Clash of Worlds, Pastor Fred
Our Christian faith is built on a clash of worlds, a clash of cultures, a clash of kingdoms! Isaiah – called as a prophet in the midst of these clashes – hoped and prophesied in the name of Yahweh, our God, that “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.”
Welcome to Advent, the time of the judgement of the nations, and the four weeks of waiting, and hoping, and preparing, for the coming of the LORD. Advent anticipates the birth of the Messiah, and the second and final coming of the Son of Man – both. Advent is the time before the Christ child is ‘born unto us,’ and the time before the end of this age of death, ‘when war will be no more,’ and our weapons will be transformed into instruments of farming and harvesting for the life of the world.
Advent evokes, and makes real for us, this tension we live under as humans, and as a called people of God – that we live with the promise of the resurrection to come, but we also live in the midst of a world enslaved to our fallen nature, our blinded eyes, our repeated sinfulness, and our structural imprisonment to poverty and war.
Thankfully, Advent – with all its apocalyptic clashes – is only 4 weeks! And it’s design is not merely to prepare us for the 12 Days of Christmas to come – it is not an aide to comfort us in our anxiousness of waiting, and our busy-ness of planning for ‘the most wonderful time of the year.’
Originally, Advent was a penitential season, like Lent, but it’s not quite that either. It is less about, repenting of sins, than about acknowledging the clash of worlds, cultures, and kingdoms, those that tempt us away from “learning war no more” keeping us from ‘waking from the sleep’ we are hypnotized into, and instead, ‘putting on the armor of light,’ as Paul said in Romans!
The season of Advent helps us to know and understand this spiritually. And in his prophecy in our gospel reading, Jesus nails this Advent theme, insisting that: “About that day and hour [of the resurrection and 2nd coming] no one knows… For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man.”
Noah and his family were saved in the Ark God had told them to build. Every other citizen, who were engaged in their everyday lives of putting food on the table, and growing up, getting married, and continuing the cycle of life, were swept away. It is better to endure the flood here, than to be taken away! So, “Keep awake therefore,” said Jesus, “for you do not know on what day your LORD is coming.”
This is the call, to us in our lives, which Advent highlights! We live in this in-between time. But we are not without knowledge of what is to come, and the dilemma of two worlds, two cultures, two kingdoms. We are called as the followers of Jesus, the baptized believers of God, to live in response to this tension. As St. Paul said, “salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near …let us live honorably as [we would live] in the day,” that is coming.
This is – spiritually – good news! Our salvation has come. We can claim, and name it, and live into it already! But, spirituality is not just an intellectual message to give a thumbs up or down to. And the clash of worlds, cultures, and kingdoms, is more than an intellectual exercise of choosing an ideology and a creed, for it plays out in the kingdom of this world that Jesus came to save. It intrudes into every aspect of our lives, and we cannot just wait and hope and confess, and call it a day, without preparing. ‘Learning war no more, as Isaiah said,’ is also connected to the action, of ‘beating our swords into plowshares.’ What if we spent as much time and energy on preparing for peaceful engagement, as we do on the patriotism of preparing for, building up for, and celebrating, war?
Ever since I was a teenager, when I was within a year of two of being drafted into the Vietnam war, I have tried to prepare for peace and seek to learn war no more. I vowed to stand up against the next Vietnam, and to teach and live an alternative way.
When I became a pastor and was called to our two-point parish in the Upper Peninsula of MI, and the drum beat for retaliation for the 911 attacks began to grow, Kim and I learned about a group calling itself the Northwoods Peace Coalition of Iron County. It was a cross section of concerned citizens, a small, but mighty band. The call of the administration to suddenly widen the war with Afghanistan, and to enter Iraq, based on false claims, was too obviously an illegal action, another Vietnam. And we started protesting in the streets along with ‘war no more’ groups, across the country.
Of course, the decision was made to go ahead, and the mighty American empire did indeed walk into Bagdad and crush the seemingly weak defenses of Saddam Hussein, in a matter of days – but the shock and awe, were only just beginning. So many needless lives lost on both sides! So much money wasted. We seem to have ‘taught war’ more than anything, and like a Pandora’s Box, resistance groups proliferated, and a civil conflict was unleased, that devastates countries on the other side of the world, as well as our own, with no end-game in sight. A war that did not have to start, and like Vietnam, has no winners.
Isaiah envisioned a day when we would ‘learn war no more.’ When we’d throw away our weapons, and cease the waste of war, creating instruments of peaceful coexistence, using our time and energy to build-up our lives and our families.
This is the world, and culture, and kingdom of God, that the prophets have been telling us about for centuries. And it’s tied up in the coming of the LORD, once and for all. Jesus came to bring a new way, God’s way, to us. It was a world and culture and kingdom, that lives with us still, side by side, alongside the world and culture and kingdoms, of death. They coexist, like the parable of the wheat and the weeds. One is hierarchical, and lord’s it over others, over the underdogs, who are demonized as ‘less-than.’ The ones on the top in this worldly kingdom, set the rules and cleverly find ways to make us play by them, often to our own detriment, playing us off against one another, fomenting and fertilizing hatred and distrust, as we fight for the scraps of a world, that supposedly can never produce enough for everyone.
The world and culture and kingdom that Jesus announced, on behalf of the God of Israel, who he called his own dear father, is a world of abundance, shared generously with the neighbor, where no one is demonized, but differences and diversity are celebrated as God-given gifts that can enrich us all. In this culture, we love our neighbor as ourselves, and we don’t need to scapegoat or create enemies to make a place for us to live and have value. We are fulfilled by living within the promised created-purpose of God’s (world, culture, and) kingdom, by living in the ways of righteousness, (justice), and love.
This is our spirituality – and our way of life!
Our nearest modern day prophet, martyred in 1968, identified the three evils of the kingdoms of this world as, war, racism, and poverty. Or in Dr. Kings own words, “the giant triplets of Racism, Economic Exploitation, and Militarism,” a continuation of his speech 4 months earlier in 1967, which no one had liked for its calling for an end to the Vietnam war, just one year before he died.
Our Christian faith is built on a clash of worlds, a clash of cultures, a clash of kingdoms! Advent, is this in-between season, in-between the coming birth of Christ, and the 2nd coming. What is our role in learning, teaching, and bringing in the kingdom, as the people of God? Are we just marionettes, to be manipulated in God’s great plan? Or are we called to enact the world, the culture, and the kingdom that Jesus invited us to? These are still questions not completely answered – and perhaps they account for Advent’s unpopularity of all the seasons of the Church Year! But they are questions that won’t go away, not even by ignoring them.
The clashes that our Christian faith are built on, must be resolved, and we must find our place in them. “Therefore,” said Jesus, “you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”