Sermons

Isaiah 64:1—9, 1 Corinthians 1:3—9; Mark 13:24—37

The author of Isaiah writes, “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. There is no one who calls on your name, or attempts to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have delivered us into the hand of our iniquity.” 1

These words from Isaiah give voice to how I have been feeling for a while now, and most acutely this past week.  

First, the avalanche of news revealing the harassment perpetrated by men in the entertainment industry.  Then the heartbreaking news of racist videos circulating at Brookline High School. Finally, the passing of tax bill few officials had read, with major consequences for the poor and the marginalized.

No matter your personal thoughts on any of these developments, few if any of us feel good about the state of things right now.

The title of last week’s Adult Education was, “What are we waiting for?” Well, what, exactly are we waiting for? What are we looking toward as we anticipate God coming to dwell among us?

As the ancient Israelites longed for God to reveal Godself among them in the midst of their pain and despair, we are invited this Advent to begin an intentional season of watching and waiting for God to come and be among us in ours.

In the Gospel of Mark we hear the description of the coming of God’s reign and the exhortation to “keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.” 2

If Lent is the season of repentance in anticipation of new life, Advent is the season of watching and waiting in anticipation of new hope.

How, though, are we to find hope when all evidence seems to the contrary?

The headline read, “Successful actress Meghan Markle to wed former soldier.”  It was an article announcing the marriage of Ms. Markle to a man described only as “Harry Windsor… a 33-year-old former soldier, having served in Helmand, Afghanistan with the Army Air Corps. He is currently unemployed but does charity work.” 3

This article about the marriage of the person second in line for the throne of the United Kingdom was notable because, unlike every other article about this event it put Ms. Markle and her achievements first.  While the article might have been read as editorial it did not go on to comment on the “real story.” It was the complete story.  The amazing Ms. Markle is getting married.  Period.

It has only recently come into our public consciousness that, in the media, women of note often take second place to the men of note, even of lesser note, with whom they are in relationship. We do it with our celebrities, with our politicians and with our athletes.  I venture to guess this was revelatory only to the men among us, as women have lived this reality their whole lives.

This article was a tiny light in the darkness for me.  It was a small still voice from the edge of the wilderness shining a light in the darkness of my privileged convenience.  It called to me and said, “Keep awake.”

So then the barrage of news stories listing male celebrity after male celebrity who have used their positions of power to violate and harass women and men seen as their subordinates became for me not a story just of men behaving in reprehensible ways, but stories of women and men who have felt powerless to name this truth finally claiming it and speaking it out loud.  And being believed.  With real consequences as a result.  

We know harassment by men in power is not a new phenomenon suddenly out of control.  It is only new that women can speak the truth of their experience and be heard.  These women are shining a light where darkness has reigned, and they are calling to me, calling to us and they are saying, “Keep awake.”

So, too, the story breaking this week at Brookline High took on an Advent invitation.  The kids in the videos weren’t saying anything new.  Not even new at Brookline High.  As much as we in Brookline and our surrounding communities want to believe that those videos and thoughts and speech actions don’t happen here.  They do.  The only thing that changed this week is that it landed on video.

What’s new about this is that our young people felt empowered to stand up and say “NO! This is not okay.”  They felt empowered to demand action from the adults responsible for their education to do something more than issue statements. They are demanding real change that results in real change.  Our young people of color are calling to us, asking us to “Keep awake.”

So maybe that’s the hope to which we are called this Advent.  The hope that we might keep awake to all the places in this world where brave people are shining light into the darkness and calling us to keep awake. Jesus said, “Keep awake.”  Using language from the Black Lives Matter movement, Jesus is asking us to “Get woke.  To stay woke.”

Harrassment and racism and shady political dealings are not new.  Calling it out, being believed and getting a response – that feels new.  That feels like light. That feels like hope.

We all have that “junk drawer” at home, that spare room or that space under the bed that we know is a mess in need of a major cleaning and reorganization.  Each time we get a glimpse, we are overwhelmed at the task before us, so we close the drawer, we shut the door, we push the mess further under the bed, out of sight.

Shining the light doesn’t make the mess.  The mess has been there. We know that.  We made the mess in the first place!  Shining the light only helps us to see the mess – a necessary and difficult step toward the cleaning and restoration to rightness.

Perhaps Advent invites us to bring a light into our lives that will force us to see the world as God sees it.  Helping us to see what is good and right and joyful, and also to see what is out of order, what is broken, what is unjust and unmerciful, to see what needs reckoning and restoration.

Keep awake, Jesus tells us.  Keep awake even when we’d rather close our eyes and take a nap until it’s over.  Keep awake and keep watch even we’d rather look away.

In her article, “The 7 stages of white people getting woke,” writer Jamie Varon suggests the final step, Stage 7 is “Dream.”  She writes, “Eventually, you realize (and hope) that America's consciousness is evolving. There's a light in the distance. You can’t focus only on the negative, otherwise it'll swallow you whole. So, you stay aware, check your privilege, and keep your anger productive. Above all, you remember to hope for something better, to believe it can happen. Change isn't happening all at once, but it is happening. 

Keep awake.  That is the work we are offered this Advent season.  And those who are waking us up, those who are courageously shining the light where there is darkness needing to be shattered?  They are our Advent Hope.

Keep awake.  Stay woke.  Be our Advent hope.

 

AMEN.

© 2017 The Reverend Jeffrey W. Mello

1. Isa 64: 7-7

2. Mark 13: 35-37

3. Noorudean Chowdry, “Successful actress Meghan Markle to wed former soldier”  https://www.joe.co.uk/news/successful-actress-meghan-markle-to-wed-former-soldier-150733  accessed 11/30/2017

 

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