Lots of talk this morning about time. In the days to come, says Isaiah. You know what time it is, Paul says in his letter to the Romans. About the day and the hour, no one knows, sayeth the Lord.
What they do not say, at least out loud, is that the day about which no one knows the time, in those days to come, at the time Paul says that we know already, our lives will be at an end.
We will die, or rather whoever is alive at that point, the universal “you” that the Lord and the Apostle are speaking to, the same you a thousand years ago or maybe a thousand year from now, you will die because the world will die. In the days when we are looking most forward to the birth of the savior of the world we are still reminded that there will be an end to things, a time when the things of this world will pass away.
And despite the fact that Jesus and Paul seem to have differing opinions about how much we are supposed to know about the days to come, there seems to be complete agreement that the day is indeed coming. Even if you are not in a particularly religious mood, the world will end at some point and whether it is by the sun going nova and incinerating the earth and the entire solar system, which is the scientific consensus, or whether it is by the son of Man returning to earth to claim His own and bring an end to the creation, whose creation He Himself witnesses; the truth of the matter is that at some point, all of this will end.
We’ll focus on the end of the world, the drawing to a close of the creation from the bible’s perspective, after all, it is where we look when we wish to hear the voice of God, choosing to speak to us through the veil of time, seeking to let us see God’s hand at work in the world and all that happens in it.
Nothing that we find so important will prove so vital on the day that will surely come. Nothing that we fight wars over will still stand in the day that will surely some. Nothing that we get married over, and nothing that we end marriages about will seem at all important in the day that will surely come. There will be no Republicans or Democrats, no more Socialists or Fascists, none of it will matter on that hour that no one knows.
Faith will matter. Christ will matter. In the end He has promised to return and to lead us home, to complete the process started so long ago of rescuing us from ourselves, of bringing His righteousness down to us in such a way that we get to wear it, like a borrowed coat on a cold night.
How many of us have seen a homeless person lately? I assume that most of us have. We have a growing problem of people who fall through the cracks, people who at one time would have been in mental illness treatment, are now wandering the streets, people who in boom times would have been pondering competing job offers are now sleeping in campers, desperate to be greeters at your local family style restaurant or indeed to be employed anywhere.
We all know that there are varying layers to the homelessness problem, not all are mentally ill, not all are criminal, not all have a substance abuse problem, some are just unlucky, some were simply unprepared for the changing of the world and got battered by those changes, some just missed a step and could never quite catch it up, the world is not the way it was even when I was growing up.
And as far above as we might be tempted to feel, as wise at our own preparations, as confirmed as me might be in our own path it is good to remember that in the eyes of the Lord, in the eyes of Christ, we are just like them, lost and forlorn, a little nuts, a little desperate. As smug as we might feel in comparison, it is good to know that God knows all of our failings, all of our weaknesses, like the stained clothes or peculiar odor of the chronically homeless, to God all of those things stand out.
We cannot hide our fear from God; we cannot hide our sin. All of our bluster and braggadocio does not fool God. In this beginning of the season of Advent, God sees everything.
And God is moved to act.
God built for us a home.
Not that you’d know it from the beginning, the beginnings of things are often a little muddier when you look at them, nothing seems like it has much relation to the eventual goal. How do Concrete stem-walls connect with building a healthy church community? Hard to say; let’s see how it plays out.
But it is at the beginning where we find ourselves this morning. We are sitting here, on the lofty heights of Newanga Ave., all nicely turned out, all in our places with bright shining faces but somewhere inside of us, somewhere where we perhaps cannot even remember, there is the knowledge that we were lost, bereft, bereaved, at sea for a direction, a purpose, a hope.
I see humanity, and I have been rightly accused of having a very low opinion of our species in general, as the queue of homeless folks who tromp up and down our street, from the park to the convenience store and back. Most of them are not your classic bums, they are not that organized anymore.
They do not panhandle much, or at least not so close to home. They are seldom seen passed out on the sidewalks, too far gone to make it back to wherever they are sleeping that night. They are largely just focused on getting the next foot forward, the next bottle purchased, the next day survived.
I see us much the same way. Not many of us have the time or the inclination to see the grander scheme of things; most of us do not ask for help much. We are trying to play the game that we have designed without much notion that since we designed it, we could re-design it to be better. We just put one foot in front of the other, one day behind, another ahead. What time is there to think of deeper things?
