Going Deeper 12-2-19

Hear again Isaiah’s words from our first reading: For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.  He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!  Thus far our text.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ.  Amen.
Happy new year?  With the coming of Advent, we begin a new year in the church calendar, and we move into this season of both dark fear and bright cheer.  For most people, Advent is simply “pre-Christmas,” what one song proclaims as being “the most wonderful time of the year!”  And yet for those who gather for worship, the readings for this Advent season do not speak merely of reasons for good cheer, but also of causes for great fear.
You see, Advent has a duel theme.  Yes, we anticipate the coming celebration of the birth of Jesus, the first and foremost Christmas gift, who came to bring salvation.  This is a time of angels filling the skies, of light piercing the darkness, of an extraordinary birth, and of shepherds and (later) magi gathering to worship and brings gifts to a newborn King.  Wonderful beauty!
But at the same time, we remember the story has a darker side as well.  This newborn King is born to a very young mother and is placed into a feeding trough for animals.  When the child is still a mere toddler, King Herod seeks to kill him, and while his family does escape to Egypt, other young boys are murdered.  Horrible tragedy!  This child came to die… but not just yet.  
It seems we have a choice to make: either we focus on that which leads to fear, or on what leads to cheer.  Of course, I would urge both.  Advent is a time of darkness and light, just like the times in which we are now living.  And the light shines even brighter in contrast to the darkness.
I started a very intriguing book this past week… Sacred Economics, by Charles Eisenstein. Here’s a quote from the opening section, one which sets the stage for the rest of this sermon: "The present convergence of crises—in money, energy, education, health, water, soil, climate, politics, the environment, and more—is a birth crisis, expelling us from the old world into a new. Unavoidably, these crises invade our personal lives, our world falls apart, and we too are born into a new world, a new identity. This is why so many people sense a spiritual dimension to the planetary crisis, even to the economic crisis. We sense that ‘normal’ isn’t coming back, that we are being born into a new normal: a new kind of society, a new relationship to the earth, a new experience of being human."
Although I have not yet quite figured out where he comes from spiritually, Eisenstein strikes me as a type of modern-day prophet, pointing to signs of coming peril, but then beyond the darkness to a time of healing light.  Of course, as always only time will tell if he is speaking the truth.
He does not predict that we are going to be able to avoid what he describes as a convergence of crises in the realms of economics, the environment, and politics.  Instead, like Isaiah in our first reading, Eisenstein points toward a “new normal”… which he believes will come about when prosperity gives way to subsistence living, which will result when these crises run their courses.  In other words, things will get better when most of our things are taken away, when we are left with just enough, when we are left in a state of necessary interdependence.  As historical and contemporary situations reveal, when people are in more of a survival mode, they tend to be much more connected with others... with family and neighbors and community. 
Did you know that on the average, people well under the median income level tend to be twice as generous as those who are wealthy?  Not in terms of the amount of money they contribute, but the percentage of their goods they are willing to share. Those considered to be poor tend to be much more generous with others who are poor.  Eisenstein sees a future where all of the distractions that can come with prosperity are stripped away, and people live with a greater sense of—and appreciation for—their state of inter-dependence, not independence.
At the heart of Eisenstein’s predictions is a rather profound insight, which I can only share at a superficial level this morning.  In what the author calls a “money society,” people live in constant competition with others, believing that there is not enough money or resources for everyone, and where we have been taught that life is about how much we make and spend, about how much we own.  We need to “get ours” before others get it first.  Competition rules.
But in Eisenstein’s way of thinking, the ideal is what he calls a “gift society,” which begins with an understanding that everything we truly need for life comes as a gift.  It is not about earning or deserving.  We do not earn air, oxygen, water, or an earth that produces food.  We do not even earn life… it is gifted to us.  The seemingly natural response to understanding all things as a gift is two part—gratitude, then generosity.  Competition would be replaced by community.
I must state that this is a very cursory and quite inadequate description of a very broad and deep way of thinking.  Will Eisenstein be proven to be right one day?  I truly have no idea.  But I will say this: the “gift society,” he describes is actually much closer to what Jesus taught regarding what the Kingdom of God on earth is to look like than what we tend to see in the northern part of the western hemisphere, or in the contemporary church.  Christians and churches in our current culture seem to have bought much more into the money society mindset than the gift.
My main point in sharing this perspective is this: there are some rather frightening signs that the aforementioned “convergence of crises” may indeed point to some very difficult times coming, perhaps just over our horizon.  We might want to bury our heads in the sand… or somewhere else and ignore the signs.  It’s easier that way.  Yes, Advent is a time for contemplating such potentialities, and the scriptures will call us to be ready for difficult—maybe even apocalyptic— events in the future, near or far away.  We will hear Jesus, along with various prophets, urge us to be ready.
At the very same time, Advent is a time of hope and peace and joy, a time to celebrate the fact that Jesus is the light of world, and His love has defeated the darkness.  With Advent comes a new year, and a continual new awareness.  Not only can we trust that God will never leave us nor forsake us and will be with us in the midst of whatever personal or collective difficulties we may face, but also that God can and will always make all things work together for good.  
Some of you are not waiting for times to get hard.  While all of us face some difficulties and heartbreak along our journeys through life, some are experiencing deep suffering right here and right now.  While, according to our text and the signs of the times, all of us might find causes for worry or fear as we face the future, too many are filled with dread.  But my message to you, the message of Advent, is that the ultimate Light has already come.  And He has not and never will go way.  As children of God, all we need to do is look to Him at any time and in any situation.  To bring that message home, I have asked Alex to sing the rest of my sermon…

 

 

(here is a link to that song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WmD2zlR7kw0&list=RDEML5KO_lG4kkb1uxkFOYYdQA&index=16)