a man named, Joseph. And Gabriel was telling her that she would be with child before they are married.

There were two steps to the betrothal. The first was consent (we would call this engagement), usually entered into when girls were 12-13 years old. She would continue to live with her parents for about a year. After this period the husband would take her to his parents’ home where they would assume support of her. Mary and Joseph were somewhere between these two steps when Mary is found to be with child. This created a difficult and embarrassing situation for them.

So it may not have sounded like the good news that we often associate with it. It was stressful and anxious news. It was a predicament! Gabriel called Mary “favored one” and she may have been thinking, “Please, don’t do me any favors—go favor someone else.” Luke wrote that she was confused or perplexed. I cannot tell if Luke was the master of the understatement or the master of overstating the obvious.

I think that we sometimes imagine Gabriel kneeling in front of Mary, looking up at her, waiting for an answer as though everything depends on her. “What’s it going to be, Mary? Are you with us or not?”  But that is not what happened. Gabriel appeared to tell Mary what was going to happen. “You been chosen by God and this is what will happen next.”

Mary answered with one question, “How will this happen?” We would have asked lots of questions. Why me? What will people say? Will Joseph still love me? Will I be taken to the doorsteps of my parents’ house and stoned to death? (the Law) “Will I survive this?” “Will anyone help me?”

Mary is called by God to be the God-bearer.
There were many calls in scripture and most of them were met with great reluctance. Moses was reluctant to go back to Egypt and made excuses. Jeremiah and Isaiah were reluctant prophets and made excuses. The disciples expressed their reluctance. When the angel visited Elizabeth and Zechariah to tell them of John’s birth, Zechariah had 20 questions and was struck silent until their son was born.

The call of Mary stands out in the scriptures. It was unique and dramatic. She was asked to accept the possibility that God would choose her, a teenage girl, from a small town in Galilee to be the bearer of God’s child. Amazing!

Mary was called to abandon her plans. Do you have a plan? Sometimes our Bishop asks, “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?” I told him I was more of a 5 minute planner, not a 5 year planner. I remembered a movie where one of the main characters had a copy of his 5 year plan in his back pocket; he kept consulting it throughout the story.

Mary may not have had a 5 year plan, but she had plans. She planned to marry Joseph, a carpenter. The would settle down in the suburbs of Nazareth, make a nice home for themselves, enjoy their life together, and yes,  have some children eventually if that worked out.

But God had a different plan. Mary was willing to adopt God’s plan as her own, accept God’s vision as her vision. Her response is, “Here I am.” Mary said a “yes” that reverberates throughout history.

Mary is called by God and so are we. Sometimes the call interrupts our long range plans. My plans were interrupted 40 years ago and I’ve been living into that interruption ever since. Sometimes the call of God can interrupt our 5 minute plan. Mary’s story challenges us. When God calls, how will we respond? Will we say, “Yes!”?

Mary was asked to accept that the child was the child of God.
She was asked to accept that God would become flesh and live among us, that God would be so in love with the world that God would come to be one of us. Imagine that? Can you begin to imagine that God loved the world and everyone and everything in it that much?

Years ago an older friend said to me, “To be loved is a huge responsibility.” She did not say, “To love someone is a huge responsibility.” She said, “To be loved . . .” Isn’t that true? To be loved like that summons forth something within us; it raises the bar of expectation for us. We know it is something we’d prefer to lay aside or ignore, but we cannot.

In one of the churches I served, we started a simple tradition during Advent. We got the idea from another church. We took the Baby Jesus (pretend baby) from our church crèche, and on the first Sunday in Advent I would deliver the Baby (a doll wrapped in a blanket) to the first home. The baby was to be in the care of the person or family for 24 hours. The baby would go to work, to the store, to school, to the Christmas parade, to grandma’s house, etc. The caregiver of the baby would write reflections in a journal and take the baby to another house. The baby would come back to the church to be placed in the crèche for worship on Christmas Eve.

I recall being at the Christmas parade and a group of Girl Scouts marched by and one was carrying our Baby Jesus. I saw Baby Jesus in the grocery store and at the park. Some persons said that having Baby Jesus in their house caused their children to behave. Some children said their behaved better with Baby Jesus in the house. Some said that taking Baby Jesus to work with them gave them an opportunity to share their faith story.

