Sunday, December 6, 2020
Advent I Homily
Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13
Psalm 85 is a reflection on God’s covenantal faithfulness. It’s a call for restoration and forgiveness. It’s a call to covenant. Don’t forget us. Show us your faithfulness. And the end turns to images of Steadfast love and faithfulness meeting; righteousness and peace will kiss each other. Then the psalmist writes, “Truth springs up from the earth; righteous justice down from the heavens.”
As a reflection on covenantal faithfulness it alludes to the first biblical covenant. There’s a subtle but direct reference to the flood here. Genesis 7 describes the chaos waters springing up from below and down from above. “The fountains of the great deep burst forth” and “the windows of the heavens were opened.” Remember, these ancient people had a very different vision of the universe from us. For them the earth stood suspended upon great pillars with waters below and above a great firmament in the sky that holds back the blue waters above.
Genesis explains the great flood as God stepping back from creation and leaving it to its own devices. It’s a vision of what happens when God let’s go. Creation literally comes unhinged… it all starts to fall apart. The world had fallen into unchecked violence unsuitable for life. Genesis pictures God getting so frustrated with us, that God simply steps back and leaves us to our own devices. But, not really. Because the story actually describes a way through the chaotic and violent waters. The arc— a difficult way that involves waiting, patience, faithfulness, and stewardship of what God has made. God enters a covenantal relationship with Noah. And at the end of the story God places his bow in the sky. We think of it as the rainbow— the word is the same as a bow and arrow. It’s an image of laying down one’s arms. It’s a promise of peace. The flood reminds us of some very serious lessons for life— that this is a violent world, a dangerous place full of brokenness. But even so, God has promised to be present to us. Even in that first covenant in Genesis, God is revealing God’s self as Immanuel.
Psalm 85 envisions the flood in a new way— as a flood of covenantal faithfulness. Truth springs up from the earth; justice/righteousness down from the heavens. The foundations of the deep are not chaotic waters but truth. Above us is not chaotic waters waiting to destroy life but righteous justice waiting to fall upon us. Psalm 85 is a vision of the peace God wants for the world— the peace we long for.
Christian peace is not the absence of conflict but the presence of righteous justice. Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers.” But, it’s often the peacemakers who are caste as villains by those who benefit from the status quo. Martin Luther King Jr., after all, was called the most dangerous man in America during the Civil Rights movement. The man leading peaceful protests was said to incite violence— spreading these lies about him was a means of keeping the status quo. A group of moderate and progressive clergy— pastors like me— in Birmingham, AL urged him to go away. They said he should keep the peace. They said things are getting better on their own and that black people simply need to wait for justice. It’s coming. God’s justice is coming. They didn’t want peace… at least they didn’t want Christian peace. They wanted to be left alone.
This is the way sin works: it twists the truth and questions faithfulness. It rips at relationships and creates tension. Sometimes we need a little trouble to call out these lies. We need un-peace to create the kind of just peace God dreams for this world. As partners in creation with God— those called by God to be steward’s of this world where righteous justice and peace kiss— we reach our full human potential when we live up to this calling. The guilt and shame we feel… the anger and resentment… is a result of the brokenness of our communities and our refusal to work for justice.
There was a convent in Northern Wales where the garden gate that led out from the convent had a privacy sign that at some point had been moved. Instead of having a sign outside the property facing out to outsiders, the privacy sign was on the inside part of the gate facing those in the convent. The cloistered nuns in the convent were being warned to keep their distance from the privacy of the world.
There’s a spiritual lesson there. This warning is to keep away from visions of peace as detachment. Peace isn’t being left in peace or left to our own devices. Peace is not privacy. It’s connection to this world where faithfulness springs up from the ground and righteous justice down from the sky. To get to this peace takes work. Jesus came to stir things up; he caused good trouble. Peace isn’t about being left alone to do what we want. The peace of the world is an illusion if it lacks righteous justice. C.S. Lewis once said, “Fallen man is not simply an imperfect creature in need of improvement: he is a rebel who must lay down his arms.” Peace takes work and like the late John Lewis said it takes getting into “good trouble.” We just have to decide if we are willing to lay down our arms.