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Belmont United Methodist Church in Belmont Massachusetts

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Going Toward What Is Coming - Rev Wimmer - November 29, 2009 - Jeremiah 33:14-16


Going Toward What is Coming (Advent) November 29, 2009
Jeremiah 33:14-16
Every year, it seems, we hear the lament that the Christmas season starts too early. I suspect it is the takeover of Christmas by commercial interests that is really bothering us when Christmas begins to appear in October, but even within the church I can remember for years being careful not to do too much Christmas during Advent and I really believed it for a while until recently when it dawned on me that Advent really isn’t a season that stands on its own. Even its name points to Christmas. Advent literally means going toward what is coming. It is a beautiful name. It is a description of what is happening in human history. We are going toward what is coming and someday all that is going and all that is coming will meet and all the promises of God will be fulfilled. Keeping quiet about Christmas during Advent no longer makes sense to me. For me the most exciting time of Christmas is the waiting, the going toward, the expectation, the promise. Advent is the time of the waiting, the longing, and the going toward what is coming. If we wait too long we might miss it as what is going and what is coming pass in the night like strangers once again.
I think some of us have experienced that desperate excitement of waiting for Christmas to come as children and the major letdown when it did come and was over and done. What we missed of course was the enduring quality of Christmas, the hope that is never over and done, the return in another cycle of Christmas, not just the day but the idea that all will be right in the world one day. As children we had mistaken the presents for Christmas and as wonderful as they were they could never quite match the anticipation of them. They never could, but the promise of what is coming to meet us, the promise of what we are going toward that is coming to us, the promise of Christmas, is that when the going and the coming finally meet we will not be disappointed, our expectations will be exceeded for what is coming, the promise of God, is, most likely, more than we even know how to expect.
Advent for me before it is anything else is a promise. Jeremiah’s word is just that, a promise. It is the promise that things will be made right, that justice and righteousness will rule and people will be safe. It is the promise of what is coming. The promise of Christmas that is the central message of Advent is that all that is wrong will be made right. Think about that for a moment: All that is wrong will be made right. What is coming is justice and righteousness and not just any justice but God’s justice and not just any righteousness but the righteousness of God. What is different is this: the righteousness of God is not about doing what is right just to be right. In the righteousness of God we do what is right because we love God. God’s righteousness is about the relationship, the covenant between God and people, in which God loves us and we, in turn, love God, and when we love God, we do what is right because we love God. (Some of you may remember the famous statement of St. Augustine; Love God and do what you want, the idea being that if you love God what you want is what God wants of you.) What is right is what God’s love does. Righteousness and justice are not just what God does, they are who God is and God is what God does and God does what God is. We call that integrity. There is integrity in God and so when we hear of God’s justice we know that we are also talking about God’s love and so we can be assured that God judgment is predicated in God’s love. God’s righteousness is God’s justice and God’s justice is God’s righteousness and the promise that Jeremiah makes when he comes out with this amazing word (I’ll tell you why it’s amazing in a moment) the promise is that the creation is to be whole as God is whole. We will know the integrity that God always knows. We will do who we are and be what we do. And it will be what God wants, what God made us to be and to do in the first place. And all the going and coming will meet and know each other again for the first time.
This word from Jeremiah is kind of amazing because until this moment, the prophetic word about what is coming has not been something to celebrate but to fear. And Jeremiah of all people was one of the saddest prophets of all and that is saying something. And this is not because the prophets were sad but because the truth they had to say about us was sad and never seems to get any better for that is the prophets’ job? to tell the truth. Jeremiah was the Eeyore of the prophets and somehow it is he who comes out with this and perhaps it is just as well because it is clear that he is not making this up. This is not what Jeremiah would be expected to come up with. He was well known for the truth but the truth had so often been bad news (so bad in fact that people would see Jeremiah coming and head for the exits) that this remarkable good news was truly amazing. I mean people were amazed. What can this mean? Are we to be glad? Is that Ok, now?
With this promise there is always hope. This fact cannot be overstated. It is everything to us, to humankind. Hope is the breath of life. It is the song in our heart that keeps us risking everything for love. We cannot live any kind of good life without hope, hope of the deepest kind, the kind that goes toward what is coming with something more than determination, something we might call joy on a good day, or, in our more fragile moments, we might recall the poet’s gentle word:
Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all.
Advent is not Christmas but Advent exists because Christmas is coming again and everything that Christmas means to us and to the world of the hope that all that is wrong will be made right. Christmas is not just a date on the calendar; it is a place in the heart. It is light in the darkness. It is the love that overcomes hate, the life of God that overcomes the death of the world. It is Ok to start thinking about Christmas especially if in doing so the light comes on in us again, the hope that all is not so lost as it seemed and that no matter what else the world is, it is a place that needs our love as much as ever; it is the place where we are finding ourselves in love with God again for the first time. We are going toward what is coming and all of the going and coming is bringing us to a new day of justice and righteousness where the poor are safe and full and the brokenhearted are healed and at peace, where weapons of war are turned into plowshares and the abundant bounty of God’s sweet creation is gladly shared by all. I am not making this up. It is all in the Book, the Book where the prophets tell the truth into being so that we can live as if what is promised has already happened, so that we can go toward what is coming with confidence that what is coming has already come and will come again and some day we will all see it together. Thanks be to God.


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Belmont United Methodist Church is a Certified Welcoming Congregation


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