Timothy C. Ahrens
The First Congregational Church
United Church of Christ
December 3, 2000
Jeremiah 33: 14-16 and Luke 21:25-36
(Part 1 of 6 part series for Advent/Christmas:
"The Birth of Faith")
Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and meditations of each one of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our salvation. Amen.
"Christ is Risen!" proclaimed Brother James as he went door to door through the monastery. Across the hall I heard, "He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia!" Then, he arrived at my door, "Christ is Risen!" "He is Risen, Indeed, Alleluia!" I drowned as best I could. Each morning in the monastery, we were awakened at 4:30 am. The plan was to arise to worship at 5:00 am. I dressed and went to the chapel on day one and day two. By day three, I rolled over as Brother James (clearly a morning person) said, "Christ is Risen!" and mumbled in return, "He's still asleep in here."
Still asleep in here . . . For how many of us is God in Jesus the Christ still asleep in here? For how many of us does He slumber in the our souls? For you, does He rest in silence within your consciousness and do you take neither the time nor the energy to awaken him? In the old Negro Spiritual, sung as a warning against the night time calls of the slave owner, and sung in preparation for hearing God's voice, the words resound, "Hush, Hush, Somebody's calling my name." And yet, do you cup your ears - do you stop or stoop to listen carefully, to hear His voice calling your name?
In Holy scripture, the Old Testament prophets struggled fiercely with the voice of God. Although, we like to echo Isaiah's response to God's call, "Here I am, Lord, send me," quite often we resemble the lamentations of Jeremiah (in paraphrase) "Here I am Lord, Why me?" No matter if you awaken and jump to your feet, or roll over and fall back asleep, He calls you. He beckons you. His is a voice calling from no where, calling for no less than the birth of faith within you.
Jeremiah 33:14-16 lifts up such a call: "Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the House of Judah and the House of Israel. In those days I will cause a Righteous Branch to spring forth from David, and he shall execute justice in the land" (Jeremiah 33:14-15). Divine intervention is the promise of God, through a human figure. Although the people of Judah and Israel have been cut off and stumped for generations, God will raise up new life - a shoot of new life from Jesse's household. Yahweh's justice will awaken the people and bring justice and righteousness once again to their land and to their lives.
Have you ever been stumped in your life? Have you ever felt cut off from friends, from family - from God? I have. There have been periods of my life, when I cannot figure out what God wants with me. There are times, when I can't figure out how the Lord could use me as any kind of instrument of grace or justice. Actually, there are times when I can't even figure out how to be a father, husband, or pastor - let alone an instrument of healing and justice! In those times, I have felt like rolling over and staying asleep in the morning - some might call it depression. I call it a lack of purpose and direction. Whatever the words, I know I am stumped. I feel cut off. In those times, I seek to find meaning in dreams, in conversations, in prayer, in silence. I seek to stay awake, even if it's barely awake.
In a recent period such as this one, I dreamed that Christ was an auto-mechanic and I was the vehicle. He entered the place where I was stalled and parked and he lifted the hood. He focused his light under the hood, and simply looked over all my parts. Along with me, he did a parts check. I won't trouble you with the details of the tune-up, but I will say, that dream freed me from the stumped state I was in. It served, like the branch shooting forth from the stump, as a sprig of hope, a way out of the darkness. What may seem odd or humorous to you, was life giving and peace giving to me. But, that's the way God works - in the unexpected, in the time of darkness, bringing forth light.
Twenty years ago, following the first sermon I ever preached, a woman came up to me after everyone had left the foyer of the church. She said, "can I tell you something without you thinking I am crazy?" I said, "Yes." We sat down and she told me that her husband had died a year before. She continued to have dreams about him. She often spoke with him as he stood at the foot of her bed. She asked, "Well? Do you think I am crazy?" I answered, "Oh, no. It sounds like you are seeking peace with your memories of your husband." And then I said, "It must be so hard to say goodbye." At that, she broke down and cried. Finally she said, "Thank you . . . I thought I was losing my mind, but you've helped me find it again." Stumped, but welcoming the shoot of new life. From such a shoot as this springs hope and renewal, justice and righteousness.
But, Luke's Gospel reminds us that being awake and newly alive can also be terrifying at times. In Luke 21: 25-36, Jesus speaks of the fear and terrifying signs to accompany his second coming. This passage may seem out of place in the Advent season when we anticipate a birth of Jesus. Yet isn't it true that a new born infant must always stir healthy fear in everyone, particularly in the family receiving the child? Fear prepares us for the arrival of new life, as we seek to anticipate what the newborn needs or wants. We prepare the rooms, we stock up on material needs, and then we wait and watch. To be on watch, to be on guard, to be alert for the signs of new life can help us prepare for the birth, but only the coming can ultimately awaken us to the breath of life itself!
Rabbi Abraham J. Heschel, the great 20th Century American Religious leader writes:
To have faith is to perceive the wonder that is here, and to be stirred by the desire to integrate the self into the holy order of being. Faith does not spring out of nothing. It comes with the discovery of the holy dimension of our existence. Faith means to hold small things great, to take light matters seriously, so to distinguish the common and the passing from the aspect of the lasting. It is faith from which we draw the sweetness of life, the taste of the sacred, and the joy of the imperishably dear. It is faith that offers us a share in eternity." (Found in Rabbi Chaim Stern's, Day by Day, Beacon Press, Boston, 1998, pp. 111-112.)
When the knock comes at midnight (or 4:30 am), when the dream clarifies in your twilight, when the call comes in daylight, when the hushed voice beckons you, arise from your slumber and wake from your sleep, for the no less than the birth of faith itself may be birthing within you - the very presence of God springing forth as a branch from the stump of that which is cut off in your life. Come, Lord Jesus. Awaken us, this day. Amen.
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