A Sermon for the Fourth Sunday in Advent (Walter Breuggemann)

“A New World Birthed,” Walter Breuggemann (Dec. 19, 2004)

Each of the Gospel writers begins the Gospel story in a different way, and Matthew does it with this remarkable story of the birth of the baby that is on the lips of an angel in a dream to Joseph. Before that, the part that I didn’t read in Matthew 1, is a long genealogy of 17 begats about father to son, son to son to son, all the way back to Father Abraham. TAngels Attendhe genealogy goes up till Joseph, except that Matthew plays a trick on us, because he traces this royal pedigree, but then at the last minute, in a trick, he tells us that Joseph is not really the father of this new baby, the one we celebrate at Christmas. There are some important things to notice about this narrative of the beginning of the Gospel according to Matthew.

The first thing to notice is that the whole message to Joseph happens at night when he was relaxed and his guard was down. And in the night we are told that the angel came and said to him, “Do not be afraid, for the child in her is from the Holy Spirit.” Now that is a mouthful. It is a mouthful from an angel, a messenger of God, one sent from heaven to earth, a message given from outside, not in human terms, not in earthly terms, not according to Joseph’s normal assumptions. The angel spoke in a dream, not when Joseph was awake and in control. So the first thing to notice as we move in these last days to Christmas is that the expectation of Jesus, according to Matthew, is outside all of our normal categories. Our business is not to explain this text. Our business is to be dazzled at Christmastime that something is happening beyond all of our calculations. This is a baby and a wonder and a gift that is designed to move us beyond ourselves.

The second thing to notice in this story from Matthew is that the baby has no father; and in this family, like every family, it is a scandal when a baby has no father. And Joseph was at the edge of scandal, but that is not the point. The accent, rather, is that the baby is from the Holy Spirit. Now we may set aside all of the silly speculation that has gone on about biological transactions and notice rather than this newness comes because God’s Spirit stirs among us. The Bible is largely a reflection on how God’s Spirit makes things new.

- It is God’s Spirit in Genesis 1 that creates a new world, a new heaven and a new earth. Continue reading

A Sermon for the Third Sunday of Advent (Karl Barth)

Karl Barth, “John 1:1-5 (December 22, 1918)”

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God;all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

The Life was the light of the people. The light shines in the darkness….” We live from this truth. This light shiningshining light is like the air we breathe; we live from it without thinking about it. All that we know and have that is joyful, beautiful, and beloved comes from this shining light. But, like children who reject their parents, we can be ungrateful and forget the source from which we receive the best we have. Yet the source never ceases to flow, and we never cease to drink from it. We can indeed sit in a corner with the minuscule light of our own wisdom and righteousness, and act as if this little light were the only right one in the world, the one that should illuminate God and all other human beings. Even such minuscule lights would have no brightness at all, if it were not for that great shining light; without knowing it, we have kindled our little lights from that light….This shining light is given, and we live from it.

The light shines. We may hear this as a message of joy, good news, gospel for us and the whole world. We may proclaim it courageously and defiantly against all the darkness of our time; against the darkness in our own hearts, in our community, in our hospitals, mental institutions, and prisons; against the darkness in our conversations with one another and in the newspapers that we read; against all the darkness that darkens so many sickbeds and the beds of the dying; and against the pernicious darkness of our social conditions. Without hesitation we may proclaim against all darkness: the light shines. It remains true to itself; it remains what it is even in the deepest darkness, and that is why it shines. Because it is true, we may be courageous and defiant. There is no reason to doubt and despair, to give up, to think only somber and hopeless thoughts about ourselves, our community, and today’s world…..The light shines. This is what must be and remain most important, over against all that is otherwise true, all that otherwise occupies and fills our minds and hearts and causes us to be burdened with care. Continue reading

A Sermon for the Second Sunday of Advent (Rowan Williams)

Rowan Williams, “Advent: A University Sermon

Advent pulls the imagination in two directions. We turn our minds to the universal longing for God Rowan_Williams_1110959cthat is given voice in the Jewish scriptures, the yearning towards the ‘desire of all nations'; in the cycle of the great Advent antiphons that begin with O Sapientia on 16 December, the phrase come twice, in the sixth and seventh texts: O Rex gentium, ‘O King of nations and their salvation’. Christmas is the moment of recognition, the moment when what we have always secretly known is set out in plain and freshly terms. And at the same time, “Woe unto you who desire the day of the Lord” and “Who may abide the day of his coming? For he is like a refiner’s fire.” … Christmas is a beauty that is the beginning of terror: the Burning Babe, who has come to cast fire upon the earth, Before his presence, the idols fall and shatter.

