We just survived the Thanksgiving holiday – cornucopias, fall harvests, turkey and pumpkin pie, corn stalks, and scarecrows — symbols associated with the holiday we celebrated only seventeen days (and 17 pounds on my
hips!) ago. Even before Halloween and Thanksgiving ended, holiday colors had changed. Orange pumpkin lights were replaced by white or multi-colored twinkling lights.
And now we are rapidly moving to Christmas Eve and the birth of the Christ Child. Frosties begin to adorn yards and rooftops. The Grinch Who Stole Christmas’ inflatable green body, topped with a red Santa hat, sits a few feet away from a lighted, plastic Nativity scene. Halloween candies have been removed from the shelves, replaced by candy canes and red and green wrapped Hershey kisses.
We hear “Happy Holidays!”, and Christmas carols assault our ears everywhere we go.
These four weeks of Advent prior to Christmas Eve are supposed to be a time of reflection and anticipation – waiting for the arrival of that small baby who would save the entire world as an adult. We should have ‘dreams of sugar plums in our heads’ and humming Christmas carols as we move through the days until Christmas.
But in recent weeks, unbelievable acts of violence have become normal. From Paris and Syria to Colorado and California, our nightly news centers on the daily terrorism which has raised our fears. Gun violence has led most of us to wonder aloud whether anything can be done, or if the all world had gone nuts. We have had more mass murders (4,052 as of last week) than we have had days in this year. There are political candidates who want to either stop people from entering the country, branding those who are not ‘Christian’ with numbers, or exporting
anyone who does not look and think like them. We hear from some conservative Evangelicals that the end of the world is not far away.
Instead of anticipation of Christmas Eve, we are shocked and immobilized by the extreme violence and cruelty that we are hearing about every day.
Advent is supposed to be a time of hope – hope for a better world. . . for peace, for justice and for loving one another. And we are halfway through the Advent Season; we should be waiting with anticipation for Christmas – the renewal of the hope for the world.
During this upcoming Christmas season, we had expected to enjoy times with families and friends and festivities and joy. But those expectations have been shattered this year. We could throw our hands up in despair; we could lament over a shattered world. We could grieve what we are losing, the dreams that have been shattered.
Or we could pray fervently for courage and hope.
In Luke 3:7-18, John the Baptist warns those he had just baptized that they were going to face adversity – things were not going to be ‘a bed of roses’. So what might John the Baptist say to us today in the wake of the refugee crisis in Syria, the attacks in Paris and Beirut, mass shootings in Colorado and California, and the daily violence that fills our lives?
John the Baptist does offer us a ray of hope. He had some sound advice for the people of that day and for us too. He did not feel the need to be politically correct; he named the sins of racism and sexism and fear of ‘the other’. And he blamed those responsible for these sins.
But he also said:
- “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” (Luke 3:16)
And with the baptism of the Holy Spirit, God promised us:
- “Never, Never, Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5)
And Jesus, when he sent the disciples out into the world told them, and us:
- “You can be sure that I will be with you always. I will continue with you until the end of the world.” (Matthew 28:20)
So no matter what is going on in the world, no matter how discouraged we may feel, no matter how we are sure the world has forever been changed by the violence and injustice around us, we can be reassured that:
- “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me..” (John 14:1)
We are always in God’s presence and hands, loved as children of God:
- Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. (John 14:27)
Let us pray:
Compassionate God and Father of us all, we are horrified at violence in so many parts of the world. It seems that none are safe, and some are terrified. Hold back the hands that kill and maim, turn around the hearts that hate. Grant instead your strong Spirit of Peace – the peace that passes our understanding but changes lives. Amen.
Delivered at In The Garden, Trinity Episcopal Church on Capitol Square, Columbus, OH; 13 December 2015