And so we are stuck. The world we have been given has been filled to the brim with ideas and creations we have selected for ourselves, there is no one else to blame. God did not fill the internet, the first glimmer of a society that might someday outgrow nationalisms and racisms and other isms, God did not fill that information superhighway with pornography. God did not make it a sandbox for mean kids to kick sand in each other’s faces constantly. All of that filth is ours.
And we trudge along.
God did not invent money, nor the notion of stamping the king’s face on it. Even in this country, founded on the principle of “kings are bad!” we stamp the coins and bills of our exchange with the graven images of our heroes. It’s all about the Benjamins, so they say and the acquisition of hoarding of what a comedian once described as “dead president trading cards” both motivates and plagues our society. I do not think we are managing that process very well but it is the molasses we walk through every day.
And we trudge on.
There is no limit to the examples you could come up with of the gifts of God turned into curses by the magnificence that is us. We are gifted, you might say, at turning blessings into curses.
Think again about the last time you saw a homeless person. It’s not fair to say that they universally did this to themselves, so the parallel breaks down a bit, but their sin, so to speak, is plain as day.
Now say you could cure it. With a wave of your hand you could end the scourge of homelessness in America. God could have solved the problem of sin in the same way, you know. God could simply have solved the problem by taking away the perpetrators, wiping the slate clean so to speak, the etch-a-sketch ending of the world. Get rid of us, get rid of the problem.
What if you could do the same thing about homelessness? Of course, you’d have to get rid of the homeless in the process.
Into the midst of our sin, when we were lost, wandering in the desert; God sends to us a savior. God sends to us something so rare and fine that it boggles our minds and renders our imaginations pale and paltry in comparison.
It would have been easier to start again, it would have probably been safer too, no suffering or dying required.
But God’s love for you is greater than that. It is greater than simple solutions or perfect self-interest. It is not imperious and cold, a distant God barking orders and demanding results.
The home that God builds for us is not one where we can hide from the truth, it is one where we can face it, see ourselves as God sees us and loves us and learn to love ourselves, and then perhaps our neighbors as ourselves, and not just the ones who live in the houses next to us but all of the people who live in our town, our county, our nation and our world.
God’s love for us is great enough to build a house in God’s own flesh and blood, coming to us in the child in the manger, able to build an earthly home for us, a kingdom of God fitted to us. Not the way you might expect this kind of thing to start, but this is no easy task and so no easy solution will do.
How is it that we make the psalm for this morning true? How is it that we go about reveling in the love of the Lord which comes to us this coming Christmas so much so that we feel compelled to speak it out, to act it out and to live it out in each and every day of our lives?
If you folks don’t know, then I don’t know who does. You are the ones who feel the call, hearken to the voice as they say in the Old Testament and then come, apparently celebrating, when they cried “let us go to the house of the Lord!” You have been rescued from the depths of despair and brought to the heights of peace in His name and while it might be easy to forget the depths and revel only in the heights it is the gap that matters, the wide breadth between salvation and despair, between life and death.
This morning we embark upon a journey of anticipation, but we should also make it a journey of reflection. A child will be born to us, what most people consider the greatest gift in their lives is the birth of a child and so it is with the coming Christ.
Jesus is God’s answer to the gap, the space between where we ought to be and where we find ourselves. Like the gap between us and the homeless, it is not a simple solution. A character on the TV program Sports Night once asked a colleague “What do the Homeless need?” in search of some kind of charitable effort he might donate to. “They need homes” was the pithy reply.
Just as our neighbor sometimes needs physical shelter to shield them from the weather so too mankind needed spiritual shelter, a way to keep at bay the world of our own making, a place to find a measure of peace.
But not just to rest inside. Jesus comes as flesh and blood because the problems we have are also of flesh and blood, they are real and they are everywhere and they need solutions.
From our position of peace, from our shelter from the storm, can we not seize the opportunity to be as Christ to the world, to reach out and gather others into the shelter, to teach them what it means to be loved and in so doing, cause the words of the psalm to come true for all people, “I was glad when they said to me, ’Let us go to the house of the Lord!’”
It is, after all, the home that God has prepared for us, and for all people. There is a lot of talk this morning, when we first glimpse the promise coming our way, and whether Jesus is right and no one knows or Paul is right and we all know, the time is most certainly now to take the promise, the Gospel and take it from the house of the Lord to the people of the Lord.