What Is True this Season? I have Come that They May Have Life…

December 10, 2017
Reverend Timothy Hart-Andersen

Psalm 84; 1 Peter 1:18-25

In this season of Advent we have been using the Advent Credo written in 1983 by the South African Presbyterian pastor Allan Boesak as a text in addition to the prophets and the gospel.

In 1983 the nation was suffering through the brutal time of apartheid. As happened in this country during and after 250 years of African enslavement, those in power enforced a system of oppressive racial discrimination with violence. The Credo was written to push back against that system.

I invite you to find the Advent Credo on the front of the bulletin and read the first two sections responsively with me. I’ll start and you respond.

“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 He gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life;

It is not true that we must accept inhumanity and discrimination, hunger and pov­erty, death and destruction—

This is true: I have come that they may have life, and that abundantly.”

The words of the Advent Credo signaled a rebellion against the reality of racial injustice, a rejection of the lie of racial superiority: “It is not true that we must accept inhumanity and discrimination.”

The Credo proposes another way to see things, a way that gives rise to hope.  “It is not true that we must accept hunger and poverty, death and destruction.”

In the same way Martin Luther King imagined a land where injustice was a thing of the past, something that was no longer true. That was an Advent aspiration. In fact, King quoted from the 40th chapter of the prophet Isaiah in his speech in Washington in 1963:

“I have a dream that one day every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.”

It takes the voice of a prophet to tell the truth, to present an alternative to the reality all around us.. Advent is a time for truth-telling, for seeing light where the world projects gloom, for insisting that it is not true that we must accept inhumanity and discrimination, death and destruction.

“With this faith,” Dr. King said,

“We will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discord of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood (and sisterhood).” (Martin Luther King, Jr., I Have a Dream; 1963)

The jangling discord of our nation. That was in 1963, and it still sounds true today. It seems to grow louder every day, resulting in an unrecognizable reality all around us. Whether concealed by a conspiracy-fueled view of the world that eschews facts, or a twitter-tirade of prevarication, or some duplicitous declaration, the truth is hard to find in America this Advent. There is serious trouble in the land.

On Thursday it will be five years since the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Connecticut. Twenty first-grade students and six adults died that day. There have been hundreds more mass shootings since Sandy Hook, with the worst two happening this year in Las Vegas and rural Texas.

The rate of handgun deaths – 30,000 a year – has not abated in these years since Sandy Hook and shows no sign of slowing. In spite of ample evidence of the need for change, legislation designed to decrease or diminish gun violence continues to make no headway. Every Advent since Sandy Hook we have returned to this theme, this recurring theme to state the obvious: our nation’s gun violence epidemic is antithetical to the coming of the Prince of Peace.

And we do nothing about it. Or worse.

This past week the U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation requiring a state’s concealed-carry law to have effect in any other state. People living in states that don’t require permits for guns – say, North Dakota – could legally carry their concealed, loaded weapons into a state that would not have permitted that by its own law – say, Minnesota. The Senate still has to vote on the law; those who want to can make a difference by contacting U.S. senators.

“It is not true that we must accept inhumanity and discrimination, death and destruction—

This is true: I have come that they may have life, and that abundantly.”

Every age has its noisemakers. Every age has its own jangling discord that disfigures God’s hope for humankind. It’s the job of prophets in every age to tell the truth and rouse the people to do something about it, to act for change. The seers of ancient Israel wanted the people to speak up and sing out, to make music to drown the incessant, clanging falsehood that dominated and devoured them.

Sing aloud, O daughter Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart!… the LORD, is in your midst; you shall fear disaster no more. On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem: Do not fear…Do not let your hands grow weak.”

That is Advent language, the language of resistance. It anticipates incarnation. “On that day,” the day of the Lord’s coming, God says through the prophet,

“I will deal with all your oppressors…And I will save the lame and gather the outcast, and I will change their shame into praise … At that time I will bring you home.” (Zephaniah 3:14-15, 19)

I will bring you home. Advent promises a grand homecoming of those who have been exiled and excluded, those cut off from their full humanity.

We recently had dinner with a wonderful group of friends. There were eight of us, three African-American, five Euro-American. Two Jews, two Muslims, four Christians. (IT sounds like a set-up for a joke.) As the feast was laid out on the table, one of the Muslims was invited to offer a prayer before we ate. This is what he said: “O God of love and peace, help us this night to be human with one another.”

That’s an Advent supplication, a Christmas hope. Help us to be human with one another. That’s the plea to which God responds with the incarnation: help us, O God, help us to be human with one another.

 Can we not set aside enmity and all that has come between us and among us and pursue that simple goal? Can we not speak out and stand up for what is right over what might be expedient or advantageous to our side? Can we not let honesty and humility displace hubris and hypocrisy in our hearts, and learn to love one another?

Can we not do as Mary did? She was confused, as are many of us in this season. She was afraid, as are many of us in this season. She was unsure of what lay ahead, as are many of us, but still she said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord. Let it be with me according to your word.”

This season let us do as Mary did, and say yes, yes to the light that the darkness cannot overcome, yes to hope that refuses to yield any ground, yes to the one who comes to restore our full humanity.

“It is not true that we must accept inhumanity and discrimination, hunger and pov­erty, death and destruction—

This is true: I have come that they may have life, and have it in abundance.”

Thanks be to God.


Pastoral Prayer ~10:30 am Worship

Sarah Brouwer

God of hope, from the voices of children we hear the good news and it sounds like what you intended. The words whisper expectation into our hearts, the weary world rejoices. We thank you for this season of anticipation, for the songs of prophets whose poetry proclaims your love. Help us, Lord, to prepare the way, using our own voices to tell your truth. As we sing glad tidings this season, may our voices make a choir praising your peace and justice.

Lord God, we trust that the news of this world will not darken the light of these days. We pray to resist a way of life that colludes with evil and seeks power at the expense of others. We are reminded that where there is pain and inequity, your Spirit is ablaze with revelation. Help us to follow where you shine brightly, among people who need your mercy.

Holy One, God who comes to be with us, may your message be with those who need it most. Let your angels bring words of comfort to broken hearts, words of welcome to those who are lost and alone, words of validation to the ashamed and vulnerable, words of healing to those who are sick.

God of glory, in these days of waiting, for truth and life, reassure us that what we are yearning for is not elusive. You, O Lord, are reconciling the whole world and inviting us to follow. You are Immanuel- God with us and for us. May our worship be a witness, sounding like trumpets for all to hear- the good news is right here, in a community that loves and serves you. We pray this Advent journey would make a path for all of us in the desert, leading us to a way of being in the world that is righteous and good.

God of new life, your power looks like this: the birth of a baby to unwed parents in a stable. In this posture, we humbly pray the words your Son taught us saying, Our Father…

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