An Advent Attention Grabber
I’ll confess that the title is, in part, an attention grabber. My news producer daughter would call it a “teaser.” Since you’re reading this, it evidently worked! But there’s also truth in it.
With the election Donald Trump, we have entered into a new political world. There’s nothing “normal” about this President-elect. In many ways, we are now in uncharted territory; a new world in which Trump will influence the shape of our life together in disruptive and potentially damaging ways.
We are also in Advent. On the church’s calendar, Christmas isn’t here yet. Advent is the season of waiting for something that is yet to come; the time of longing for something that cannot be purchased online or at the mall; the weeks of hoping for a vision that is yet to be fulfilled. People of biblical faith see the birth of Jesus in the context of what God has done in the past, is doing in the present and will accomplish in the future. We live in hope. (Romans 8:19-25)
Living the Vision
I’m just back from Columbus, Ohio, where I spoke on biblical hope to the clergy of the West Ohio Conference. The messages were grounded in Isaiah’s visions of God’s intention for this world which are among the lectionary readings for Advent: Isaiah 2:1-5, Isaiah 11:1-10, Isaiah 35:1-10. (Please take a moment to read them.)
I pointed out that these visions:
- were given to Isaiah in desperate times when everything in the social and political world was stacked against their fulfillment;
- are not esoteric, out-of-this-world visions but are entirely this-world visions of how God intends this world to be and will, in fact, become;
- are consistent with Jesus’ vision of the Kingdom of God coming on earth as it is in heaven; and
- invite faithful people to participate now in their coming.
The hope we affirm in Advent is the assurance that one day God’s saving, redeeming purpose which was revealed in the words, will and way of Jesus will be accomplished in this creation and we can get in on God’s action as we live and act in ways that are consistent with God’s vision.
Advent Hope In “Trump World”
So, what does it mean to be faithful to God’s purpose in the new world into which our recent election is taking us? A time in which the realities of the world around us seem to be stacked against the prophetic vision of peace,harmony, justice for the poor, and the healing of racial and social divisions.
Some people woke up on November 9 ready to celebrate that the new day had come. I’ve seen people on Facebook declare that God intervened and elected Donald Trump. (God might be surprised at that.) Others are still wrestling with disappointment, despair and anxiety. Because both of those responses are very much alive in most United Methodist or mainline congregations, I reminded the pastors of things things that are true to our hope in every time and every culture.
- Wherever you are on the continuum between celebration and despair, let me remind you that God is not a Republican or a Democrat. God does not elect the President; the people do.
- Let me remind you that this nation, as much as we love it, has never been and never will be the Kingdom of God on earth. Like every other nation and culture, our nation stands under both the mercy and the judgement of God. To whom much is given, much is required.
- Let me remind you that according to the New Testament, our primary citizenship is in the Kingdom of God. Our ultimately loyalty is not to the flag, but to the cross.
- Let me remind you that no political party exists in order to be a tangible, flesh and blood, real world expression of the Kingdom of God on earth. That’s the job of the Church. That’s the task to which God calls us!
- Let me remind you that Satan’s most relentless temptation is for the church to align itself with political power. Jesus rejected that temptation in the wilderness. Whenever the church becomes aligned with any political party or power, the gospel always gets lost in the bargain.
- Let me remind you that our task, as partners with God in the coming of the Kingdom, is to hold our nation and our lives accountable to the vision of the prophets and the values of the Kingdom revealed in Jesus Christ. When our nation’s polices or our leaders’ behaviors align with the values of the Kingdom, we give thanks. But when our nation’s policies or our leaders’ behaviors are not consistent with the values of the Kingdom of God, it is our task to call them to account and pray for God’s mercy.
- Let me remind you, in the words of Desmond Tutu, “Victory is assured! Because the death and resurrection of our Savior Jesus Christ declare forever that light has overcome darkness, that life has overcome death, that joy and laughter and peace and compassion and justice and caring and sharing, all and more have overcome their counterparts.”
If we believe that one day the kingdoms of this earth really will become the kingdom of our God and of his Christ;
If we believe that one day swords will in fact be turned into plowshares, spears into pruning hooks and nations shall learn war no more;
If we believe that one day every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord;
If we believe that one day the hungry will be fed, the broken healed, the poor raised up and the powerful brought low;
If we believe that God has invited each us to participate in the coming of that vision, then we have a word of hope that can hold us when everything seems to be coming apart around us.
That’s biblical hope. That’s the stronghold of hope that can hold us prisoner, the kind of hope that can sustain us when everything is stacked against it. It’s the hope of something that is yet to come; the commitment to a vision that is yet to be fulfilled.
The prayer of Advent is always, “Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus.”
Grace and peace,