2 Advent Year C

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Take good care — this is Advent.

Why do I say it that way?
Because the culture is hostile
to authentic presentations of Christianity.

If we are clear-eyed and honest about it,
authentic Christian faith
is disrespected in the Public Square
and silenced by subjugation
to stereotyped images on television and in the movies.

The culture is hostile to Christianity
because the Chemists of Culture –
those who mix the proportions and ingredients of
market economics, education,
arts, entertainment, and government,
are scared of Christianity —
of religion in general.
They should be.

Buddhism is not a threat yet,
at least here in the US,
so it has been lionized in the popular culture.

Islam? Well it has been ravaged
in the public square since 9/11,
and always presented almost exclusively
as a dangerous and violent theology.

Judaism? Polarized.
The actual faith and theology are obscured
by the Geo-political conflicts
between Israel and Palestine.

But Christianity?
In the United States, authentic Christianity
is the biggest threat of all.
Because it was once the dominant religion,
and still by far the majority religion,
and it has held sway for so long.

But take a look at that reading from Luke.

When Luke is going to tell us about the “Word of God”
coming to John the Baptist in the wilderness,
why does he begin
by telling us who the politicians are?
Why does he begin this story
by telling us it was in the reign of Tiberius,
under the local dictatorship of Pontus Pilate?
Or, as we will hear on Christmas Eve
when Luke begins to tell the story
of when Jesus was born,
why does he begin by telling us
that it was in the reign of Augustus
when Quirinius was governor?

It is because history is always told
from the point of view of the winners –
and by the professional historians
who work for the Chemists of the Culture.

If that culture is hostile to you,
and you want your story to be remembered,
then you have to peg it to the milestones
that the winners keep.

From the very beginning,
when we were slaves in Egypt,
we have understood
that we are counter-cultural in a hostile environment.
We have forgotten this from time to time,
and acted more like Pharaoh than Moses,
but it doesn’t take long to be reminded
about which is the spiritual path.

From the very beginning,
when we were prophets
warning the kings and the religious authorities
that their decadence and consumerism
was going to lead to a tremendous national tragedy,
we have understood
the social and economic implications of being spiritual people.

From the very beginning,
when we were healers for people who had been marginalized
because of their illness and woundedness,
and when we became marginalized too
because we dared to embrace them,
we have understood the subversiveness
of being spiritual people.

From the very beginning,
when we were prophets, messiahs and disciples
who were reformers of a religion that had become
fat and corrupt around a hierarchy of men,
enmeshed and beholden to
the economic and military powers,
we have understood that rubbing salt in their wounds
is part of what it means to be spiritual people.

And though our religion
and our leaders and institutions
have often become
hawkers and shills for the economic culture,
we have always had strong currents in Christianity
that remembered…
Those that remembered ordinary spiritual people
are yeast for justice,
advocates for mercy, and
the lovers of peace.

And that, my friends, is the Christmas story.
We have already begun telling it
and will continue to tell it through Advent –
building week by week
to that moment on Christmas Eve.

It is a story told from the margins of society
with a profound and poignant reminder
that being spiritual people,
we are always working against the culture.

It should make us angry on some level,
that our story is never truly told
in the public square —
at least not with any authenticity.
I do not mean from an evangelical point of view
because we know and respect
that our story is not everyone’s story.

But all the Christmas stuff
we see and hear
on the radio or television,
or Lowes and Walmart for crying out loud,
is sentimentalized yuck.
Those manger scenes and decorations,
and fa-la-la carols,
are stripped of any true spiritual content.

Instead, they are totally appropriated
by the Chemists of Culture
to reinforce the story
they want us to spend our money on.

Being spiritual people,
we understand that the story of Christmas
is counter-cultural and subversive,
and we share in the joy of surprise
when those who never knew it
suddenly stumble into that wisdom too.

So let me conclude with this whisper from the past
that blows like a January wind into the future.
The words of this prophet are the same distance from us
that Luke was from Jesus.
It is the Christmas story we wish to unleash.

In the reign of Joseph R. Biden,
when a woman named Hochul was Governor;
in the time an Argentinian named Francis
was Bishop of Rome,
and an American Black man
named, Michael, was the presiding Bishop;
in the second year of Valentino’s administration
in the city cradled by a region known as Finger Lakes;
the Word of the Lord came to an oddball group
of people gathered in a former wine bar
at the heart of the city.

As it was written in the words of the prophet:
“This is our hope.
This is the faith that we go into our lives with.

With this faith
we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair
a stone of hope.

With this faith
we will be able to transform the jangling discords
of our nation into a beautiful symphony of community.

With this faith
we will be able to work together,
to pray together,
to struggle together,
to stand up for freedom together,
knowing our freedom cannot be paid for
on the backs of peasants and sweatshop workers
in other regions of the world.

When we allow freedom to ring,
when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet,
from every state and every city
we speed up that day when all God’s children,
black and white,
Jews and Muslims,
Protestants and Catholics,
will be able to join hands and sing the words
of that old (African American) spiritual,
‘Free at last! Free at last!
Thank God almighty, we are free at last!’”

You remember those words
and that prophet, right?
(The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.)

THAT voice,
that wisdom,
that vision,
is the same voice
and the same wisdom
and the same vision
that spiritual people have always told —
the same as Luke’s voice we read this morning.

It is the whisper that changes the chemistry of culture.
It is the current that subverts the course of the stream.
It is the relentless hope
that never, never, never has and never will
be beaten down
by the Chemists of Culture.

No matter how successful they are in subjugating our story
for their economic and military purposes,
the voice and the wisdom and the vision

Now take care.
This is a tough season for spiritual people.
We see things
and know things
that weigh heavy on our hearts and minds.

We understand what is going on
and we recognize the motives of people
who are led by profit more than prophets.

It is a weary season for spiritual people
who are by nature and desire healers.
We see and feel the woundedness of others,
even as we experience most acutely our own wounds.

So take care.
Spiritual people need to be nurtured
in such a difficult season.

Allow yourself to be held in the arms of community.
Allow yourself to find the arms of those who love you most closely.
Allow yourself to stop and breathe
and remember the larger picture…the deeper hope…the greater love.
Allow yourself to rest and be touched
by the peace of God that surpasses our understanding…

The mysterious and even whimsical movement
of the Spirit through ordinary moments
and our time in history.

Allow yourself to stop and look around
and see the marvelous people in the world around you – even here, even now –
and know they are a gift.

Who would have thought,
given what we have been told
by all those that are hostile to Christianity,
that a religion could be so spiritual
and that being spiritual
we could be so counter-cultural…so subversive?

Take good care – this is Advent.