Hope amid Bowls of Tears
29 November 2020
Advent 1 B
The Rev. Fr. Tony Hutchinson, SCP, Ph.D.
Homily delivered at Trinity Episcopal Parish, Ashland Oregon
10:00 a.m. Ante-communion Live-Streamed from the Chancel
God, take away our hearts of stone, and give us hearts of flesh. Amen
When I first became an Episcopalian, I was taken aback when Advent came. For me, it had always been the time for preparing for Christmas. But then, right there in the lectionary, it was all about the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord! Yikes! But a kind priest resolved my conflict. Advent is the season where we focus on the once and future coming of our Lord. It happened back then, but it will happen still in the future. As the Gospel of John puts it, “the hour is coming, and now is.”
It is part and parcel with the heart of our faith. We look about the world and see it is broken. We see it in the plague we are facing; we see it in how poorly we at times respond to the stresses caused by the plague. We saw it this week, alas, in the altercation at the Stratford Inn and the murder of young Aidan Ellison. We see it it in the divided partisanship of our society, our unwillingness to listen to each other or hear truth that does not conform to our hopes and desires. Stubborn things, facts. We see it in our neglect of others, or our outright exploitation of others. We see it in our abuse of the natural world. As the psalmist says today, because God has hidden from us, we abandon following God’s ways.
We hope for God to come and set things right. That’s what “day of judgment” means, after all. In the Old Testament, the Book of Judges is not about legal court and people in white powdered wigs wielding gavels and being called “Your Honor.” It is about men and women like Samson, Deborah, Judith, Jael, Barak: military heroes who set things right and liberate the oppressed. That’s the basic idea of the “Day of Judgment.” But if we ask who are the wicked who might get the worse of it when things are set right, if we are honest, we see that, in the words of Pogo, “we have met the enemy and he is us.” So we fear the day of judgment as well as hope for it.
Hope. That’s what Advent is all about. We see the world and see that, even 2,000 years after the coming of our Lord in the flesh, it is still a profoundly broken place. And, in the words of Langston Hughes, what happens to hope deferred? Does it dry like a raisin in the sun? Or does it explode?
As, again, the Psalmist says in today’s reading, “You have fed us with the bread of tears, you have given us bowls of tears to drink.” And yet, we must continue to trust God, knowing he made us, and we are his. So he cannot completely blame us for our misdoings. He made us this way, and we are his. And, being his, he will restore us to health, confidence, prosperity, and peace.
The message of Advent, which talks about how God has come already and will still come again, is this: don’t give up on hope.
Today’s readings all have this dual past/present vs. future, this “punish the wicked!” vs. “spare us, good Lord!” character.
Paul today tells us that God has given us all the spiritual gifts needed to get us through safe and sound. We need to keep on trusting, keep on hoping. That is what “stay awake for the return of the Master” in the Gospel means.
When I was young, I sometimes heard in Church sermons on what they called the “signs of the times,” or the signs of the end. Most of these were disastrous indications of the world going to hell and destruction. I only later learned that this was a gross misunderstanding of the New Testament idea of “signs of the times.” In Matthew 16:1-3, the Pharisees and Sadducees come to Jesus and ask him to show them a sign from heaven. They have heard of his marvelous healings and acts, which he says is a sign that the reign of God has come near. They want a proof before they’ll believe his claims. He replies, “You know how to read the weather, but not read the signs of the times.” For Jesus, his marvelous acts that showed God’s grace and love and healing were the true signs of what time we live in.
Paul agrees—this twilight we are in is leading to light, not darkness. He wants the night—with its “works of darkness”—to end.
As the Collect for Advent reminds us, we must put away the “works of darkness,” that is, the actions that are symptomatic of this messed up and unjust word.. That, too, is a sign that we have stayed awake in our long wait for the vindication of God.
Keep awake! Cast aside the works of darkness and don the armor of light. Put on Christ. Know that God loves us, and will help us be better.
In the name of Christ, Amen.