Year A, Advent 1
December 1st, 2013
Riding Out the Flood
Isaiah presents this beautiful image of peace and my heart stirs with longing. “In the days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it.” Ah, if that could happen, what a wonderful thing it would be! People would be streaming in the same direction and there would be no problems between them. “Many peoples shall come and say, ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.’” Doesn’t that feel wonderful? Picture it, many peoples coming together not to throw somebody out, put somebody down, or maintain power over someone but to go up together to that which is higher than us all. It reminds me of the new pope’s message that is spreading hope and joy throughout the world. What if instead of streaming toward the mall on Black Friday, hoping to placate our restlessness and losses with the acquisition of things; we stream toward living as followers of Jesus? All of this feels very Advent like.
Brian McLaren in his newest book, Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road?, writes:
“In Advent, we celebrate the coming of Christ as the prince of peace. We cultivate a longing for peace. We highlight the bright promise of his coming—good news of great joy for all peoples everywhere—against the dark realities of our world.”
Isaiah sees someone coming who “judges between the nations and arbitrates for many people”. This one coming fixes the world’s inequalities, undercuts the rivalries and jealousies and stops the violence. Isaiah sees the one coming as providing a way for the human species to “beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks”. This coming one makes it possible for “nation to not pick up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.” Is this Isaiah’s wild dream or is Jesus the coming one who has already come? Will he come again to complete what he has begun and fulfill Isaiah’s dream? In Advent we join together to say to each other and before God, “Yes, he will come. We believe this and prepare!” As we wait we comfort ourselves in these short, dark days, by gathering in his light and warmth.
In Year “A” Matthew’s reference to the story of Noah and the Ark provides the vehicle for exploring the meaning of Advent. It’s a strange way to begin preparation for Christmas.
The story of Noah and the Ark is an ancient story, older than the Bible itself, and it tells about a flood that engulfed the whole earth, though Noah, his family and all the animals were saved—my grandchildren would be greatly relieved to know the animals also were saved. While the story talks about water and the whole world becoming covered with it, I think they were actually talking about the problem of violence, of humans fighting with each other; floods of fighting that engulf everything and all life gets sucked into it. When this happens people destroy each other and the earth and God sees it and feels very sad. God loves all his children, every one of them, even when they don’t love each other and it breaks his heart to see what we do.Our fights and wars are like floods that overwhelm us and destroy much of the progress we make and happiness we want and work so hard for. After each flood of destruction we settle down a bit until tensions build again and then again we find ourselves engulfed. As we look at history we see that we go through cycles of ruin endlessly; or at least until Jesus comes at the end of the age.
The story of the flood begins with, “The LORD saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually.” At the time of the flood, culture was again disintegrating and everywhere violence and evil were breaking out. It could be our age, it could be Noah’s, it could be any. This is a story depicting the human problem.
In the story God steps in and asks Noah to build an ark to save himself, his family and the animals. He seems to be afraid that we will destroy ourselves completely. Even here we see a glimmer of God’s feeling toward us when we answer this question. Where was Noah, his family and the animals when the flood hit? They were in the ark and they were safe. This is what God wants for us–the same image we see in Isaiah’s dream. He wants us to be safe from the terrible havoc we bring on ourselves and each other.
When the flooding was over, Noah opened the door and everyone piled out onto dry land. Will humans with this fresh start learn from their experience and stop the fighting and violence? No, our biggest problem continues and so God sends his only Son Jesus to show us a way out of our fighting-addiction. He wants Jesus to show us a new way. He wants Jesus to be our ark, the boat that holds us as the flood of fighting continues engulfing the earth.
On the cross and with the resurrection Jesus has begun the process that will end the fighting. That process continues today and in the midst of our “secular” world, hidden like yeast silently working and, in Advent we wait in hope as we build our lives on the foundation of this coming peace.
On the cross, Jesus became the one exposed to our violence. All others were swept up in the flood of it. The violence washed over Jesus, and he drowned in it. He became as helpless as those who “knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away.” In being swept away, he showed us the meaning of the flood and we discover it for what it is. And then in the midst of it, and by the power of God, his tomb becomes his ark. Like Noah and the animals he remains in its shelter for three days and then leaves it behind, empty, like an ark on dry land, having spilled forth new and renewing life. We are that new life and live in its grace. He arose as the Forgiving Victim of all those swept up in the flood. God’s power of Resurrection pulls him through the clutches of the death we impose on him and shows us God’s determination to reach us with his forgiving love.
While still living in the time of repentance, our current age, the age before Jesus comes again, we can’t stop the flood of violence in which our world is awash. But we can seek refuge in Jesus our ark and join him in refraining from the fighting and violence around us. We are those who resist joining the flood.
Living in faith, we do not get carried away by the waters threatening to engulf us even though we too are impacted by them. And we know that someday the floods will stop and we will disembark on dry land. We don’t know when that day will be. We only know it will come. It will come like “a thief in the night” breaking into the house of our life as usual. In Advent we remind ourselves to stay awake, and live in hope. “The Son of Humanity is coming at an unexpected hour.” He comes bringing his peace toward us. Amen.