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Arms Wide Open: a sermon for the First Sunday of Advent, by Elaine Thomas

advent candles

I was touched by this sermon by my friend and priest, Elaine Thomas, and wanted to share a portion of it with you all. When you want to see loving justice done, you never get to stop thinking, processing, or doing. And it 's exhausting and disorienting. It can make you feel like you will never be able to do enough. 

During this season of Advent, we're asked to sit with our fatigue and our sorrow, but we're also asked to hope - and to work to make the world better. It's up to us and we won't give up.

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If you came to church this morning, this First Sunday of Advent, looking for happiness and joy and preparing to see the baby Jesus, I imagine you’re getting a sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach about now.

In fact, you know how all those people think what we really need to do is to put Christ back in Christmas? Well, today, we put the Apocalypse back in Advent. 

There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see 'the Son of Man coming in a cloud' with power and great glory. (Luke 21:25-27)

Nope, not a lot of sweet baby Jesus in that, is there?

In truth, Advent can be a confusing time. The world tells us it’s one thing – getting ready for Christmas – while the Church tell us it’s that plus something else. And it’s that something else that we’re about today.

...stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near. (Luke 21:28)

We are in the in-between time when Christ has come and yet is coming, an ongoing cycle of God being made known in the world in the first advent of incarnation and in the yet-to-be second coming of Christ to redeem the world. This liminal space, this threshold, can be disorienting, because all that we think that we know – Jesus was born, lived, healed, told stories, was crucified, died, was buried, and rose again – this is the story we’ve just completed. Some of us have lived this story in the life and liturgy of the church many, many times. And yet here we are, once again.

You might well be asking “why?” Why do we have to repeat this story over and over again?

The answer, it seems to me, is pretty clear: we haven’t gotten it right just yet. If we are participants in the creation of God’s reign on earth, then we only have to look around us to see just how far we still have to go.

The ‘distress among the nations” to which Jesus refers in our gospel could be taken to mean any number of the countries on our globe – Syria, Sudan, Burundi, Israel-Palestine, Afghanistan, Iraq, Nigeria. The list goes on and on.

We are not immune. The latest terror unleashed by the so-called Islamic State hit a bit too close to home when diners and party-goers in Paris were indiscriminately targeted. Also close to home was the not-so-indiscriminate terror at a Planned Parenthood clinic two days ago.

We have witnessed a sharp uptick in the level of fear and anxiety in our country of late, and, as so often happens with fear and anxiety, it manifests itself in destructive ways.

Since the killing of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman almost four years ago, racial tensions have been simmering and, in some instances, boiling over. This week, we had reported white supremacists firing on crowds of people protesting the death of yet another black man at the hands of police.

Syrian refugees have so feared for their lives that they have taken their families and boarded rickety boats, willing to risk all that they have – even their very lives – to escape their war-torn country.

The vitriol and judgment and fear of these refugees has been an eye-opening challenge to me as a priest and pastor and human being.

We can sit here and argue until the cows come home over interpretation of certain passages of scripture. We can debate what the bible says about sex and sexuality and the role of women in leadership, and good and faithful people debate these things all the time. What is not open to debate is this – scripture is consistent throughout, Old Testament as well as new, that we are to welcome the stranger.

This frenzy of fear that has so hardened the hearts of so many is contrary to the most fundamental commandment of God: love your neighbor.

From the depth of my being, I would rather die with my arms wide open than live with my fists clenched shut...

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Read or listen to the rest here. 


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