On a first Sunday of Advent I delivered Baby Jesus to one of our oldest members, age 90--a bright, active, and incredibly plain spoken woman. She would say, “At my age I don’t have time to mince my words.” I’d prayed and thought about who should have the baby first and her name kept coming to my mind and I took that as the Lord’s prompting. I showed up at her door and explained the program to her, she looked at me and said, “Whose idea was this? I believe this is the stupidest idea you have come up with. Why don’t you take that doll somewhere else, I have a cold.” I persisted, “I’m pretty sure you are supposed to do this.” “Well, all right, put him over there across the room. I don’t want to give him my germs and you better come pick him up tomorrow.”

Later I read her journal entry. She wrote that she was initially disgusted with the whole idea, looking at the baby across the room. Finally, she walked over and picked him up and held him and thought, “What if?” What if God showed up at my door and handed me his child?” And then she wrote, “And that is exactly what God did.” (She noted in her journal that she had washed the baby and his clothes to rid them of her cold germs.)

The gift of God’s son changes Mary’s life and changes our lives forever.
We sentimentalize and romanticize all the life changing power out of this story, but to truly accept it is to be prepared to accept transformation. Barbara Brown Taylor tells us about 5 year old Sharon’s version of this story. “The baby was borned. And do you know who he was? The baby was God.” She leaped in the air, twirled around and dove into the sofa and covered her head with pillows.” Brown Taylor writes that this is the only proper response to the incarnation. To hear this correctly is enough to make us dive for cover, because this is the story that changes us completely and forever. (Mixed Blessings, “Decked Out in Flesh” pp. 50-51)

It reminds us that God has favored us with divine love, that we must yield our plans to God, that we hear God’s call and that call is for us to be God-bearers and that we are to carry the story of God’s love into the world.

Jurgen Motmann wrote, “The message of the prophet is a message for the people, a message sent into the camps of the exiled, and into the slums of the poor. It is a word against the captains of the arms industry and the fanatics of power. If we really understood what it means, it bursts the bonds of Sunday worship. For if this message really lays hold of us, it leads us to Jesus, the liberator, and to the people who live in darkness and who are waiting for him—and for us.”  (The Power)

This Advent may we hear our call to be witnesses to that light and hope that came to us in Jesus Christ. In Christ light and hope have come into our dark world.

 

Sermon transcript for December 14, 2014

The Light of God
John 1:6-8; 19-28
Third Sunday of Advent – December 14, 2014
Belmont UMC -- Ken Edwards, preaching

When I was younger, I went to a Ministers Retreat in the mountains. We were given an afternoon of free time and I was invited to join two other people in a rappelling adventure in a nearby mountain. We hiked several miles through the woods to a beautiful cliff with a 150 foot drop, set up our lines and proceeded to rappel to the bottom.

What my colleagues did not tell me—because they knew of my aversion to caves—was that they planned to hike back to the top of a mountain through a cave at the bottom of the cliff. I came unprepared, with no flashlight, or spelunking gear (whatever that might be). I was not happy about this, but after rappelling off the cliff, I followed the two men into the dark cave alongside a stream and then onto a narrow ledge above the stream where we had to crawl to make passage.

My adventurous friends spied a small opening in the side of the cave wall and decided to explore this opening. They asked, “Do you want to join us or wait here?”  I opted for waiting on the ledge. Without a flashlight, and with my friends disappearing into the narrow crevice with the only lights, I discovered that I was in complete darkness. At first it was peaceful and quiet, but after about 10 minutes it became unnerving. What if they did not come back? I lost my bearings and could not remember where the wall of the cave was and where the side of the ledge was. I had no idea which way was out of the cave. I began to panic. I prayed and waited. Finally, I saw a gleam of light coming toward me and I still recall the great relief I felt at the sight of this light. With light comes hope and our world is need of hope during this Advent season.

John the Baptist appears again in our Gospel text for this Sunday. In John’s Gospel he is presented as one who is not the light of God but one that points the way to the light that will shine upon the earth. He is the voice that speaks of a light that will break forth and bring hope to a world that is in darkness.

