Exactly how much mayhem does one need to witness before concluding that something is terribly wrong? Daily headlines of extrajudicial killings of African-American citizens, war, mass migrations of persons fleeing from war, terrorist attacks in the name of God and the rude slander of persons by leading presidential contenders are enough to convince us that something is off balance. Right? But the fact is, Americans polarize into extremes and some, on the left, want to naively believe in the last superstition, progress (as Christopher Lasch wrote in his book, The True and Only Heaven). Or those on the right hunker down, double down and promote more violence as the solution to violence. It is a self-defeating proposition but logic is not a strong suit of the NRApocalyptic view of the world.
Enter the biblical narrative of Advent, which is to say, the coming of the Christ in our midst. This Sunday is the First Sunday of Advent. How much we need to hear this account again! The world is plunged into darkness. It is more than evident to anyone willing to put down their ideological playbook that human beings are sinners in need of a Redeemer. Don’t like the word “sin?” Try this: human beings are deeply alienated and in need of reconciliation. However we state the obvious, we would do well to begin our journey to a sanctuary of peace such is offered by our church. Not to the mall, clawing our way through crowds and the push-and-shove of consumer frenzy. Not to a party. But to the sanctuary of the Holy One who would speak to us again of peace and justice and a Redeemer.
See that field of shepherds? It is night. And it is night in more ways than one, for they are poor and live in the midst of a brutal Roman occupation. Set in the night sky is a star. That is a luminous symbol of Christ’s presence in our world as the dim tides of history and the inhumane plots of wicked persons blot out the light. The Gospel of John captures that scene in another way, saying, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” (1:5)
This is the First Sunday of Advent. Let us take a step toward light, toward love and peace. ~See you Sunday.
If you found yourself in the midst of a war, where would you go? Would you seek a place of refuge and safety? We are and have been in the midst of war.
If you awakened one more morning and heard the spin masters and tail-that-wags-the-dog rhetoricians howling as usual, what would you prefer to do? Where might you go for silence? where might you go for truth-telling?
If you peered into the mirror and felt your heart skip a beat with the sudden recognition that you are the problem as America or some other country defines a problem; if you dealt for a moment with the sober recognition that your race, your gender, your sexual orientation were the enemy as defined by money-raising think tanks that can’t think outside a tank or a box, what would you do? Where would you go to be embraced for who you are, celebrated for your singular and gifted life?
If one evening as the shadows lengthened you found yourself rubbing an aching scar, a wounded memory of having been trespassed-against, of being abandoned or unloved, what would you do? Where could you go to find healing, unconditional love, a candle lit against the darkness?
I know a place. It happens to be a people who gather in a building but the building is beside the point. Where two or more are gathered in my name, Jesus said, I will be there. Welcome to peace. Welcome to safety and embrace. Welcome to Riverside Church. Don’t be alone. Don’t carry it all on your shoulders. Forget the assorted spin masters and pot stirrers that bang their pots and pans up and down the neighborhood, the city, the country. I know a place that will welcome you and where Christ gathers with us. See you Sunday. ~Pastor Bledsoe
The futility of human endeavors, polluted by profane and violent persons, is never clearer to us than in days like these, when nations war against nations and the leaders of pariah states existing within such nations prefer death to diplomacy. The 100th anniversary of World War I is upon us. 1914. This horrific war that introduced mechanized destruction and ruin still echoes through our histories. Frankly, I have no idea why anyone would embrace what Christopher Lasch (in his book, The True and Only Heaven: Progress and Its Critics) would call “the last superstition”–the idea that human beings are gods and need only visit the self-help aisle in the local book store; that technology will save us; that progress is our telos, our inevitable goal and end. That is as misguided an anthropology as I can think of.
Another way to say this is: we enter the sanctuary on Sundays because we know we have participated in the ruin of the world; because the injustice and violence that consumes so much of the world is the result of a pathetic apathy with “the way it is.” We know we need God’s mercy and grace to restore us. Frankly, I’m surprised that there is any space for anyone to sit down in our sanctuary so great are the needs in this age, so desperate the longings and greed of the power-crazed, so frenetic our often pointless activity designed to keep us busy but ever failing to bring resolution and hope to our citizens. Don’t be fooled—this landscape littered with the gods of ideology, blood-soaked by cruel and zealous practitioners of a Truth that only they possess—is not confined to the Middle East or to the Balkans, Ukraine and Russia. Our own government is captured by the most zealous and cynical politicians in a history that has known some very corrupt and profane congressmen. As I said, I am surprised people are not lined up to enter a church that offers peace, refuge and a call to the love and peace of God in Christ.
Yes, the world is a wreck. That is not new. Read the prophets. Isaiah noted long ago that the earth staggers like a drunk. My encouragement to you is, get yourself to a holy place, stand in the presence of The Other who is Just, ponder the revelation of God in the lowly and crucified Christ. Pray for yourself. Pray for your world. And then when you’re finished praying, go back into the world and try to love it as Christ loved it. Stop destroying and ruining the earth and its inhabitants. May the love of Christ compel us to heal the world and those around us. May the Holy remove what is unholy and profane in us. And may we begin to see in the faces of others the image of God in which, we are assured by scripture, they were made.