Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.
The days are darker and it is indeed cold outside.
I’m going to invoke my pop culture reference of the day, by saying quote from an HBO television series called the Game of Thrones by saying “Winter is here,” which describes an unbearably cold season and pending war. If that reference doesn’t tickle your fancy, the song lyrics of Dean Martin “The weather outside is frightful” will hopefully offer the sentiment I’m reaching for.
There are a number of ways that we can externally cope with the coldness-first, by wearing clothes, which is a great idea for all weather types. In order to keep warm we put on sweaters and coats, hats and gloves. There are ways to avoid the darker days by travelling to parts of the states or even the world that is sunnier and warmer. However, there are some aspects of our lives that are left vulnerable, open and unprotected. Internally, some of us find it difficult to cope with loneliness, sadness, guilt and disappointments.
Darkness has fallen upon us literally and figuratively, which is why I find the means through which we celebrate our liturgical season of Advent helpful. Because the very first candle that we light, is the Candle of Hope, and is also reflected in its blue color.
It is through the candle of hope, in the small twinkle of the flame, are we reminded that hope comes, sometimes, in very small and tiny ways-just as we anticipate the birth of the Christ Child, hope will be found in a small baby in a manger, in the cover of night’s darkness. It is through this hope, that small ounce of feeling within us, we enter into the holiday season. We are reminded that Emmanuel, God with us, is indeed with us. Both in hope and its prophetic witness of our faith, are we reminded that even if you are feeling hopeless, that hope is soon to come.
We continue to follow Jesus’ prophetic expression of signs and wonders to his disciples and followers. The gospel text offers us beautiful and terrifying images of despair and an inevitable, unavoidable doom,““There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. 26 People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.” The scene is very dramatic, but based on what we’ve witnessed over time and presently, it is totally believable.
Kara Fox, a journalist for CNN, recently reported that in the country of Yemen, 85,000 children under the age of 5 may have died from starvation as a result of war. Just in August, dozens of children traveling on a school bus was killed by a bomb, a bomb that was created by America, but sold to Saudi’s under a weapon’s deal.
But we don’t have to look far for such atrocities and manifestations of these prophetic signs.
In our very own state of Pennsylvania, according the Southern Poverty Law Center, we rank #5 out 50 states, “Pennsylvania has the fifth most hate groups in the US–a title it’s now claimed for the second year in a” row. According to welfareinfo.org, in our state there are over 1.6 million people living in poverty, and at least 15-16,000 of them are here in our very own city of Harrisburg, leaving Harrisburg with a poverty rate of 31.7%, with residents reporting below poverty level incomes within the past year. That is huge.
“People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.” And shaken they are…
These numbers are astronomical and almost seem to much to handle. But as the expression goes, “How does one eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” (my apologies to the vegans and vegetarians, as I’m sure there’s a better expression, but I hope you get the point). Through small bites, small efforts, we are able to affect change, so that we are able to stand up and raise our heads. There are a number of organizations, individuals, and our very own St. Stephen’s Cathedral that have shown up in small, but mighty and impactful ways.
“It is futile that we help one another to survive.” Famine, hate, poverty, are all monstrous systems that seem unending and larger than what we can manage. However, Daily Bread has a program that offers sanctuary, food, rest, showers to those who are experiencing homelessness and we have a group that volunteers with them. Throughout the week, our office receives phone calls and requests for assistance and we are able to offer them, because we stand together as a community offering our resources through finances, time and talent.
Jesus said, “Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
It is in the face of our external and internal strife that we must stand together and help one another to survive and to thrive-regardless of our race, creed, gender identity and even our very own beliefs, we will raise our heads together, because that is our redeeming hope. A quote from a friend, “The gospel is at its best when it is a shield for the weak, not a sword for the powerful.”
Just like the small spark of the flame, and our anticipation for the small babe in the manger, lies our future and present hope.
Let us stand together, during this dark and cold time.
This sermon was preached by the Rev. Deacon Shayna Watson at St. Stephen’s Cathedral on December 2nd, 2018, for the First Sunday of Advent. The readings for the day, which can be found at this link, were:
- Jeremiah 33:14-16
- Psalm 25:1-9
- 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13
- Luke 21:25-36
- 85,000 children under 5 may have died of starvation in Yemen war, Kara Fox via cnn.com. Click here to view.