Hark! A thrilling voice is sounding: “Christ is nigh,” it seems to say; “Cast away the works of darkness, O ye children of the day.” Yes my friends once again the liturgical year has commenced with Advent’s clarion call to embark upon that ancient adventure that plunges us as it were into the dark and inky blue abyss of winter’s long and cold night to grope for the “Rope of Heaven Hope.”
Groping and grasping for the strands of a “Rope of Hope” is not only the byword for those of us who are called “baptized believers.” But, as recent days have proved it is the mighty mission that is marching and making its way onto our world scene.
I don’t know how many of you have kept up with the “peace talks” that took place on Tuesday at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland between Israelis and Palestinian leaders Olmert and Abbas. Those meetings which were called in the hope of setting the ground- work for the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel and a lasting peace by 2009 were described by some as pensive at best. For many there were doubts to whether the peace talks would bring about any positive results at all. In the West Bank some Palestinians purple as it were with passion protested angrily about what they called a sell- out by a weak and compromised Palestinian leadership. “The Palestinian people will not be bound by anything the Palestinian Authority agrees to in Annapolis.” On the Israeli side there were equal numbers of demonstrators who were indigo with indignation as they carried signs that read “Hands off Israel” and described the meeting as a “summit of low expectations.”
However, on Tuesday evening Secretary of State Condaleezza Rice said: “The Annapolis conference has been the beginning, not the end, of a serious and substantive effort to achieve peace in the Middle East. This work will be hard; it involves risks and sacrifices for all concerned. To be sure, the issues to be resolved by both parties are very challenging however, difficult to resolve does not mean impossible to resolve.” The hope of a lasting peace it seems is the name of this game.
And that was the name of the game that the poet-writer of Isaiah found himself thrust into. Israel with its northern kingdom had been destroyed by the Assyrian armies of Shalmaneser V and Sargon II. To the south Judah with its capital city Jerusalem, had been spared but only due to the fact that it felt it was in its best interest to cohort with Assyria. Jerusalem was to be the locus of national pride, self- sufficiency, and self- serving religion. But, at the time of Isaiah, Jerusalem lived and flourished, or suffered at the behest of the great powers. It is against that present shabbiness, the poet imagines a majestic future for the city.
In spite of the judgment that the prophet pronounces on the vineyard of Israel, the people of Judah, and above all the rulers he “sees” an eschatological vision for Jerusalem that looks to a new day beyond the present dismay to what will be. In that “new day” characterized by Isaiah all nations will live in a universal cosmic peace. “They will beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks.” God will be the international arbitrator and judge of all conflicts and disputes and all of the nations will come to Mount Zion elevated above the hills to be instructed in the ways of the Lord.
The hopes and promises for that Utopic society envisioned by God for the nations were not and have not been fulfilled in their entirety or realized in their fullness. Warfare still goes on. Resources are still being used to build instruments of war rather than fostering universal peace and well being and we have become impatient waiting for that long expected day when all will be set aright. The truth is we need to take some words of advice I saw on the bumper-sticker of a car this week “Jesus is coming back look busy.”
Part of that busy work is remaining vigilant and waiting patiently for that “new day,” to become a reality for which God alone knows.
The Gospel lesson brings to our attention that even if the future is far off and the Parousia seems to be delayed like an airplane trying to leave O’Hare Airport on Christmas Eve, God is still with us. For Matthew reminds us that Jesus is Emmanuel God with us. He is with us when two or three are gathered in his name. He is Emmanuel God with us in bread and wine. He is Emmanuel God with us at the end of the age but, is also with us until that time. The tragedy is when, like men and women in the days of Noah, people are too absorbed with the ordinary pursuits of shopping, wrapping presents, mailing cards, baking cookies – in short getting ready for Christmas in ways that do not necessarily include noticing the moment when Emmanuel God being with us arrives.
My friends, Christ has come, is here and will come. For he makes himself known in peace agreements between nations, in the breaking of the bread, and in the lighting of this Sunday’s candle on the Advent wreath which seeks to not only banish the darkness of our hearts and minds but, hopes too for the Savior’s love to be shared with our friends and to cover the world.
~ Advent Sermon Originally Delivered by the Reverend Joseph C. Alsay at Trinity Episcopal Church - Tulsa, 2009