John did not have much about which to be hopeful. People were going out to him in the wilderness, going out to hear his message, to be baptized, to repent of their sins. But the political leaders did not like John or his words. Eventually he would wind up in prison and later beheaded. It was not a hopeful time for the people of Israel, but John raised their expectations about a light that would come into the world.

Even in the midst of desperate times, John said, “I have come to tell you that a light is coming to this world and that light will shine in our darkness. I am not that light, but I’m going to keep on talking about it no matter how dark things become.” (Edwards paraphrase version) John is a witness to this great light and he gives voice to the ancient words of the prophets.

Advent is about remembering the darkness, and remembering that God came to shine light on all humankind in Jesus Christ.

There is darkness in our world today. It is troubling but true; we would rather not talk about it during Advent. Some of you are troubled by grief and anxiety. While the holiday presents joy and hope to many, it is a time of accentuated grief and sadness for others. Some are living in poverty and oppression.  Some have given up or lost their way. Wars continue throughout our world. There is great unrest in our nation, unrest that will continue until justice prevails. We cannot hide from the darkness of our racism and we desperately need God’s guidance.

There are those in our world who are suffering this Advent and we must not shut our eyes to the suffering. One way the church must give contemporary voice to the light and hope of the prophets is to become bearers of that same hope and light.

Several years ago a young man named David showed up at my office during Advent. He had visited the church where I served as pastor. He was timid, depressed and he felt like giving up. He had lost everything--his job and his home. He had a little gas in his car, the shelter that had become his home. I gave him some warm clothes and some money for food and gasoline. I saw him a few days later and he told me that he bought a sleeping bag with the money because he was so cold at night. There were times during that Advent that I thought we needed David as much as he needed us—he taught us so much about the meaning of the light of Christ.

One of the families of the church adopted him and assisted him in getting to a job in Arkansas. A few days before he left for his new job, I had gone down the hall of the church to get a cup of coffee and returned to my office to find two beautiful cards stuck in the wreath outside our office door. They were from David. They were Christmas cards and thank-you notes to me and to the church. David wrote, “You were the light of Christ in my darkness. Without you I would not have found my way.”

One writer says that “Christian hope does not bury its head in yuletide cheer and artificial lights, but like an Advent wreath growing brighter each week, this hope pushes its way into the brokenness of this world, clearing a path in the wilderness so the true light might burst into the darkness.” (Craig T. Kocher, Pulpit Resource, Oct-Dec 2005, p. 55)

I see the sign of God’s light and hope all around us. I see light in the love shown to Edgehill children in the Brighter Days mentoring program and in the scholarships offered to young men and women of that neighborhood through the ONE/Barnes Scholarship program—young men and women who become leaders in their community.

We are being that light through our gifts to the Christmas Miracle Offering as we imagine a world free from malaria. We have an opportunity to save many lives with these gifts.

There is light and hope in the 170 Christmas stockings for Grundy County children and in the gifts shared with our Golden Triangle Children. Grundy County is the poorest county in Tennessee and you made Christmas happen for these children.

I see light and hope in food shared with a family going through a medical crisis and in the simple and quiet gestures of love and kindness we witness around here every day. Our family has been on the receiving end of ministry during a time of grief and your love and kindness have been so generous. You brought light to the darkness of our grief.

We will be witnesses of the great message of hope and light this evening at the Feast of Lights. I can’t wait.

This is not shallow optimism and positive thinking, but a real and lasting hope that shines in the midst of darkness.

I recall hearing some friends tell of a trip to Europe and spending time in a small town. They told us of their overnights in a quaint Bed and Breakfast Inn and all the interesting people they met. On a Sunday they had walked through the village and found a beautiful church. The sign outside the church indicated that a service would be held in the evening and they decided to attend.

That night after dinner they made their way to the church and took a seat near the back. They were the first ones to arrive (visitors are often more eager than the rest of us). The sun was going down and they noticed that there were no lights above them. The church had not been wired with electricity. As other worshippers arrived they came with lanterns which they hung on hooks suspended above the pews. Everywhere a worshipper sat, there was light. The rest of the church was dark.

Everywhere we go, we take the light of God with us. Jesus said, “You are the light of the world.” Where are the places of darkness calling out to us to bring the light?  

