This week I struggled in trying to put all my thoughts in order. Last time when I stood here and brought the message, I had it clear: “I’m going to talk about the social movement that is happening in Montes de Maria, Colombia, the struggle for land and the march of hundreds of farmers asking for their rights”. It was in commemoration of Days of Prayers and Action for Colombia.
This time, I wasn’t sure what to bring to be honest, and I think it has to do with the way I chose to do this. It happened after I missed a couple of meetings with the worship committee, then I felt guilty, and in order to cope with the guilt, I said, “Sure, I can preach on Dec. 8th. What’s the theme? And Cindy said, “Advent”. And not having a clear understanding of that word, I decided to look it up on Wikipedia.
So it turns out that “Advent” comes from the Latin word Adventus, which is translated from the Greek word Paruosia, and that it’s used in the New Testament in reference to the Second Coming of Christ. But nowadays, for some ofChristianity, “it is like a penitential season; four weeks of introspection, a time to ponder the evil in our lives and the world, and to look for redemption of the mess that we have created” [These are some of the words that I found in the suggested material that I received from Cindy. But this part is actually describing how other Christians celebrate it] Anyways, for us Mennonite the invitation is to focus on Jesus’s Second Coming, then move into the preparation of Jesus’sministry starting with John the Baptist, then go into Jesus’ birth, and then concluding in the fourth week with the revelation of the Christ to the universe.
So in seeking to organize my ideas, I figured out that we didn’t have to talk a lot about baby Jesus, because in this church we have ourown newly arrived babies. Becky, Michelle, Kristin, and Becca, have blessed our nativity with joy, hope and life. These are not the names of the babies; these are just three wonderful blessings that we experience with their babies. The names of the babies are Simon, Keziah, and Ella, and we should all go visit them, just not at the same time. So taking into account that on the one hand we’ve been talking about mystery, and that on the other we’re celebrating the birth of three new beautiful babies, I called this sermon: The Mysterious Blessing of Life, because there’s life and mystery in this church.
Life is a blessing and a mystery. We know that God is mysterious and there are mysteries in our own personal lives, and the way our brains function. For sure there’smystery in our own social systems and where we go as a society. There’s mystery in nature, in our planet, and beyond. Life is full of unresolved issues and perhaps always will be.
15:4 For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope.
The Apostle Paul begins this passage in response to an unresolved issue present in the identity of the Gentiles of the NT. “How do we accept this message that is supposedly not for us?” a Gentile church would probably ask. The fight between the Jewish side of Christianity and the new Gentile churches in Rome was still present. Paul’s response seems to be, “Don’t worry about what is written; it is meant to instruct us and to give us hope”. It is there for our education and to hold us together in one of the most amazing values of human kind, hope, “Esperanza” in Spanish.
We all struggle with what is written. I constantly wonder if what I read in the bible makes sense to our “modern” society. I wonder if I should believe entirely in what it says, and I wonder what to do with it. Sometimes I just don’t how to read the Bible. But in this passage, I found consolation when I read “this is here for your instruction”. I took it as if Paul was saying, “this is here for your learning process” and what is important is the message that it carries. Which is again, a message of Hope.
In order to solve the mysteries of our lives, God has provided us with many tools, skills, and elements of our own nature. We have been given a brain with intelligence and a body with feelings that combined; make the process of learning a complete experience. Have you noticed that we feel confidence that we know something when we actually feel it in our hearts? That’s a gift that we share. We have been given an infinite amount of curiosity. I like the words of Deepak Chopra, renowned author of holistic medicine, when he refers to this curiosity as “the creative impulse that appears when we experience divine discontent “and that we should all use it to develop curiosity and acceptance when we face mystery. We have the ability to image something different and therefore, the more creative we become, the more effective peace-builders we can be.
Learning to remain in the “unknown” is another skill that we have to develop in order to live a healthy life. We don’t want to be the prey of anxiety, fear, or desperation. In the words of the Apostle Paul, we’re encouraged to “live in harmony with one another”. So we’re not alone, and together, we find ourselves.
In my work, I’m in charge of supervising a room with almost two hundred homeless people. They all arrive at the same time for breakfast. They can shower and do their laundry at the center. The cafeteria-like room gets “rowdy” and we are constantly intervening among the men to insure arguments don’t escalate into full blown conflicts. I have the help of my staff and volunteers, but one of the most effective tools we have is to ask for a moment of silence every morning, right before we serve breakfast when I finish the announcements for the morning.
This week, one man stood up when I was giving the announcements and said it was his birthday [He said: 61, yeah!] and that as a present, he wanted everyone to join him in a moment of silence. Everyone participated and then broke out with a round of applause for him.
This moment of silence is not about remembering anyone, or being sad about some specific event. It has become with time a moment to surrender ourselves to the mystery of silence, and I think it is a reflection of the curious desire to find peace, even if it is for a very short moment. We’re all different, but we have the same needs. It is fascinating to look at everyone’s face trying to figure out what others are thinking. And I probably hear more voices when we’re quiet, than when everyone is back into their conversation, and the room turns into noise again.
Paul also encourages us to find consolation in Jesus Christ: “Together, with one voice, glorify God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God”.
Jesus wasn’t always the Christ, he became the Christ when he resurrected. How do we understand this resurrection? What do we do with it? Is it an applicable fact and argument for our modern society? We may not have all the answers about this, but remember, “What is written is written for our instruction”. It is not a strait jacket, and it is there for our learning process. Accepting and trusting in Jesus Christ, or Jesus resurrected, is a mystery. His death was in a troubled context, like the context of our world today. It left his followers disoriented, without hope, probably lost in anxiety, fear, and desperation. But his resurrection brought a different message, which states that death never has the last word.
You see, when we celebrate the Second Coming of Christ, we’re testifying that death is not the final word in the middle of turbulence. Life is the last word; life is the end, and the means. And that is why we celebrate the Advent of Christ as many times is necessary. Anyone who preaches hope and consolation in a turbulent time has inherited the message of the Christ. The message of Christ is also moveable; it doesn’t stay in just one place. It didn’t just belong to one ethnic groups of the NT, it expanded to others around the world. These values are a characteristic of the universality of God. We cannot pretend to arrest a message!
The passage of today goes on to say that Christ has become a servant, therefore in order to follow Christ we should choose a life of service. It is in searching ways to serve others that humanity has reached the most unthinkable developments of history. Many of our discoveries of our time were meant to serve people, technology, medicine, etc. but sometimes they fall in to the hands of those that seek profit over service. Then we lose track! Growth should be measured by the way we respect life. If we get too comfortable in our own lives, we stop growing.
The Apostle invites us to value life, and protect life. He himself hadn’t seen life that way, as he persecuted Christians throughout his early years, but changed in a mysterious way when he came face to face with the spirit of Jesus Christ.
This encounter with Jesus is different for every one of us; we each experience Christ in our own way. In the meantime, we continue to value life in the small things as well as the great things. In this community, as in many communities around the world, we struggle with what is written, we struggle with our social economic system, we struggle with our own selves, but this is all a part of the mysterious blessing of life.
This morning, I got the news from one of my brothers, that he and his wife are having another baby. This baby, comes in a time of trouble, but brings a powerful message of life. God works in mysterious ways!
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
In the words of James O’Dea in his book Cultivating Peace, I finish with the following line: “Peace maps our journey for humanity from the inner core of individuals to the vast social and political landscape of Earth’s billions of citizens”.