Witness

We are witnesses for Christ by being the reaching arms, the healing hands, the teaching words, the running feet, the loving hearts, the very body, of our Lord and our Savior.

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Today is the third Sunday of Advent: that wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey season when we…

You know, every Advent I get into this rhythm. Each of the sermons connects to a candle. Each of the candles connects to a theme. And the theme guides us through the season right up to Christmas.

And I end up starting each sermon in each Advent series in a similar way. I just switch out the theme for the theme for the week. Most years, that means that Advent is that wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey season when we practice hope or peace or joy or love.

This year, because I am trying something a little bit different, Advent is that wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey season when we wait and prepare and… well, I don’t want to get ahead of myself.

But this week, our word is ‘witness’, and that throws things off. Just a little bit. Just enough.

Advent is the season when we witness in holy anticipation—right now in the present—an event that happen so long ago that it’s easy to imagine that it never happened at all: when Christ laid aside glory and came into the world as one of us, among a dispossessed people in an occupied land, to parents who couldn’t find a decent place to stay for the night.

Except that we don’t.

We hear the story. We might even believe the story. We might even root our lives in that story. But the angels do not come to us on a hillside. And we do not see a star hanging over a humble hamlet in Judah. And we do not walk up to a manger and witness the Christ-child.

And… Advent is the season when we witness in holy anticipation—right now in the present—an event that taken so long to happen that it’s easy to imagine that it will never happen at all: when Christ will return to the world in glory, and usher in God’s reign of love, and destroy the powers of death forever.

Except that we don’t.

We hear the promise. We might even believe the promise. We might even root our lives in the promise. But the clouds do not part. And the heavens do not open. And we do not stand before the Son of Man, seated on a throne, surrounded by angels, and witness Christ as he judges the world with mercy.

And… Advent is the whole long right-now-in-the-present between those two events—those two events that we have heard about, but that we have not witnessed—when we ponder how we are supposed to live here and now, in the in-between, when all that we have is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen.

Today is the third Sunday of Advent: that wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey season when we…

Our reading today is from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah. And it’s a wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey book.

On the one hand, we can read this book in a secular and scholarly style, and divide it into three parts, more or less. The first part, written when the Assyrian Empire was expanding and marching inexorably toward Jerusalem. The second part, written after the Babylonian Empire had devoured the Assyrian Empire, and captured Judah, and sent its people into exile. And the third part, written after the Persian Empire had overthrown the Babylonian Empire and let the Jews go home, and rebuild the temple, and start again.

On the other hand, we can read this book in a religious and faithful style, and still divide it into three parts, more or less. The first part, addressed to the people before the Assyrian Empire. The second part, address to the people during the Babylonian exile. And the third part, addressed to the people after the Persian Empire let them come home.

And either way, our reading today is firmly in that second part. The people are in exile. The people are in the in-between. What was is not, anymore. And there are people who did not live in what was; there are people who do not remember it. And what will be is not, yet. And there are people who are not interested in what will be; there are people who cannot see it. And that is when a voice cries out:

Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations.

We are in the in-between.

I mean that in a big way. We are in-between the thing that was and the thing that will be. We are in-between Christ come into the world as one of us and Christ come into the world in glory.

And that is a hard place to be. Because it means being from a kingdom of love that has not yet blossomed while living in a world that is utterly broken. It means straddling the line between the world-as-it-is and the world-as-God-is-calling-it-to-be.

And it is tempting to assimilate to the brokenness-that-is and abandon the kingdom-that-is-not-yet. It is tempting to go along to get along… and not make waves… and just figure out how to live—unnoticed and invisible—in exile.

But I also mean that in a small way. Or, at least, a smaller way. We are in-between the thing that was and the thing that will be. We are in-between the First Congregational United Church of Christ that was and the First Congregational United Church of Christ that God is calling into being.

And that is a hard place to be. Because, for some of us, it means sharing space with people who do not remember what was while we grieve the things that we miss. And, for some of us, it means sharing space with people who cannot see what will be while we strive to do a new thing.

And it is tempting to give up. It is tempting to walk away if what was is not again; to find another community that feeds our nostalgia for the church that was remember. Or it is tempting to walk away if what will be does not come fast enough; to find another community that has already blossomed into something new.

It is tempting to assimilate to the brokenness-that-is and treat churches—these little consulates of the kingdom—as consumer goods: to abandon the ones that are no longer the ways that we want them to be, and to look for the ones that are already the ways that we want them to be, and to repeat that process again and again.

And it is in those in-betweens when a voice cries out:

I am the Lord; I have called you in righteousness; I have taken you by the hand and kept you; I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.

Today is the third Sunday of Advent: that wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey season when we… witness.

And it is true that we are not witnesses to what was—we weren’t there then—but we are witnesses to the story.

And it is true that we are not witnesses to what will be—we aren’t there yet—be we are witnesses to the promise.

And that matters. That matters so much. Because this broken world…

…this world where people live in crushing poverty; this world where climate change threatens whole communities; this world where oppression and marginalization—where violence and the threat of violence—are the lived realities of countless people; this world that is full of dispossessed people living in occupied lands; this world that is full of people who cannot find a decent place to stay for the night or a safe place to spend the day…

…this broken world needs the story of what God has done for us. And this broken world needs the promise of what God is calling into being. And this broken world needs to know that there are people who—even if we have not been to the mountain top and even if we have not seen the promised land—are co-conspiring with God to make that promise a reality.

There’s this one last piece to this.

Last week, I told you that we prepare for Christ to come into the world by serving the Christ who is already in the world, in every pleading face and outstretched hand. And that was half the truth.

This week, I am telling you that we witness for Christ by being Christ to friends and neighbors and strangers and enemies and everyone. We are witnesses for Christ by being the body of Christ in this world: the reaching arms, the healing hands, the teaching words, the running feet, the loving hearts of our Lord and our Savior.

We are witnesses for Christ by bringing good news to the poor, by proclaiming release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, by setting free the oppressed and declaring that God’s reign of love is blossoming in this world even now.

And when people ask why we do all of that and more—when people ask why we stand up and speak out; when people ask why we are willing to endure hardship, even to the cross and the tomb, for the sake of the least of these—we are witnesses for Christ when we tell them,

Because Christ did the same for us. And if we do this for each other, then we just might discover that Christ has been here, among us, in the in-between, this whole time.

Today is the third Sunday of Advent: that wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey season when we witness. Today is the third Sunday of that season when we ponder how we are supposed to live here and now, in the in-between.

And part of the answer to that question is that we wait. And part of the answer to that question is that we prepare.

And part of the answer to that is that we witness. Not to the things that we have heard with our own ears, but to the story that we have told. And not to the things that we have seen with our own eyes, but to the promise that we have been promised.

And not simply by telling people that Christ is coming, but by showing people that Christ is here: that the former things have come to pass, and what was is no more; that new things are being declares, and, behold, a new world is springing forth.

Thank you for sharing!

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