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November 27, 2009

Jeremiah 33:14-16; Psalm 25; 1 Thessalonians 3:12–4:2; Luke 21:25-28,34-36

Advent! Can you believe it? I think I must have misplaced a couple of months somewhere. But with two emergency trips to Joann’s Fabrics and Crafts and one to the Safeway, we got our Advent Wreath together and are ready to embark on another of the ever-circling years.

Apart from the suddenness with which they come upon us, each Advent offers its own challenges: there’s the whole notion of time — our readings today predict the coming of Christ, reflect on his message, and depict him telling about the end of the earth — past, present and future in ten minutes! Then there’s the challenge to hope and trust and love in a world where violence and commercialism and despair seem to be getting the upper hand. And of course, there’s always the mystery of the Incarnation — how can you get your imagination around the concept of the God of all the Universe becoming a human infant?

It’s that last one that is challenging me this Advent. If we believe that our God created everything — the whole Universe, which is expanding even as we speak — then God is God of the whole Universe, not just of us. As the Hubble telescope keeps feeding us images of a complex expanding universe, that cosmic sense of God keeps growing in my imagination. And now during Advent we are called to prepare for the coming of a God both cosmic and so very close to us that God actually became one of us as an infant born of a woman in a small town in an obscure oppressed nation on this medium-sized planet in an off-center galaxy of the universe.

And the challenge isn’t only dealing with a cosmic God. The earth is made up of much more than human beings, and all of earth’s beings are creatures of that same cosmic God. In the fourth Star Trek movie, “The Voyage Home,” the Star Trek crew returns to Earth and finds chaos. The entire planet is in turmoil because of a space probe that is wreaking havoc with the signals it is sending out. (Take a look at today’s Gospel: “On earth nations will be in dismay, perplexed by the roaring of the sea and the waves.” That’s exactly what was happening!) When the probe receives no response to its communications, it increases the power, thereby increasing the havoc on earth. No one can figure out what kind of language the probe is using – until the Vulcan Mr. Spock says, “You earthlings are so human-centered. The language of the probe is that of the hump-backed whale. The probe’s home planet has received a distress call from the whales and is coming in response,” or words to that effect.

We are human-centered, and we are earth-centered. Even I have to admit, earth is my favorite planet. Yet Creation goes beyond earth and beyond humans, so one would expect that salvation, redemption, glory, kingship, dominion also go beyond earth and where appropriate, beyond humans. In fact, when Jesus says to Pilate, “My kingdom does not belong to this world,” (as he did in last week’s Gospel reading), we probably assume he is talking about some sort of spiritual world that his kingdom belongs to. But maybe he means something much much bigger and broader. Who knows, at this point in time?

This vastness of God as well as God’s intimacy, the grandeur as well as the detail of our Creator, have filled me with wonder at other times. I lived in Juneau, Alaska, for many years, and Juneau is situated on the Gastineau Channel. Looking down the channel, you see mountain after mountain — well, when you can see anything. It rains a lot in Juneau. And in order to maintain your sanity there, you have to find a way of dealing with the rain. I found my way when I realized that those days when the sun was shining, the view down the channel was magnificent. Mountains and water as far as you could see, the sun shining brightly on the snow-capped peaks and and glinting on the peaks of the waves — it was like the glory of God shining round us! Yet every sunny day was like every other sunny day. The rainy days were different. The fog, the mists, the clouds, all gathered in different formations and swirled about in particular ways. Often the clouds separated and settled between banks of trees on the shore. Wisps of mist would swirl between branches of trees, between leaves of trees, even between needles of the pines. And I realized that just as the sunny days reflected God’s glory, the rainy days reflected God’s intimate presence among us — God just can’t stay away from us, but has to be mingling among us, touching us, caressing us.

I once went to a seminar with a Protestant scripture scholar and minister. He told of an incident involving his teenaged son, who stayed out past his curfew — several hours past his curfew. Both parents had waited up for him, and when the boy came in at 1:30 a.m., both ran to the door to meet him — his mother with an embrace and the words, “Thank God you’re safe!” and his father with a stamped foot and the demand, “Where have you been? Don’t you know what time it is?” The scholar — the father — said, “That’s mercy and justice — but we need two people to pull it off. God practices both justice and mercy at the same time, and we have a hard time grasping that.”

Maybe that’s our problem too with the cosmic and intimate God. As human beings, we do well with “either/or,” but we may be weak at “both/and.” In fact, one of the tasks of our lives as we grow in wisdom, age and grace may very well be to move from “either/or” to “both/and” as we encounter the diversity and complexity of our world and of our God.   From the very personal to the very cosmic, our God is a God of “both/and.” This Advent some of our readings and some of our music will help us to bring our God into focus — not to tame him or to capture him, but to stretch our own imaginations in dealing with this amazing God. Let your mind play with new ideas as we sing about God who is “farther than the farthest sun, nearer than our breath and thought.”

And maybe over these next four weeks, we can lose some of our discomfort with the mixed-up notions of time in Advent, and with the challenge of hope and trust and love in a world where violence and commercialism and despair seem to be winning. Maybe accepting wholeheartedly the mystery of the Incarnation — the God of all the Universe becoming a human infant — can help us to maintain our hope and trust and love without giving in to the power of violence and commercialism and despair.

Our closing song each week of Advent will be two verses of a song that invites us to “Take the Word of God with you as you go; Take the seeds of God’s word and make them grow; Go in peace to serve the world, in peace to serve the world. Take the love of God, the love of God with you as you go.” I hope and pray that we will all do just that.