Scripture: Jeremiah 33:14-16; Psalm 25:1-10; 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13; Luke 21:25-36
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
As I said earlier, it is good to be back with you. I am renewed from time spent in rest, reflection and time with colleagues. And the incredible sights of Arizona I visited - most striking were the red rocks around Sedona. I have more of a write up in the December newsletter about my time away.
Today, we begin the season of Advent. The first Sunday of the church’s year. And we begin by waiting and watching. Christ is coming in history, majesty and mystery. We journey with Mary and Joseph this month, but it’s not just about Jesus being born in history. It’s about waiting for Jesus to return in majesty. And it’s about the mystery of how we glimpse the return of Christ right now.
Imagine for a moment that today was the first day someone ever came to church. Let’s take a quick look at the passage from Luke again. Wow! That language sounds scary, intimidating! Right? Raging storms, trembling, distress and more.
Jesus is talking about the return of the Son of Man to the earth - a return in majesty. There will be signs and what seems like a lot of turmoil and destruction. In other places, these signs and warnings are talked about as birthpangs. Those who have given birth or witnessed childbirth know the distress involved in bringing new life into the world - it may feel scary, and intimidating and terrifying. And yet, in ideal circumstances, it brings forth new life. (quick aside, I learned recently that any pregnancy over 20 weeks involves labor, even if the child is stillborn. The only childbirth that is silent is if the child is dead.)
And we have the promise from Jesus that "this generation" to whom he is speaking, will not pass away until they see the word of the Lord promised. But they did die, right? Yes. And so, because God's word is true, they must have experienced both the turmoil and also experienced the joy & presence of the Lord, the coming of the kingdom of Gof. That is true now. That was true then. The first pangs of righteousness are birth pangs again and again. Faced with the turmoil of the world, we opt to live in the kingdom of God - choosing joy, hope and love in the face of whatever lies before us. Christ’s triumph over death and the grave means righteousness, justice, peace and joy are coming into the world now.
Last year, we journeyed through Advent with The Chronicles of Narnia, with The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe specifically. And this year we are going to journey through Advent with voices from our Global Church partners in the devotions from ELCA World Hunger. These are devotion books available for each household to take home. We'll touch on the stories here and in conversation, and it is then there for you to carry into your week. For those viewing online, we have left copies of the devotion booklet at each church for you to pick up and an electronic copy has been sent in the weekly email. Let me know if we need to mail one to you.
Week one, we hear the story of Charity Toksang, an expectant mother in South Sudan. Charity has walked miles through the night in hopes of delivering her child at the Reconciliation Lutheran Church Primary Health Care Clinic, on the outskirts of Juba, South Sudan. The care center is a project of the Evangelical Lutheran Church Africa Mission in South Sudan (ELCAMSS), which is supported by ELCA World Hunger.
“For Charity Toksang, ELCAMSS' Reconciliation Lutheran Church Primary Health Care Clinic provided a layer of assurance. Without transportation, getting to another facility would have been nearly impossible. With her husband out of work and few financial resources, the cost of care would have created a tremendous burden, one that Charity and her family would have borne for a long time. The care center helped her to address both challenges, yet there is more to be done. Even with the care center outside Juba, Charity still faced significant risks.
If her labor had progressed too quickly ...
If her delivery had been complicated ...
If she had not known to seek care when she did …”
We would be hearing a different story.
“Accompanying our neighbors in their struggles with hunger means entering into their stories of strength amid vulnerability and working together to end insecurity.
“To respond to the challenges of hunger, we must understand the real ways in which hunger impacts our lives. Images of empty plates or emaciated physical bodies were once commonly used to generate concern about hunger. But hunger takes many other forms that need to be confronted. To end hunger we must recognize the ways hunger is reflected in multiple layers of vulnerability. We must focus on the "insecurity" part of "food insecurity" as much as, if not more than, the "food" part.
“Charity's walk to the clinic, in some ways, mirrors our journey during Advent. In these weeks, we walk with another expectant couple, Mary and Joseph, as they travel toward Bethlehem, eagerly awaiting the birth of Jesus and praying to find shelter before he arrives. We walk, too, with the whole of God's people through history, in hopeful expectation of the salvation God has promised. For some, that means the brightness of a day that dawns in hope. For others, it means a welcome night of rest from their labors. For all, it means that God is with us, drawing us toward a future when we "will be saved and ... live in safety."”
You may read a bit more of Charity’s story and reflect on a few more reflection questions in the full devotion.
For today, I'm focusing on the first question in the devotion: what are your hopes for the future? What are you hoping for?
Take a moment and think - write it down. If you want to, talk with the person next to you. And if you're having a hard time coming up with something, it may be that it is hard for you to hold hope for something - and if so, I encourage you to tell a friend about that. Because one of the gifts of Christian community is holding hope for one another - the assurance of what cannot be seem doesn't come from you alone.
One hope I have heard is a yearning for when people will start “coming back” to church. We know this isn’t just a pandemic thing, right? We have been experiencing the birthpangs of change in churches for the past 15 years. The church isn’t dying, it’s changing. This concrete, this wood, this building isn’t the church - we are the church - the people. Instead of focusing on who's here in person, we get to ask: How are people living their faith in their daily lives? You and I are both ministers - all of us - all ages. How is our time as a gathered community strengthening you and others for your ministry in your daily life?
What are you hoping for? Where is a place you may feel turmoil and confusion and need the strength of God and our community to help you choose hope?
Protector God, you journeyed with your people Israel in their flight from Egypt, providing food, water and shelter when they were needed. You guided Mary and Joseph to the stable and led the holy family to safety from Herod's violence. Be with us today as we face uncertainty, fear and risks both known and unknown. Comfort us, protect us and inspire us with hope for the future you have promised. Equip us to care for one another and all our neighbors, that all may know the joy of life abundant. In your holy name, we pray. Amen.
Rev. Elizabeth Bier is the pastor of ONE in Christ Parish, a three-point parish in Greenwood, Longwood, and Withee. She is ordained with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) and has served the ONE in Christ Parish since February of 2019.Profile
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