The prophet Isaiah said, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.” (9:2)

Jurgen Motmann wrote, “The message of the prophet is a message for the people, a message sent into the camps of the exiled, and into the slums of the poor. It is a word against the captains of the arms industry and the fanatics of power. If we really understood what it means, it bursts the bonds of Sunday worship. For if this message really lays hold of us, it leads us to Jesus, the liberator, and to the people who live in darkness and who are waiting for him—and for us.”  (The Power)

This Advent may we hear our call to be witnesses to that light and hope that came to us in Jesus Christ. In Christ light and hope have come into our dark world.

   

Sermon transcript for December 7, 2014

Through Wilderness—Toward Home
Mark 1:1-8; Psalm 85-1-2; 8-13
Belmont UMC—December 7, 2014
Second Sunday of Advent
Ken Edwards, preaching

One writer imagines what would happen if John the Baptist were to set up preaching camp in the middle of the modern day shopping mall:

“Now imagine this: in comes John, right into the mall. It’s deep winter but he’s wearing sandals on his bare feet, and, yes, he’s wearing his camel’s hair coat, tied with a leather girdle. Now he strides through the double doors of the mall and comes out into the open space near the fountain, and he’s crying, ‘Repent!’

Unreal! What’s this awful man got to do with Christmas? Get him out of here, so we can get our shopping done! But wait; imagine this:  John is a powerful preacher, and the adults cease their frantic shopping and start to gather round him. The teens stop their wandering to laugh, but then they find themselves listening. The children hear him and leave Santa’s line, tugging on their parents’ coats and asking questions: ‘What is he doing?’ What’s he saying?’ ‘Why is he here?’

He’s crying out:  ‘Repent! Turn around! Change your lives!’

And John is such a powerful preacher that the lights, the carols, the crèches, the shopping, the seeing, even Santa’s line—all are forgotten, and the people begin to ask, ‘What shall we do?

And John says, ‘Repent, and be baptized.’ Then he begins to baptize them, right there in the beautiful mall fountain.”  (by Donna Ross, other source material unknown)

On the second Sunday of Advent we always encounter John the Baptist. He is a prophet in the tradition of those Old Testament prophets, like Elijah, Jeremiah, Amos and Isaiah. He’s eccentric like those prophets. His hair is wild and uncombed, honey drips from his beard and his breath smells of crunchy locusts.

He has set up camp way out in the wilderness near the Jordan, away from Jerusalem, away from the center of religion and the center of power. But the people were going out to him—amazing really. Some have suggested that it had been 300 years since God had spoken this clearly and people were going out to the wilderness to hear.

Isaiah had predicted a messenger would come, a messenger who would make the mountains low and the valleys raised up and the path made smooth. This messenger would not draw attention to himself but to one who was to come.

John did not have all the details yet, but he pointed his boney finger toward one who would come, not with John’s cold Jordan baptism, but a Holy Spirit baptism that would usher in a whole new world, a whole new way of thinking and being. John said, “He is coming and you have to get ready!”

Every Advent we meet John the Baptist again and we are not going to get to Christmas without going head to head with John and his message to get prepared.

And so we will spend a little time in the wilderness with John. The wilderness is that barren place where our sight lines are clearer. The wilderness is that place where the sheer silence enables us to hear the beating of our own weak and fearful hearts. The wilderness is that place of knowing and perspective. The wilderness is the place where we see the truth about ourselves and even without John’ preaching, we would know that we need to change. We would know our deep need for God. We know our deep need to cry out to God for help--for forgiveness.

Frederick Niedner describes the wilderness this way, “Precisely here, however, in the wordless void, where over and over our theologies get tested, fail, and disintegrate, God meets up with us.” (Sundays and Seasons, Year B, p.7)

We might like to shut our eyes to this wilderness experience, but we only need to turn on the news and read the morning paper to know that we are a world in need of God, and that we need to repent and turn things around. We are broken and lost. We are territorial and exclusionary. We are self-interested and too self-assured. We are filled with hatred and racism.

