What Is True in this Season? For God So Loved the World…

December 3, 2017
Reverend Timothy Hart-Andersen

Isaiah 11:1-9; John 3:16-17

“It is not true that creation and the human family are doomed to destruction and loss –

This is true: For God so loved the world that God gave the only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life.”  (Allan Boesak, Advent Credo)

Those are the opening words of the Advent Credo, written 35 years ago by South African theologian Allan Boesak. Boesak was a pastor in the so-called “colored” department of the Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa, and a leader in the struggle against apartheid, that political system supported by white church of the land, a system built on the separation of the people of South Africa based on the color of their skin.

During this Advent the words and music of Africa will guide our way to Bethlehem. We will the Advent Credo each Sunday. It will be printed on the cover of the bulletin. Boesak wrote it for the Sixth Assembly of the World Council of Churches, held in 1983 in Vancouver, British Columbia. I was there when he led thousands of Christians from all over the world – from China and Latin America, Africa and Europe, India and North America. Together they recited the Credo for the first time. It was a powerful, defining moment to watch Protestant and Orthodox Christians from across the globe, and even the Roman Catholic observers who were present, stand and say together in one voice that they rejected the version of reality supported by the racism of the South African government.

It was a truth-telling moment. Advent is such a moment. We come around to this season each year and we need to hear the truth, God’s truth once again.

The Credo names and then refuses to accept the version of reality being experienced by many under the oppression of apartheid.

“It is not true that creation and the human family are doomed to destruction and loss –“

Each phrase in the Credo that declares what is not true is followed by the affirmation of an alternative biblical truth:

This is true: For God so loved the world that God gave the only begotten Son…”

It is not true …but this is true… The back and forth rhythm of the Credo points away from the gloom of the world of that time and of our time, toward the light of this season.

You may find yourself on the receiving end of injustice, you may be experiencing poverty in a land of plenty, you may be struggling against enormous odds each day…but we who follow Jesus stand up – especially in this season – to declare there is another, more powerful truth: God loves this world and will not abandon us. There are forces at work stronger than those holding sway in the present reality. There is reason for hope.

The format of the Credo, the back and forth, echoes that used by a small group of Christians in Germany in 1934 who wrote the Barmen Declaration to resist the rise of Nazi ideology in that land. Karl Barth and others gathered in the town of Barmen to prepare a theological rejection of the claims of the state of that time and the pro-Nazi “German Christian” movement.

The words of the Barmen Declaration and the Advent Credo explicitly reject the truth being put forth by the state and its ecclesiastical collaborators. In both cases these were not abstract academic exercises. Some of those who wrote the Barmen Declaration and some who opposed apartheid lost their lives defying the evil of their time. They were resisters in the spirit of the ancient prophets of Israel.

Isaiah and the other prophets of the Hebrew tradition are the seers of Advent. They defy the prevailing version of reality in their time and point instead to a deeper truth. It was hard for some to hear them. Their words were ignored and denied. They were pushed out of their communities and rejected. They suffered for it.

So the prophets began to use more creative imagery to lay out their vision of a new day coming:

“A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.”

That’s a reference a Savior will out of the lineage and house of David.

“Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist, and faithfulness the belt around his loins.”

The one to come will bring justice and peace to the earth.

“The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them.”

The prophet proposes an altogether different way to see the world, a way to face the injustice of his time. Rather than give in or give up, the prophet presents a new vision of the world… The one whom we await will defend the poor…In that time enemies will learn to feast together…There will come a day of peace in a world torn by war.

Those are Advent words. They refuse to cede any ground to forces opposing the biblical truth that God intends for the human family to live in harmony in a just and peaceful world.

Today we live in a world of competing claims on the truth. People believe whatever version of reality suits them regardless of whether it’s supported by evidence or actual facts…

…Leaders say legislation will benefit the poor when in dependent, non-partisan analysis shows the opposite.

…Men say they respect women and support their rights and then personally violate them.

…We’re told immigrants and refugees bring crime into our land when data show that is simply not the case.

…Reputable journalism is dismissed as “fake news” when it does not support a preferred version of reality.

