Sunday, November 29, 2020
Advent I Homily
Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19
Advent begins in the dark. It begins on the pages of newspapers and on local newscasts where we read and hear about all that is wrong. It doesn’t take much searching to find terrible news— news of people doing terrible things to others. I won’t go into details, because you know the details.
And this time of year we tend to think that if we can just look beyond all that, we can see the good. So we practice our faith like Clark Griswold surveying all that is going wrong and still believing that if we just try hard enough things will turn out ok— the bonus will come in time for the pool payment. Advent is a season of deconstruction meant to breakdown cheap optimism and build up hope that lasts. We tend to think things are getting better or they would be getting better if our guy was in charge. We tend to think we know how to manage things and that it would be ok if they would just think like we do. The scriptures we read this time of year often apocalyptic— revealing our need for God to break into our lives and act. These readings reminds us we aren’t our own saviors. We need God’s face to shine on us.
Rob Sellers, who taught missions at Hardin-Simmons for years tells the story of a Christian organization who tried to do their Christian duty to help a poor village in Africa. They didn’t know anyone there. They didn’t know the language. They didn’t know the needs. They only knew they were poor. So they airdropped a ton of T-shirts on the village. It just so happened that the one thriving part of the economy in the village was a textile mill. The airdrop of t-shirts tanked the economy and drove the village further into poverty.
When I was in college missionaries from a local church in Waco were arrested in Afghanistan. They went to convert muslims. They wanted to represent Christ to the nations. They ended up getting imprisoned and sent home. And putting in danger Christians across the country who had been working and ministering in the country for decades. Many of the Christian operations had to be shuttered. Sometimes we don’t just want the world to be saved, we want to be the one to save the world… we want the world to know we are the good guys. Advent hope reminds us salvation is from God. Our optimism won’t save us. The Word of God that stands as stark truth against our best intentions and exposes our false hopes is the means of salvation.
Psalm 80 is written from a place of desperation. The writer needs intervention. The psalmist pleads for God— the God of Israel, the God of Jacob, the God of Joseph— wake up. Save us! “How long do we have to eat our tears”— it says. Let your face shine, that we may be saved.
This year has helped us to see that despite all our hope in modern comforts—life can still shut down. Despite all our hope that things were getting better — that we were past all that race stuff from the 1960s. Here we are. The more we place our hopes in the false religion of individualism and self-determination the more our false hopes are undermined by history. The only way through a pandemic is collective health. The only way through hatred to racial justice is collective sacrifice. We’ve seen how hard that is… it’s like we just need God to show up and do it for us. We need God’s face to shine upon us so that we can sort out where we are in this darkness.
Advent is a reminder that Christian hope is beyond the work of our hands. It’s beyond what a church or THE church can do. It’s collective hope in something beyond our control or ability to even pray into being. It’s hope that even though we sit in darkness, we trust the one whose face will shine upon us in the end.
Trust doesn’t just come from nowhere. We trust because every now and then, we’ve seen the face of God show up in our lives. Psalm 80 references an old old story of reconciliation. Do you remember Jacob’s story? Jacob scammed his brother and stole his birth rite. As you can imagine, his brother Esau was mad. This feud came to a head and finally Jacob had to face the music. So he went to meet Esau (and Esau’s army). But, the night before as Jacob is camped out by the river he wrestled an angel. And the angel give him a limp and a new name— Israel. Jacob/Israel goes and apologizes and reconciles with Esau the next day. Esau forgives him. And Jacob says as they reconcile, “To see your face is like seeing the face of God.”
That’s what Victor Hugo was thinking when he wrote those immortal words from Les Mis, “To love another person is to see the face of God.”
Our ultimate hope lies beyond our grasp. Today we remember that we sit and wait for it. But, we also recognize that God has invited us into an active waiting. Because every now and then God’s face shines. Every now and then we see the face of God. Which reminds us: It’s worth the wait.