Sermon for the 1st Sunday in Advent - December 2 2018

Sermon for the 1st Sunday in Advent, Year C
December 2, 2018
The Rev. Evelyn Wheeler, Rector

Jeremiah 33:14-16; Psalm 25:1-9; 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13; Luke 21:25-36

Such an apocalyptic vision we have today!

Personally, I prefer not to grapple with this kind of thinking. As an interested observer of planetary and human history, I know that disasters can always be found - volcanoes, floods, landslides, plagues, wars, earthquakes, tsunamis, fires... So many potential disasters to choose from!

We've seen plenty of these things throughout human history, and in our own life times.

None of them have threatened the end of the human race, much less all life on this planet.

Until now. We are still learning about the extent of damage we have done to the planetary biosphere. For some reason, our brains do not contemplate, do not notice, and certainly do not fathom the depth and extent of that damage. Just this past Wednesday the New York Times published a long article on crashing insect populations. It started out mildly enough - the author said he never gets insects dying on his windshield any more. So he started poking around, and found numerous research projects, carried out over decades, frequently by "citizen scientists," that found not only a few species of insects like honey bees but thousands are affected by steep population declines - in fact the mass - that is the actual weight of insects - has decrease by 40 to 60% over just a few decades. Pesticide use, habitat destruction, climatic changes all have an impact, and it's a much greater impact than we ever suspected or even noticed.  Short of another huge asteroid impact, that is.

Human activity is at the root of all these stressors. And that's just the insects. Their demise is precipitating the loss of insect-eating animals, toads, frogs, fish, birds, anteaters... Their demise is also threatening crops. In China, orchardists now have to hire laborers to pollinate apple blossoms, because there are no bees or bugs to do it. What happens when we have no food?

There are many other biotic losses - fish, whales, corals, bison, wolves – directly attributable to what is coldly termed "over-harvesting."

In short, my friends, extinctions are happening every day, and we don't even see it. The biological systems that sit at the base of the food chain are breaking down.

And that's a bigger threat to our survival than all the volcanoes, floods, fires, and earthquakes combined, because this one threat reaches everywhere, destroying life on earth as we know it, and clearly, we don't know it very well, and the destruction is worse than we know.

Now THAT begins to sound like the end of everything that Jesus was talking about. We may have survived a lot, but this mass extinction event cuts across all orders and phyla, and there is no reason to suppose humans will be immune to its effects.  

Already climate-change-driven factors have brought famine and disease to hundreds of thousands of people.  

Disputes over water rights are the instigators of conflicts in the every continent - including ours. Just ask the Lakota people in the Dakotas.  Just ask the people in Detroit, or the Colorado River water shed.

And all of these changes and more are mostly caused or exacerbated by human choices, mean that those who, like me, have scorned these passages, are now forced to reckon with them.

Because now, it looks like we might actually have some serious problems coming down the pike.

What are we to make of that?

The prophet Jeremiah lived during the years leading up to and during the great exile, when Babylon captured and subjugated Judah, the king and people, and destroyed Jerusalem and the temple, and took thousands – rulers, merchants, traders, artisans – into Babylon.  There were two stages to this process – first Nebuchadrezzar had captured the old king, and installed a puppet, Zedekiah, but when Zedekiah began plotting with Babylon’s rival Egypt, Babylon returned with armies and devastated everything and everyone.

Jeremiah’s intended audience was the people who were being sent into exile.  To those people, the impending arrival of the Babylonian armies cast them into great fear and despair; it seemed likely to be the end of everything.

Now, most of us have faced and dealt with hardship and loss of a more-or-less personal nature:  getting fired, losing people we love to death, financial crises; and most of us have known fear.  But fewer of us have lost everything – home, family, community, nation, people … future – and fewer still have been part of a community like Judah that has lost everything, including, they must have thought, the love of God. 

Whatever our losses, though, there are always things we can do, to make sure we survive and even to thrive again.

Sometimes that movement requires fundamental changes – and that’s one of the points Jeremiah and Ezekiel, the prophet in Babylon, were trying to make.

The whole structure of Judah’s society was going to have to change.

The people asked, “How can we sing the Lord’s song in an alien land?” (Psalm 137).  One way was to sing the songs of God’s love and care for them, to recall and remember their whole history as a people.

This is the time when the ancient legends – Adam, Noah, Abraham, and the stories of the Exodus from Egypt, were written down: the orally-transmitted memories might have been weakening; writing things down would preserve them.

They had to learn new things, too:
They had to learn how to maintain community ties under extreme pressure.

They had to learn how to worship God without a Temple.

They had to learn God still cared for them and was there for them.

They had to learn how to define their future.

They had to learn – first and foremost – how to hope.

It was hope that gave them the strength to look back at their ancient, and recent, history.

It was hope that gave them the courage to face their own mistakes and bad choices.

It was hope that gave them the wisdom to make new and better choices, so they could sing the Lord’s song in a strange land, so they could remember who they were, so they could plan for the future … so they could make the changes that would move them from merely surviving to abundantly thriving. 

Hope was Jeremiah’s gift to them.

When it appears – whenever it appears – that “the end is near,” hope is our only hope.

Jeremiah knew that.  Jesus preached that.  God certainly knows that.

And so we are given the promises of restoration and renewal and rebirth – of resurrection – of re-creation.  Over and over and over again.

There are lots of examples in the histories recorded in Scripture.

But here’s my final point for today:

God gives us reason to hope, if we use it, if we pick it up and dig deep into it, to fill ourselves up with that hope, and get to work

To check our history.  To check our mistakes.  To check our bad choices. 

And make better ones:

For our own sakes, for our community’s sake, for our nation’s sake, for our earth’s sake.

This earth, this nation, this community, these people, this “me” – because God loves the whole of it and us and me.

Jesus came out of love, not judgment.  He came that we might have life, and have it abundantly.  Maybe we should ask ourselves what that means?

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