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Advent is Hope – Fresh new beginnings

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Second Sunday of Advent – December 10, 2017

Ezekiel 37:1-14 and John 11:25-26

As we try to grasp this week’s Advent reading, one can’t help but ask, what’s up? Last week we started out Advent season in the book of Daniel in the middle of a raging fire and now we’re taken to a bone yard? This is beginning to feel more like Halloween than Christmas.

And yet, just like last week, it’s clear that the people who work out the narrative lectionary are just trying to be real with us. With Daniel, they were honest about what hope requires of us: serious courage and risk. Now, with Ezekiel, they invite us to talk frankly about what hope is up against. Darkness, despair, grief and brokenness are real and deep. It doesn’t help anyone to sugarcoat it with the idea that a few Christmas carols and a cup of warm cider by the fire will fix it. The work of hope is much harder than that. We know it. They know it. So they are helping us have a real and un-sentimentalized conversation about it.

And work indeed is what this passage is all about. Mentally it’s work to come to grips with this reality. When given a story of a vision about bones coming back to life, it’s tempting to think the passage is simply about the size of the hope that is in store for us. But reading it carefully, we see that it is really about the size of the work that is in front of us. There is no doubt that God does a lot and promises a lot in this passage. But what sticks out is how much God calls Ezekiel to do. And by proxy, how much God calls us to do. Ezekiel is called to responsibility and we are too. The enormity of this work sets us all on the back of our heels. Forget all our mild talk about enhancing and enriching people’s lives. This story about the land of dry bones is telling us that the work of the church is no less than bringing people back from the dead! Doesn’t that point towards the promise of eternal life after death? If Advent is about preparation, then this story is clearly telling us to prepare for work that is a matter of life and death. Take note, it says. Christianity is no mere hobby one can do on the weekend. It is work of the most serious – and sacred – kind.

So yes, we need this Advent warning. We need to know, right here at the start of it all, that if we want to lean into Christian hope, we need to be prepared to head to the bone yard, where big work and big hopes are.

Today, we begin our big work by taking some time to reflect upon some important questions:

– Are you sure it’s a graveyard you are in? What if the darkness that surrounds you is not the darkness of the tomb, but instead the darkness of the womb? Darkness is the place of pregnancy not just the home of death. Sometimes it’s easy to get them confused. So could it be that Life is not trying to put you to rest but instead – like any good midwife – calling you to “breathe and push”?

– Have you joined the dry land of zombies without noticing it? Have you joined the ranks of the living dead? In other words, have you settled for a life of surviving rather than thriving? Has routine rather than passion become your driving force?

– Bones are useless unless they are connected to each other. Is God calling you to come back to life through connection? Are you ready to notice how much your isolation is costing you?

– There are other dry bones out there rattling around alone. Have you been too busy to notice their need to connect? Who needs you to reach out to so they can come back to life?

– Could it be that hope works one step at a time? Have you been expecting new life to come all at once? Are you really hopeless or just impatient?

– Might your first step be to simply breathe? Have you tried to begin your journey back without first catching your breath? Sometimes new life starts with rest. Have you given yourself that gift?

– The Hebrew word for breath is “ruach.” It can mean either breath, wind, or spirit or in a sense all three of them. We all know that passage about no one being able to live by bread alone. But have you been trying to do just that? Might hope be calling you to make as much time for spirit as you do for “bread”?

– Do you need to release yourself from the guilt of not being able to bring some of these bones back to life? Even God couldn’t make the bones live without them deciding on their own to stand up.

– Transforming a skeleton is one thing; transforming the entire graveyard is another. But the rule of small steps applies just as much. Have you forgotten that the world also changes through the power of many consistent and persistent small steps? Are you sure you are hopeless about today’s political environment or just impatient?

– Is living hopefully devoid of pain? No, living hopefully means residing squarely inside of pain, naming it as real and still saying to it ‘You’re not the only story to tell.’”

“How could we possibly celebrate Advent if we are paying attention to this world? How do we make merry when our hearts are broken by Paris, by Syria, by Kenya, by Beirut, by Japan, by Cameroon, by Sierra Leone. When, in response to every crisis, our communities seem splintered and divided in how to respond, and careless words are flung like rocks at our own glass houses? When, closer to home, perhaps we are lonely or bored or tired or sick or broke? In these days, celebration can seem callous and uncaring, if not outright impossible. But here’s the thing about Advent: we celebrate precisely because we are paying attention. It’s precisely because everything hurts that we prepare for Advent now. We don’t get to have hope without having grief…”

Christ chooses to be among us not in the grandeur of a temple but in the rough stable of our real lives. The words of the psalms and the prophets that lead us toward Christmas are not happy congratulations, but the lament of the poor, the longing for redemption. The cry of the oppressed, the song of the widow, the silence of the people searching for the way, this is the song of Advent. This is the world that God enters into, in order to accompany, to bless, to heal, to change.

“Hope begins in the dark, it’s a stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work!” Anne Lamott

 

Main source: www.faithworksgroups.com

 

Copyright 2017 – Heinrich Grosskopf, Minister of Dayspring Presbyterian Church and Heather Tansem, Elder at Dayspring Presbyterian Church

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