God was finally fed up with the human race and decided to end it for good. So God called up a reporter at the New York Times to tell her the news: The world would end the day after tomorrow. The reporter tried to talk God out of it, but God was firm and wouldn't be swayed. The reporter then asked if she could have an exclusive. God said that He was sending the message around to other newspapers:
These were the Headlines the next day:
The New York Times: "God says world to end tomorrow; story and analysis on page B11."
The Wall Street Journal: "God says world to end tomorrow; market to close early"
The Washington Post: "God says world to end tomorrow; women and minorities hardest hit."
Inc. Magazine: 11 ways you can profit from the Apocalypse
Playboy: Girls of the Apocalypse
Ladies’ Home Journal: Lose 10 pounds by Judgment Day with our New Armageddon Diet
TV Guide: Death and Damnation: Nielsen Ratings Soar!
Ms. Magazine: The Messiah -- Redemption, or More Male Oppression?
Today is the Christian New Year, more commonly known as Advent. Advent opens with images of a darkened sun, stars falling from heaven, with the Human One coming in clouds’ with great glory and power, sending out his angels to gather the elect from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven. No one can escape this gathering. Paul prays that we will be enriched and strengthened by Jesus on the day of his Revealing, or return. These natural calamities and out of the ordinary events spark terror and fear. Yet it is not fear but hope that our first week of Advent traditionally teaches us.
What does hope have with such terrifying images? Some have wondered where do we find hope in the Grand Jury’s decision to not indict police officer Darren Wilson - which is not a judgment of innocence or guilt, but just gives the green light for a trial to occur? How do we find hope in looters in Ferguson destroying nearly 25 blocks, and burning down many businesses – most of them black owned? Even Flood Christian Church, the church of Michael Brown’s father (the 18year old black youth that was shot and killed by officer Wilson) was burnt down. We have mastered the art of Armageddon. Hope is more a challenge.
End of the world images are a very vivid part of the Christian tradition and holds sway over our collective imagination. Everything in historical time must come to an end. A tension is planted in our psyche with Jesus’ words” Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have take place…” While Jesus prophesized the end of Jerusalem in 70AD, he also spoke of his own return, which the early church thought was imminent. Once Jesus returned all wrongs would be righted, evil doers would pay for their deeds, and Justice and peace would finally prevail.
So we being Advent with the unfinished business of centuries and we are supposed to find hope. We enter advent knowing that what has taken place in Ferguson is deeply flawed and leaves us despairing of the healing of the racial and economic divide. We enter Advent with conflict in the Middle East still raging, and the fight with the militant group ISIS gearing up. Some of us enter Advent with worries around work or family, problems with health. Even in the face of Black Friday, women duking it out over a Barbie doll, brawls over speaker systems and TV. Gun sales went through the roof. I don’t know about you, but those images are scarier than anything found in the scriptures.
Advent doesn’t wait until everything is right, and in its place; until all is well with the world and our lives; and all the loose ends are tied up. Because Advent refuses to wait, we are called to reflect on hope -- to learn patience and holy waiting.
One of the prominent Hebrew words for Hope, Tikvah, can also means cord. Hebrew scholar Tamara Cohn Eskenazi suggests, The imagery in this idiom suggests that our life is spun out like a cord, and hope arises from the strength of that cord…. Imagine hope as a bound cord, rope, or interwoven thread -- something we can grasp hold of with our hands. In other words, hope is something real enough that we can cling to it. Hope is something we can twist together in one strong, living rope that can be used to bind people together and keep them safe. One strand is easily broken. But many interconnected strands is strong and is not so easily snapped.
The first occurrence of the word tikvah-hope in the Bible is enlightening for us. The book of Joshua recounts the story of two Israelite spies on a reconnaissance mission to Jericho – the first City the people of Israel would capture. They are assisted by a woman named Rahab - a prostitute. She may have been a cultic prostitute but there’s no denying what she did to pay the bills and support her family.
Rahab believed in the Israelites spies and their God. Perhaps, given her profession, she was tired of the way she was treated and wanted a new life. So she risked her life and her family to aid the Israelites. She turned against her own people. So when the spies said: to Rahab, “tie this cord of scarlet thread in the window through which you let us down, and gather to yourself into the house your father and your mother and your brothers and all your father’s household. (Jos. 2:17-18). Rahab said, “According to your words, so be it.” ….and she tied the scarlet cord in the window. (Jos. 2:21) So Rahab’s family was spared and she began a new life. Even a prostitute can have hope in the realm of God. In the Jewish midrash, Rahab is named as one of the four most beautiful women the world has ever known, along with Sarah, Abigail, and Esther. Rahab is one of four women named in Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus. In two other places in the NT she is described as a harlot, a woman of faith.
One strand of hope. That’s all it takes. People in Ferguson are showing us how to build hope in the face of deep-seated oppression, grief and anger. Volunteers are working to restore Natalie's Cakes and More. Earlier this week, looters ransacked her bakery. After the community and other parts of the world heard Natalie's story, donations started to pour in---$200,000 to be exact. One strand of hope.
17 year old Molly Ferguson went around and painted boarded up businesses with the phrase 'love will win.' Another strand of hope.
The Jenkins family, owners of Cathy’s Kitchen, saw seen video of protesters locking arms in front of their restaurant to protect it from vandals. The Jenkinses woke up early, rustled up relatives and got there by 8 to begin cleaning up. But by the time they arrived, people were already picking up the shards of glass from the window that was shattered. They weren't members of the National Guard. Or any federal disaster agency. They were her customers, loyal to her on a day of tragedy. There were no seats inside Cathy's Kitchen on Wednesday, and a line had formed at the back of the building. A diverse mix of residents, business people with the day off and journalists covering the protests enjoyed a pre-Thanksgiving lunch. More strands of hope.
This is how hope is forged. Each one lights a candle, each one contributes a step. This is the body of Christ -- this is the vision of the kindom of God after the great tribulation.
We are planting the seeds even now. We have spoke repeatedly over the last month of the power of individual and collective action to create a renewed Union Church. We create hope by reclaiming the proud heritage of Dr. John Paul Jones, former Union Pastor of 25 years, who worked tirelessly against Nazism, intolerance, and for the integration of the races, at a time when such things were not talked about. He was a voice of hope. That voice is still here and we need to be it. That heritage of hope is here, all the amazing programs and service Union has stood for – it’s waiting to be reclaimed. All the new ways hope needs to be present in the world – it’s here- if we each contribute our strands to make an unbreakable cord. We create hope in the simpliest of ways: by taking part of the Thanks-Living challenge the church has invited us to. Have you completed yours yet? Let us know! We create hope by each one pledging as generously as we can. We create hope by bringing in food and delivering goods to the pantry. We create hope as we stand by Union as it enters a time of renovation, renewal and mission study – a study that will show us the beacon of Hope Union has been and is called to be. How about donating a book to a child in need by next Sunday?
Helping out with the Angel pageant and the Christmas Concert? Visiting, calling the home bound, or inviting a friend to worship. That’s how we begin to create a season of hope this Advent. Hope can turn lives around – like it did for Rahab and her family. God is faithful – let hope enter your heart and be that cord that ties you to a new future rooted in Jesus Christ and to all people – a cord that will hold us together until the Day of the Lord’s return. Amen.
py’s Bar and Grill.