In my undeserved privilege I do not know what it is like to live under the ugly shadows of racism, but racism is real and persistent and we must confess those times when we have been complicit in it. When I was a little boy, living in the country on a gravel road, my Mom would visit a Doctor here in the city. She never liked to travel alone so she would take me with her to the Benny Dillon building downtown. She’d give me some money to walk down the street to a lunch counter where I’d buy a piece of apple pie and a cup of coffee (I started drinking coffee when I was a toddler). I thought this was the best thing in the world, but I was completely unaware of how many Nashville citizens could not sit at that lunch counter with me because of the color of their skin.

In the wilderness let us confess our failures as human beings, failure to see each other as God sees us, failure to value and respect one another, failure to see that all people matter, and failure to see our need for God.

Here in the wilderness we might want to offer this traditional wilderness confession:  “Merciful God, we confess that we have not loved you with our whole heart. We have failed to be an obedient church. We have not done your will, we have broken your law, we have rebelled against your love, we have not loved our neighbors, and we have not heard the cry of the needy. Forgive us, we pray. Free us for joyful obedience, through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

We decided on the theme “Imagine Peace” for this Sunday long before Ferguson and Staten Island and today we may be wondering how we can imagine peace for a world where hatred breeds violence.

But John the Baptist is not asking us to linger long in the wilderness, wallowing in our lostness and self-pity, but he is pointing the way to the one who is to come, the one who helps us see God and know that God has a better way for us to live.

And the prophets do not invite us to stay in the wilderness forever. They invite us to move on toward a home with God, to imagine that future where truth springs up from the ground, and people put down their weapons and live in peace with one another, where war and hatred and racism are no more, where flowers bloom and bring beauty to the desert places, where water gushes up into life in the driest of places, and where justice rolls down like water and righteousness like an ever flowing stream.

 

Sermon transcript for November 30, 2014

Imagine: Hope
1 Corinthians 1:3-9; Mark 13:24-37
Sunday, November 30
Chris Allen, preaching

Have you ever been to a Christmas Party where there is a White Elephant Gift Exchange, Dirty Santa, or whatever else you may call it - I'm talking about the exchange where you bring a inexpensive gift to a party, an order for opening the gifts is established, and when it's your turn you have the choice to open a wrapped gift or steal one of the already opened gifts. We'll even have one this coming Saturday when the Belmont youth group gathers for our Christmas party.

I am going to let you in on a little secret of mine. If I am ever involved in a White Elephant gift exchange I am going to do one of two things:

1. I will steal an already opened gift or
2. I will open the gift that I brought to the party.

I cannot stand the unknown of what may be inside the wrapping paper. I have been doing this for as long as I remember. I like the certainty of knowing what I am getting. I don't want to be deceived by the pretty wrapping paper or how big the box is. Who knows what could be inside? Sure you can pick up the package and shake it around to hear what rattles around but that will only get you so far. Why take on that risk when I can go for the unwrapped gift?

So my inclination is to go for the gift I can easily identify - it either has to be already unwrapped or the gift that I wrapped myself. I don't want any surprises even though there very well may be a better gift still wrapped up, a gift that is better than I can currently see. But I just can't bring myself to take that risk. I have a hard time imagining the hope in the wrapped gifts. And at a gift exchange I don't want to get stuck with a gag gift.

Needless to say, I am settling. But that's exactly what Paul is telling the Corinthians they are doing. The Corinthians find themselves in a place like the third servant in the "Parable of the Talents" who buries the master's money. There are two things that Paul identifies here as gifts among the Corinthians - knowledge and communication. However, what's not clear at this point in Paul's letter to the Corinthians is the way they are using these two gifts have got them into some trouble.

While Paul is giving them high praise for their knowledge and communication, he will rebuke them in later chapters for the misuse of their gifts. This is to say that there are some in the Corinthian church who are full of themselves because of their knowledge about God and are now unintelligible in communicating the Gospel. They're now sitting on their gifts and seem to have forgotten the reason God gave them these gifts. They forgot they were living in the in-between times as they wait and hope "for the day of our Lord Jesus Christ." They become satisfied about the way things were. They were ready to settle for the unwrapped gift. The Corinthians were complacent.

