First Sunday of Advent
November 27, 2016 Extraordinary
O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord.
Last Sunday a few of us at Prince of Peace attended the Interfaith Luncheon sponsored by our neighbors at the Institute of Islamic Studies. Over three hundred people filled the banquet hall at St. David the King Roman Catholic Church.
It was a diverse gathering. Our Muslim hosts welcomed Protestants, Catholics, Jews, and Hindus. I think every religious body in our community was there. In addition there were politicians, business leaders, police, and school administrators. Our local mosque was able to gather our community like no other event I know of.
It was extraordinary.
The theme of the luncheon was: “Celebrate Mercy, Compassion, and Love.” Under that theme tables were asked to engage in conversation. Faith communities were intentionally assigned to different tables to encourage fellowship with those of a different creed. Our table had Lutherans, Presbyterians, Muslims, and Hindus. How often does this happen in our world?
I was the facilitator. At first conversation was awkward. Though neighbors, we were still strangers. But as we grew comfortable, our conversation became honest.
Two of the couples at our table lived in Skillman. One was Muslim. The other Hindu. They both expressed their fear of the last two weeks, and the response of some to the results of the presidential election. Both couple’s children had been harassed at school. Though the children were born in this country, though the families were American citizens, and though they had been attending their school for years; since the election, some of their classmates were embolden to tell these children to “go back to where they came from.”
Samira, the Muslim mother, is surprised by all of this. They had never experienced any discrimination or harassment until last week. She told us, “I was always proud how our community seemed to respect and honor the diversity.”
But now they are afraid. She wonders what it means to now be a Muslim in this country.
As the one wearing the clerical collar, I sensed the table looked to me to respond. I felt somewhat inadequate. I also was surprised and disturbed that these incidents happened so close to home. I emphasized the importance of the luncheon and the support these families received from us. I promised to take this story back to our Ministerium where we would seek a unified voice in condemning such acts.
The families appreciated my words, but I don’t think it made them feel any safer. Though I was heartened after lunch when Samira thanked me and offered her contact information, inviting me and our congregation to grow the seeds of friendship that had been sown.
I was so grateful for this gesture, that in light of everything swirling around us on the national stage; locally, those of us around that table can still seek common ground and support those feeling most vulnerable in these days.
These are extraordinary times.
Appropriate, I think, that today is the first Sunday of Advent; because this is a season that breaks the ordinary.
We share the Revised Common Lectionary with the Roman Catholic Church, but we name the Sundays differently. While Lutherans call the Sundays of summer and fall the “Sundays after Pentecost,” the Roman Catholic Church calls them the “Sundays of Ordinary Time.”
After incarnation, after resurrection; the Sundays in July through November become ordinary.
But this morning Lutherans and the Catholics agree that today is the “First Sunday of Advent.” Once again the church calendar points us in the direction of the incarnation; of God again breaking into our world and becoming one of us.
Maybe we all should name this Sunday the “1st Sunday of Extraordinary Time.”
Our Isaiah text this morning is extraordinary.
The prophet says:
In days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it.
And from that mountain comes the instruction:
God shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares; and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.
These words of Isaiah inspired great works of art, but the problem is that we can’t take him seriously. It’s because most of us most of the time are still living in ordinary time. Ordinary time is real time, actual time. It is the time we experience now. And in this time, hate and aggression towards those who are different, has bubbled to the surface. It is the time of what I heard at the Interfaith Luncheon. It is the time of fear.
In ordinary time we might wonder how peace stands a chance? It is all too clear how swords and spears continue to proliferate. In ordinary time these words of Isaiah seem almost absurd. Experience teaches us, “this will never happen.”
But this is why we come to church today.
On this first Sunday of Advent ordinary time has been taken over by God’s time, and the words of the prophet call people of faith to live it’s vision.
Ralph Klein, professor of Old Testament at the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago, says that God’s time is not linear. We are not progressing towards to some future ideal, where if we just give it another generation or two, all will be well. Ordinary time we will never arrive to the vision Isaiah offers. Instead, Klein says, God’s time breaks ordinary time, where Isaiah’s vision rushes in, to transform us, and invites us to live, today in Isaiah’s vision.
We can’t prevent the racism and Islamaphobia being unleashed within our community. It is the reality of living in ordinary time.
But as people of faith we can allow God’s future to rush in and transform our life today; where at least we as people of faith can seek to beat our swords into plowshares, and our spears into pruning hooks.
Barbara Lundblat, retired professor from Union Seminary in New York, speaks about reading this biblical vision backwards. She says Isaiah is not a Pollyanna prophet, reciting poetry that doesn’t deal with reality. No, Isaiah proclaims the truth of God’s intent. And while we are still burdened by aggression and violence, the readers of Isaiah are invited to embrace his vision, to take the instruction that comes from the mountain of the Lord, and to shape our weapons of destruction into instruments of agriculture that contribute to the abundant harvest.
O house of Jacob come, let us walk in the light of the Lord, today!
I am challenged to walk in this light, as I seek to respond to my neighbors who sat around the table last Sunday afternoon.
There are dark forces unleashed in this world that I can’t push back into a bottle. But I can promise as a person of faith in Jesus Christ, to embrace the vision Isaiah sets forth, and to commit walking in that path.
On this first Sunday of Advent the cycle of ordinary time is broken. Now we are living in extraordinary times. God’s future is rushing in. The Christ Child is transforming how we live.
Come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!