Sunday, November 30, 2014

What Is God's Dream for the World?

November 30, 2014 – Advent 1A
© 2014 Evan D. Garner

Audio of this sermon can be heard here. 

Do you know what I miss? The Sears Wish Book. Three-hundred pages that stir up within every child (and some adults, too) “the ecstasy of unbridled avarice,” to quote one of my favorite Christmas movies.[1] Yes, I know that there is an electronic version that you can download on your smartphone or laptop, but it isn’t the same thing. As a child, getting ready for Christmas meant flipping through the glossy pages of the Wish Book and marking with a pen those things that I really wanted to find under the tree. The New York Times might contain “all the news that’s fit to print,” but the Wish Book is where a child could find every toy that’s worth getting. And, now that I have children of my own, I miss the Wish Book even more—not because I want to indulge my children in the over-materialistic tendencies of our society but because I just want to know what to get them for Christmas.

My parents had it easy. It was right there—in perfect, clear, unmistakable pen. I literally had circled every toy I might want. All they had to do was go through the pages and make a list of the toys I had marked and then decide which parent, grandparent, aunt, or uncle would be responsible for procuring which gift. Many, of course, were discarded as being too dangerous or too expensive. But I had done my part. I had given them all the consumer data they could possibly need. Oh, how I long for those simpler times! Without a centralized resource, Elizabeth and I have to ask and ask and ask again and try to figure out whether today’s answer is merely the result of a commercial our kids saw on television or whether, when weighted against all the other possible toys, the one they seem to want right now is the one they still will want on Christmas Day.

What about you? What are you hoping for? What’s in your Wish Book? Maybe it’s a toy—some thing that you’ve been wanting—like a new gadget or something shiny and sparkly. Or maybe it’s a different sort of wish—a longing for someone instead of something—like someone to come home to, someone to take care of you, or a tiny little someone to bring home from the hospital. Maybe you dream of finding a new job. Maybe you hope to patch things up with someone you love. Maybe you long for a new beginning. Or maybe you wish for a chance to go back and start over. This is the time of year when anything and everything seems possible. Whether true or not, the gap between us and our dreams feels a little bit narrower. As we prepare for Christmas, we dare to allow ourselves to dream of what life could be like if our hopes and wishes were to come true.

But, if you came to church this morning expecting to hear a joyful message of hope—something to warm your heart as you settle into your pre-Christmas dreams—you might be a little disappointed: “In those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.” Happy Advent, y’all.

What’s the deal with Advent? When the rest of the world is getting ready to wrap presents and sing carols and drink cider, why are we in here talking about the end of the world? Doesn’t it feel like something’s wrong? Doesn’t it feel like there’s a substantial disconnect between the mood of our worship and the attitude of everyone else around us? Isn’t this supposed to be the season of hope? Shouldn’t we be talking about our dreams? Shouldn’t we be bringing our hopes to God as we wait for them to be fulfilled?

Well, this is the season of hope. And it is a time for waiting. But we aren’t supposed to be waiting for the fulfillment of our own dreams. That’s what the world waits for. As Christians we are called to an Advent of waiting and watching for the consummation of God’s dreams—God’s hopes for us and for the world.

What is God’s dream for you and your life? That’s a very different question, isn’t it? So often we focus on what we want—for ourselves, for our families, and for those around us. Rarely are we asked to consider what God wants for us and for those we love. But that is what this season of Advent is all about. It is too small a thing for us to limit our hopes and dreams to those things we think would be good for us. We must believe in a God who has the power to set everything right and to make all things new. That is what the coming of God’s kingdom represents. Our hopes, therefore, must mirror God’s hopes, and that means that we must embrace a vision for the future that involves the whole world being turned on its head.

What does God hope for the world? Is it not that the people of west Africa might be set free from the fear of Ebola? Is it not that little girls in Pakistan and Afghanistan and Nigeria and Saudi Arabia have the same access to education and opportunity as the little boys? Doesn’t God dream of a world in which the kids who go to school across the street are just as likely to succeed as those who go to Eastwood and that the kids who ate Thanksgiving dinner here at our church would be able to eat with their families instead of with strangers? Doesn’t God yearn for a kingdom in which black teenagers in hooded sweatshirts don’t have to worry about whether they will be shot because a white police officer is afraid of what he sees? Isn’t that what the kingdom of God is supposed to look like? Isn’t that what we’re supposed to be waiting for and hoping for? What will it take before that dream—God’s dream—for our world is fulfilled?

Jesus said, “In those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.” That is the only way that God’s kingdom will ever become a full reality here on earth—when the power of God shakes everything from its foundations and the whole world gets turned on its head. Until then, the powers of this world stand in the way. And those powers aren’t likely to give up their place until God comes and shakes them loose.

Is that good news or bad news? Well, it depends on what kind of kingdom you’re waiting for. If you’re waiting for God’s kingdom, it’s good news. It’s wonderful news. It means that those who have suffered for the sake of the gospel will be gathered into God’s kingdom and set at peace. It means that the meek shall inherit the earth, that the poor shall become rich, and that the oppressed shall be set free. But, if you’re waiting for a kingdom of your own design, of your own success, of your own power, the apocalyptic vision of God’s coming kingdom should scare you to your core…because, when the powers of this world get turned upside down, those who start out on top end up at the very bottom.

So, again, I ask, “What are you hoping for? What’s in your Wish Book?” Jesus reminds us that as his followers—as citizens of his kingdom and instruments of God’s will—our greatest hope is expressed in the cataclysmic reordering of this world. That is what we are called to long for—for the full coming of God’s kingdom. For God’s people, this is good news. This is very good news. Is it good news for you? What are you watching for? What are you waiting for? What are you hoping for? Are your dreams the same thing as God’s dreams? Amen.

[1] A Christmas Story (1983).

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