In other words, Advent is about the essential ambiguity of our religiousness. We live, as human beings, in an enormous hunger to be spoken to, to be touched, to be judged and loved and absolved. We live – at some level – in the awareness that there are things we cannot do for ourselves. No human being alone can teach himself or herself language; no human being alone can know himself or herself loved. And the whole human race alone cannot assure itself of its worth or interest, its dignity and lovableness, its responsibility. When no reality over against us pronounces a word of judgement or a word a word of affirmation, how do we know we are worth judging? The twentieth century has been in full flight from certain conceptions of personal morality, but what age has ever suffering from so acute an awareness of collective responsibility? Who shall absolve us from the guilt of the Holocaust? Colonialism? The Enlightenment? The failure of the Enlightenment? Who could absolve us from the guilt of a nuclear catastrophe? The appalling moral anxiousness of our age is an oblique recognition that the human being as such waits to hear something; and when we have collectively denied the possibility of hearing something from beyond our corporate culture, we expose ourselves to deep worries about our humanness. [...]

We long to know we are addressed. And this is where the ambiguity comes in: we fantasize about what such an address might be; we project on to the empty space before us the voices we need to hear. Close Encounters of the Third Kind remains a haunting fiction – a story of extra-terrestrial visitation in which the ‘aliens’ turn out to have the ghostly shapes and faces of our lost childhood. The menacing stranger is, after all, only our forgotten innocence. It is a striking secular parody of the Christmas story, and one that points up the questionableness of our desire. What if our longing to hear a word spoken to us from beyond simply generates a loud echo of our need to be told we are all right, we have never fundamentally gone astray, we have never really left an undifferentiated Paradise? [...] Continue reading

A Sermon for the First Sunday of Advent

Guest Post: Zen Hess

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Banksy

Christmas has become a time where children eagerly anticipate the day of gift giving.  Maybe better, they eagerly anticipate gift receiving.  It becomes quite ingrained in a young child’s memory that there is one day in the year where there will be a whole lot of presents and all they had to do was not burp or fart at the dinner table.

I recall hardly sleeping many Christmas Eve nights.  It seemed like I could hardly keep my eyes closed.   Unlike some, I believed in Santa for many of my childhood years.  My memories are steeped with nights of worthless sleep as I peered out my western window, seeing a tower’s light flashing in the distance.  Every year I convinced myself that that light was Santa’s sleigh coming to town.  I just knew it was getting closer every minute.  Then, sleep would wash over my youthful exuberance, like wave of unconsciousness from which I would wake to the noise of Christmas wreaths banging against my window – certain that it was Santa upon my roof.  I would tip-toe to my sister’s room.  “Did you hear that?” I would ask.  “He’s here! He’s on the roof!”  Together, arm in arm, as quietly as we could, we would creep down the steps and peek around the corner of our stairwell wall.  There would be crumbs from the cookies we had left, or perhaps a half chewed carrot from the year we tried to help Santa become healthier, and presents were scattered about the family room.

As I grew up, I became aware of the falsity of the American Christmas story; though my ma still puts “From: Santa” on some of the presents that she wraps for us.  Maybe it’s her way of telling us not to give up on something so magnificent as a man who would share so abundantly to all the world.

In reading this week’s Scriptures, I found it hard not to feel the milieu of expectation, perhaps excitement at the coming of the Lord, such as that I had for the coming of Santa.  Appropriate for the first readings in the church’s season of Advent.  Continue reading