Complacency is part of human condition called sin that causes us to become complacent, to be okay with a half-hearted attempt, to be satisfied with the way things are. But hear the good news, even when we are complacent and satisfied with the status quo God rips off the wrapping paper and bursts into the world. Today, we begin the period called Advent, the first season in the church year, where we are keenly aware we are living in-between the coming of Christ in a manager and Christ's second coming. The scandal of grace begins with Jesus coming to dwell among us. How scandalous that God would come among the creation!

God ripping off the wrapping paper, tearing open heaven, and bursting into the world threatens our status quo. Jesus coming among us threatens the status quo of each one of us on a personal level. To confess with your mouth that Jesus - the human one who died on a cross - is Lord of your life is to say that you open your life to being turned upside down and inside our by God's grace. There are often the testimonies of faithful Christians people who tell about how their life was a wreck until they encountered Jesus, but my story has been that I felt like I had life figured out until I read the gospels and it wrecked me forever with the story of God's grace.

Not only does Jesus threaten each of us individually, Jesus coming among us threatens the status quo of our whole society. Just ask King Herod. In Matthew's gospel there is the story that as the news of a new king born in Bethlehem spreads, the government grew fearful at this threat to the status quo so they allowed the systematically killing of all the young boys living in their community. Doesn't this sound familiar?

So how do we imagine hope? In today's Gospel reading from Mark, Jesus gives us this apocalyptic scene of the sun and moon becoming dark and the earth quaking. Then Jesus says that no one but God knows when all this will happen and there is no use in trying to figure it out. However, there is one thing that Jesus does tell us to pay attention to and that is the fig trees. Jesus says when you see the new spring growth summer is near - those early, sweet-tasting figs will soon be appearing. Those early figs are our foretaste to what the fullness of God's kingdom will be like at Jesus' second coming.

Let me make this a bit clearer for you. Do you remember when you were younger and helped out in the kitchen and got to lick the spoon? I remember helping my grandmother out in the kitchen when I was a kid. She makes the best pound cake in the world. She would mix together the eggs, flour, sugar, and butter with her electric beater. When she was done, she would pour the cake batter from the mixing bowl into cake pan. As the cake was being put into the oven, she would offer me the cake batter covered spoon to lick and allow me to scrap any of the remaining batter out of the bowl. And boy did this taste good but it was just a foretaste of what was still to come. While I am licking the spoon the best pound cake ever is still in the oven. That's what it's like to imagine hope as wait for the coming of Christ among us again.

To imagine hope is to imagine God's future breaking into the now, our present reality. Imagining hope is what we do when we pray the Lord's Prayer and say "on earth as it is in heaven." Imagining hope is in police officers welcoming demonstrators with coffee and hot chocolate. Imaging hope is what I experience each Wednesday morning when I walk down to Eakin Elementary to tutor in Mrs. Jackson's class. When I step in the room I am greeted by a chorus of "Hello Mr. Chris." Spending an hour each week with these fourth graders is a foretaste of the kingdom that is to come. They are reminder to me that God is with us.

However, I wish I could say it was an easy week to imagine hope. There seemed to be more bitter tastes in my mouth as I watched the news cycles of injustice, arson, and looting in the city where I spent my college years. Maybe you felt a little hopeless this week as well. Maybe your Thanksgiving meal didn't turn out like you had planned. Maybe you find yourself closer to hopeless than hopeful as you will celebrate your first Christmas without a loved one. Or maybe you find yourself worried about how you are going to pay for this year's Christmas gifts.

If you are having a hard time imagining hope right now, let me tell you that's okay. That's what Advent is for, that's what we are doing here. Advent is a chance to pause and admit that we can no longer hope in ourselves, our government, that deal of a TV we got on Black Friday, or that pill or bottle to save us. We are here to essentially say we are out of hope.

Our hope must be in someone out there who comes to us. We can imagine hope only because Jesus tears into our world and gently leads us home. If you remember nothing else about the sermon this morning what I want you to hear this: On this first Sunday of Advent, know that Jesus is coming into the world, tearing open the heavens to be among us. This is our hope. This is the foundation from which we imagine hope. Among the pain of our lives, in the midst of the many injustices in Ferguson and deaths from a preventable disease like Malaria, there is still a gift we have not fully unwrapped, God bursting into world. It is coming in the small things like the new growth of a fig tree. This season, watch for the foretastes and know that God is faithful.

   

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