Today is the second Sunday in Advent: that season when we wait, in holy anticipation, for God to come into the world as one of us, among a dispossessed people in an occupied land; as a newborn, to new parents, who couldn’t find a place to stay for the night.
Today is the second Sunday in Advent: when we light a candle for peace.
I’ve said this before—and I’m confident that I’ll be saying it for the foreseeable future—but the last nineteen or twenty or twenty-one months have been anything but peaceful.
Over the last couple of years or so, we have been through a lot: a global pandemic, school board arguments, protests and vigils and riots, contentious elections and growing partisanship, trials and tribulations and so much more.
And while all of that has been going on, we have invented and reinvented and re-reinvented the ways that we do church: how we worship, how we do faith formation, how we live as a community, and so much more.
At every level of life, we have longed to get back to normal and yearned for something better than normal. We have hoped for the return of the familiar rhythms of life that we knew before everything got all… whatever this is.
And the familiar rhythms of life aren’t exactly peace. They aren’t the deep-down peace that comes with the presence of justice and righteousness and grace. They aren’t the peace that we will have when we lounge by the river of the water of life, in the shade of the tree of life, whose leaves are for the healing of the nations.
But, after the last nineteen or twenty or twenty-one months, they might be peace enough: a moment of rest on a long journey.
Last week, I said that Advent is a season that calls to the past, and the present, and the future. I said that it’s a big ball of wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey… stuff.
And the truth is that it’s not just Advent. The truth is that the church—even a little corner of the church like this congregation—is a big ball of wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey stuff. And we all remember… we all misremember… different familiar rhythms of life.
Some of those familiar rhythms have been with us since time immemorial. Some have been with us for decades. Some have been with us for a handful of years.
Some keep going. Some were retired with a celebration and a sincere farewell. Some just fizzled out or faded away.
And they all get mixed together in visions of the way that the church—even a little corner of the church like this congregation—has always been… in ideas of what is normal and stable and consistent… in memories… well…
…sometimes our memories are Debussy or Satie, when our lives were Brubeck.. or Ferneyhough.
We remember and we misremember. And we’ve been inventing and reinventing and re-reinventing since the very beginning.
In our reading today, the Lord has brought Ezekiel to a valley full of bones: shards of skulls and pieces of jaws, ribs and pelvises, humeri and femurs, carpels and metacarpals and phalanges.
Ezekiel is a prophet in exile; he might as well be a prophet among the dead. You see, the king of Babylon came to Jerusalem… and brought the King of Judah, and his officials, and the priests and the prophets, back to Babylon… and appointed someone else as the king of Judah, so that Judah might remain humble and not lift itself up.
And Ezekiel was one of the people who was brought back to Babylon. He is a prophet in exile; he might as well be a prophet among the dead. And now he is standing in this valley full of bones.
And the Lord asks him, “Can these bones—dry and cracked and broken—live?”
And Ezekiel answers, “I don’t know.”
So the Lord commands him, “Prophesy. Tell them the word of the Lord. Tell them that the Lord says to get up; to stand up; to grow muscle and sinew, organs and flesh; to breathe breath.”
And Ezekiel does. He looks out at the bones… shards of skulls and pieces of jaws, ribs and pelvises, humeri and femurs, carpels and metacarpals and phalanges… dry and cracked and broken… and speaks the word of the Lord: “Get up! Stand up! Grow muscle and sinew! Grow organs and flesh! Breathe breath!”
And they do. The bones rattle and shake. And muscle and sinew connect them together. And organs grow and flesh covers the insides. And the winds rush and filled them with breath. And where there had been bones, there are people.
Not skeletons. Not zombies. Not the spooky or the scary. People.
Where there had been the dead, there are the living.
And the Lord says to Ezekiel, “This is Israel. They are in exile and they think that they might as well be dead. They are saying that they’re dried up and their hope is lost and they’re completely cut off. Prophesy to them. Tell them the word of the Lord. Tell them that I will open their graves and bring them out. Tell them that I will put my spirit in them and bring them back to life. Tell them that they will have their own place, and the familiar rhythms of life, and peace.”
And here’s the thing: it isn’t just Israel; it’s all of us. It’s all of creation.
The last nineteen or twenty or twenty-one months have been anything but peaceful. The last nineteen or twenty or twenty-one months have been hard. And it hasn’t just been the last nineteen or twenty or twenty-one months.
It has been decades and centuries and millennia. And yes, sometimes, for some of us, it’s been the familiar rhythms of life… Debussy or Satie… peace enough to rest on a long journey. But sometimes for us—and all the time for someone—it’s been Brubeck or Ferneyhough.
Sometimes, it might as well have been death.
And in the middle of all of that, God calls to us—to all of us, to all of creation—and says, “I will open your graves and bring you out. I will put my spirit in you and bring you back to life. You will have your own place, and the familiar rhythms of life, and peace.”
But that’s not all.
Today after worship, our leadership teams are gathering to plan for 2022. And, in a couple of weeks, a little later than usual, we are going to celebrate stewardship Sunday: we will bless the pledges that will fund those plans for 2022. You’ve already gotten a letter about it. Maybe you’ve already filled it out and turned it in to the office.
And maybe you noticed that we’re being a little more direct this year… and we’re asking everyone to do something daring… to do something brave. We’re asking you to look at the pledge that you made last year, and make a bigger one for next year.
And we’re doing that for a reason.
The last nineteen or twenty or twenty-one months have been hard. And not just the last nineteen or twenty or twenty-one months. I think that we’ve had some moments—now and then, here and there—when we’ve felt a little dried up, and hopeless, and cut off… remembering and misremembering a past full of the familiar rhythms of life… Debussy and Satie.
But here’s the thing: God didn’t just call Israel; God called all of us. God called all of creation; and that means that God called this little corner of the church…
…to get up and stand up; to grow muscle and sinew, organs and flesh; to breathe the breath of the spirit; to live.
And God is calling us to go out into this world—into this community—and find the people who are thinking that they’re dried up, and their hope is lost, and they’re completely cut off… and prophesy.
God is calling us to go out into this world—into this community—and find the people who are thinking that they’re just bones in a valley… and tell them the good news.
God is calling us to go out into this world—into this community—and find the people who are thinking that they might as well be dead… and call them to life.
God is calling us to make bold plans and see them through… to dance to a fascinating rhythm… to live our lives and do good and make things better. … with the time, talent, and treasure that God has so graciously entrusted to our care.
And so we’re asking everyone to step up… to answer that call through our giving… to be wild and dangerous and full of grace. So that more people might experience the wonders of God’s grace; so that more people might know that they are loved and worthy of love.
Today is the second Sunday of Advent: that season when we recommit ourselves to the work of holy anticipation, in the hope that the seed that Christ scattered so long ago will grow and blossom, and the world will become what it is yearning to be… nothing less than the kingdom of God.
Today is the second Sunday in Advent: when we light a candle for peace; when we carry the light of peace out into the world; when we invite people to find a new rhythm of life… a rhythm of justice and righteousness and grace… of true peace. Today is the day when we imagine reinventing the world.