"And of his kingdom there will be no end"-A sermon for Advent 4
We don’t traditionally have a full sermon at Lessons and Carols…as the music and scriptures themselves take center stage and give much food for thought…filling us with wonder and hope, as we look together toward Christmas…the profound promise of Emmanuel, God with us, as the Babe of Bethlehem, undoubtedly, but also with us in each moment, through the daily visitation of his Holy Spirit, and even with us in the fullness of time, when Christ will come again, to establish his kingdom of love and life forever and for all time.
So, I just want to share a few brief thoughts this morning about the gift that Lessons and Carols, this service, provides, which is that we hear a story that is told over time…we hear from the breadth of Scripture…Old Testament and New…stories and prophesies and teaching…first shared orally and then written down over a wide swath of human history. I have heard scripture in its sum referred to as the story of God’s love affair with God’s people…which is indeed as old as time and human history itself.
Perhaps you recall the riddle in the Hobbit, in the aptly named chapter Riddles in the Dark, in which Bilbo and Gollum test wits that will, ultimately, determine the fate of the “one ring to rule them all” and which leads to Bilbo’s escape from the goblins living under the Misty Mountains, where he is woefully lost. Well perhaps you recall the 5###sup/sup### riddle in the contest, which comes from Gollum, it’s his turn to try to stump Bilbo, and it reads as follows, “This thing all things devours; Birds, beasts, trees, flowers; Gnaws iron, bites steel; Grinds hard stones to meal; Slays king, ruins town, And beats high mountain down.” And the answer, as perhaps you recall, that Bilbo correctly comes to is: time. As the saying goes, time marches always onward…and indeed time is something that you and I have no control over. Too much time spent reflecting on the great expanse of time, can lead one to feeling quite small…insignificant even…truly an existential crisis…for like beasts, trees, flowers, kings…even mountains, cities, whole cultures and societies…we are all utterly subject to the passing of time…and time, at least in a physical sense, is always the victor…meaning all that we see and enjoy…the lives we live…the bodies we use…the people we love…though here today will be gone tomorrow. And this all could indeed lead one to a place of hopelessness…a fatalistic view of our shared future that suggests that our end is certain…our activities will be forgotten…and, therefore, the questions follow: what is the point in our living…why do we bother gathering here each week…where does one find hope for a life-affirming, love filled future, for both ourselves and all that is made, in the face of the ravishes of time.
And it is right here that I want to turn our attention back to the stories, prophesies and teachings just proclaimed in the scriptures that were so wonderfully read aloud…for all with ears to hear. For the scriptures themselves are not so much for any one person…like those in the stories themselves…instead they are pointing us to God’s activity among all of us…whoever we are and whenever we live…they are the sacred reminder of God’s faithful presence among all humans throughout time and space…God’s faithful and loving presence in the midst of human history…God’s faithful and loving presence among people at their best and worst, when faithful and faithless, at war and at peace, at home and in exile, among the old and young, when oppressed and free, 4000 years ago, 2000 years ago, and today…God’s presence…in our living and in our dying. The scriptures are a profound gift, alive and active, God inspired, sacred and revelatory, that uniquely and so powerfully remind us that we are not alone and will never be forgotten…for they promise us that the God of life and love is always among us…always coming to us.
And for this we celebrate Christmas…the moment that all that was just read in scripture points us to…that God wants us so badly to know that he is indeed Emmanuel, God with us, that he made the most unlikely of decisions…perhaps only a decision that Love could make…which is to become like us…to take human form…to enter time and space…to come among us in flesh and blood…in the most vulnerable form any human will ever experience…and that we all do experience…as a baby. The birth of Jesus…in flesh and blood…fully human…affirms that human life if infinitely valuable…that each human life is infinitely valuable…that matter, the cells and atoms of which we are each made, matters. All of scripture points us forward and backward to a person…the life altering, explosive moment of Christmas…the forging of a fully human life, which affirm for us that all of life, that every single life, is both eternal and everlasting…even yours…even mine. And further, we are not alone in this glorious life we have been given…we get to share it…with each other and with God…both now and forever.
So, the time in which we live together now, though it feels fleeting and ever so brief, is just but the beginning…surely not the end…God in Christ is with us and Jesus loves us…for the bible tells us so. So I will conclude with the prayer which we use at the conclusion of the Prayers of the People during this Season of Advent, which reads, “We praise and thank you, Creator God, for you have not left us alone, each year you come to us, Emmanuel, God with us in a manger. Each time you come to us in broken bread and the cup we share. In time or out of time, you will be revealed and we shall see you face to face. Amen.”