Truth is fundamental to the functioning of a democracy; when it’s regularly set aside what are we to believe? That question hangs in the air this Advent in America.

The 20th century German philosopher Hannah Arendt wrote of the dangers of those who distort facts for their own purposes and promulgate an untrue version of reality that suits their needs for power.  If people are not informed, she says,

“How can you have an opinion?…If everybody always lies to you, the consequence is not that you believe the lies, but rather that nobody believes anything any longer.”

One of the historic principles of the Presbyterian Church. Enshrined in the denomination’s constitution, holds that “truth is in order to goodness.” In other words, truth always leads to good, perhaps not immediately, maybe not as quickly as we’d like, but, eventually, truth is in order to goodness.

In contrast, reality based on serial mendacity, on unrelenting, unceasing falsehood, inevitably leads elsewhere. The philosopher Arendt says,

“A people that no longer can believe anything cannot make up its mind. It is deprived not only of its capacity to act but also of its capacity to think and to judge. And with such a people you can then do what you please.”

(https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/30/opinion/trump-putin-destruction-democracy.html?action=click&contentCollection=Media&module=Trending&version=Full®ion=Marginalia&pgtype=article)

There’s a lot at stake in Advent. This Advent, Every Advent. That’s what motivates the Almighty. That’s what compels the incarnation, the Word made flesh:

“God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3:17)

So we turn to the prophets in this season. They call us to use our imagination to see another truth, a different reality:

It is not true that creation and the human family are doomed to destruction and loss.

It is not true that that global warming cannot be stopped, that war will never cease.

It is not true that we must stand by and let the world slip into irretrievable chaos.

Have we given up on helping create a more sustainable planet?  Do we shrug off violence around the world because it doesn’t touch us? Do we accept lies as truth? Are we content to let it all continue as if the world were lost?

With the incarnation God’s intentions are clear: life and hope are coming in the flesh. In the child born of Mary rests the future of the world. “They shall not hurt or destroy on all  my holy mountain,” God says through the prophet.

Advent is a moment of truth.

For us, in this season, this is true: That God so loved the world – the world, the whole world, the entire world – that God gave the only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life.

We are heirs to that hope. In this season we wait. We wait for incarnation to enflesh the truth, the truth of God’s desire for humankind and all creation.

Today our waiting draws us to this table. The table is not unlike like the manger at Bethlehem. There, in the lowly stable, the world is given the gift of God’s love.

Here at the table we receive the gift again. The story of God’s love is told and enacted once more for all the world, and our hope is made new.

Thanks be to God.

Amen.


Pastoral Prayer ~10:30 am Worship

David Shinn

We give you and our humble thanks for all your goodness and loving-kindness to us and to all people.

We bless you for our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life;

but above all for your boundless love in the redemption of the world

by our Lord Jesus Christ; for the means of grace,

for the deliverance of hope,

for the embodiment of kindness,

and for the realization of peace.

It is then indeed true that you love the whole world over. It is true that the creation and the human family is NOT doomed to destruction and loss, and NOT destined to warfare and violence. Instead, you have predestined the creation and human family for everlasting life, and restoration. We are the heir of your living hope.

Give us such an awareness of your mercies, and truth,

that with genuinely thankful hearts

we may show forth your praise,

not only with our lips but in our lives,

by giving up ourselves to your service.

Hear our prayers O Christ, who came not to condemn, but to save the world. Be with all who are grieving for the death of their loved ones. Guide the footsteps of all who are seeking health and restoration of their bodies, minds, and spirits. Lead also all who are longing for your love and blessing.

O Spirit of God, come now and breathe upon your people. Bless this bread and this cup. May you unify all our hearts to proclaim your good news of joy, peace, justice, and love. Walk with us toward your birth on this first Sunday of Advent. As we seek for your light, may we be your light to our world.

Lead us always to walk with you,

in holiness and righteousness all our days;

through Jesus Christ our Redeemer,

to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit,

be all honor and glory now and forever.

And now, let us join our lips and our hearts together to pray the prayer that Jesus has taught us all to pray, Our Father…

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