Jeremiah 33: 14-16; I Thess 3: 12–4: 2; Luke 21: 25-28, 34-36
Ben Sasse, the Senator from Nebraska, has a new book out entitled, Them: Why We Hate Each Other—And How To Heal. For the record I have not read the book, just articles about the book as well as the free sample on my Kindle. The basic premise, though, for Sasse, is that the problems that divide go much deeper than the political rhetoric that we have become accustomed to hearing. Rather, he says, that the deeper problem facing American society is loneliness. Now it may not necessarily be in the way we use that word, but he goes onto say that there has been so much upheaval and uprooted-ness in our society that we no longer have a grounding. When it comes to technology, our work place, and even our home life, there is so much change that the natural inclination is to turn in on ourselves and the deep pain that often inflicts us. He says that it leaves us wandering as a people, leading to greater suicide and drug addiction because of this deep loneliness that is leaving us uprooted. If we understand that, then we can begin to see different situation and the way many react to them, like globalization or even people crossing into this country, we pull back in fear and anxiety because some are left wondering just how much we can change and be uprooted, losing our grounding as people and losing that sense of community that once defined us.
We don’t have to look far, not even into history books, to find this same reality lived out. The story of wandering and being uprooted is Israel’s story and so ours as well. As a matter of fact, it’s probably more their story than not. We often think we’re the first to go through such an upheaval and it’s just not true. All the prophets we’ll now hear from in Advent and Christmas are going to deliver one message to Israel and that’s of hope. Wandering became a way of life for them, never at home, always feeling uprooted, and more often than not believing that God has left them to wander. Jeremiah gives them that same message today. Here they are, once again in exile and wandering, and it’s gone on longer than they even could have imagined. They are beginning to despair. For hundreds of years they were promised of the new King that would sit on the line of David and that would somehow make everything right after war and exile became the name of the game. Nation stood against nation. Despair and darkness seemed to rule their hearts. You could only imagine that even as Jeremiah proclaims this message of hope, that God would root up a new sprout to bring them hope that it would go on deaf ears. However, exile and wandering is often a necessary part of the journey towards trusting this God that leads them through the darkest moments of their lives. They may not always know where they are going or what this new way of life looks like, but all they can do is learn to let go of all the rest and trust in this God of mystery. We mustn’t give into despair otherwise fear too reigns in our hearts. As Jesus reminds us, tribulations will arise, and they certainly did for Israel, and all one must do is continue to push through in hope and the promise of life will be fulfilled.
It’s also true of the Thessalonians whom Paul writes today. It’s the earliest of his writings to this community, a community as well that finds itself struggling and trying to find its way. Paul’s message is quite simple to them today, and to us for that matter. This is a community that is beginning to see itself fracture, and thinking as insiders and outsiders, us and them, as even Sasse warns us about. They want to cling to a tradition that no longer serves but rather needs to be recreated. Paul reminds them today that the deepest roots you have as community is none of that which passes away in this life; rather, it’s love. Paul reminds them that if they are a community that is rooted in love they will never lose hope in the trial and tribulations that will arise. The problem is they want to be rooted in their politics or even as Church in dogma and doctrine, but if that’s the case we quickly become uprooted. None of that can ground us as people and so we’re left wandering when all else begins to fail us. It begins to feel just as Jesus describes in today’s Gospel, as if everything is in flux and all is being turned upside down and inside out. It’s a painful process of new life. Any parent here can tell us just how painful it is to give birth to a child. It’s no different when God is trying to give birth to a new people, a new nation, a new community that is grounded in something much more, grounded in love.
Advent provides us the time, albeit quick, to pause and recognize our own pain at this time, how it is we may be experiencing that loneliness as well in our lives as God tries to free us to give birth. Fear and anxiety have a way of taking hold of all of our hearts, but more often than not, our way of thinking is what needs to die. It not only has to die; it needs to die quite often, in order for new life to take root. In the process, as Jesus tells us, our heart begin to become drowsy and the darkness of the day begins to set in. How quickly we want to give into despair when we see all the reactions, but more often than not, it’s because we refuse to deal with the real issues, the underlying pain that exists as a human race and that becomes what we cling to the most. It’s often the last gasp we have. In the midst of all of it, just as it is for Israel, we mustn’t lose hope. It is hope that will give us the grace to continue to push through the new life promised. It’s a life not only anticipated at Christmas, but a life that God promises us at this point in our life and at this very moment. We can’t rush it; all we can do is trust. Israel returns from exile and finds its grounding once again, but now in a deeper way. My friends, we are invited to the same. Where are we rooted and even being uprooted in our lives? Sure it may feel fearful and painful, but the promise of life and the hope of the season will see us to the light of a new day.