The Rev. Hal Chorpenning,
Plymouth Congregational UCC
Fort Collins, Colorado
Advent is the time of year when we start thinking that we can fall into the same comfortable pattern of lighting candles, anticipating Christmas — and hearing endless refrains of “Rudolph” and “White Christmas” as we shop for presents. But today I’d like to suggest something a little different.
The texts that we read during Advent include some familiar stories, like John the Baptizer telling us that he is not messiah…who will not baptize with water, but with the Holy Spirit and with fire. And during this season, we also get lots of prophecy from Isaiah, of the wolf and the lamb living harmoniously, the shoot growing forth from the tree of Jesse, and the young woman bearing a son. And on this first Sunday of Advent, we get a prophecy of peace…of an anything-but-familiar way of living in the world.
Today’s text comes from the first of three sections of the Book of Isaiah, and it sounds almost like a pilgrimage psalm, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord.” This chapter reinforces the idea of Jerusalem (the mountain of the Lord) is the home of God. Even though we think of God as “everywhere” not just in Jerusalem, the writer is setting the reign of God above all the empires of the earth…Assyria and Babylon, then Rome, then London, then Washington. That implies that it won’t be business as usual in God’s world…that something new is going to happen.
I was struck this week by Pope Francis’s visit to Japan, especially to the atomic bomb sites of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. While we were visiting my son Cameron in Japan last spring, Jane Anne and I visited Hiroshima and found it to be an incredibly moving experience. It is not easy to be an American and to visit the city that was leveled by a bomb dropped by our nation to end the Second World War. When we were there, we noticed a conspicuous scarcity of Americans, especially visiting the museum that details life in Hiroshima before, during, and after the bombing. One of the artifacts that touched me particularly was a child’s tricycle that had been twisted and burned by the blast. My dad served in the Pacific during World War II and was later a B-17 pilot, so it had some deep, personal resonances for me. Without judging whether the use of atomic weapons was an appropriate decision, all of us can acknowledge that it happened, and that there were extraordinary casualties.
And it was there in Japan, the only nation to endure an atomic bombing, that Pope Francis called for a world free from nuclear weapons, saying, “The use of atomic energy for purposes of war is immoral…we will be judged on this.” That is a new thing! That is kingdom talk, not empire talk. It is a radical departure from what we consider the normalcy of civilization. Our nation spends nearly $50 billion on the nuclear weapons industry…what else might we do with that $50 billion?
Isaiah, Micah, and Joel all use the imagery of “beating swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks.” And that is what Pope Francis is saying. Fifty billion dollars could build a lot of plowshares. Could we ever consider something so radical?
Jesus was a radical in ways that John never was. John came offering a baptism for the repentance of sins, and Jesus came healing the sick and proclaiming God’s liberating reign…in other words, regime change…through the movement of the Holy Spirit.
Walter Brueggemann, a UCC theologian writes, “being baptized with God’s holy spirit [means]…we may be visited by a spirit of openness, generosity, energy, that ‘the force’ may come over us, carry us to do obedient things we have not yet done, kingdom things we did not think we had in us, neighbor things from which we cringe. The whole tenor of Advent is that God may act in us, through us, beyond us, more than we imagined because newness is on its way among us. John is not the newness. He prepares us for the newness….Advent is preparing for the demands of newness that will break the tired patterns of fear in our lives.”
What are the tired patterns of fear in our nation that hamstring us? Could be find a new way, a kingdom way, to share the abundance God has entrusted to us? Could we find a new way to focus our efforts the collective good, rather than simply our individual well-being and economic self-interest?
What are the tired patterns of fear in your own life? Could you find a new way, a kingdom way, of understanding and sharing the abundance God has entrusted to you? Could you let go of thinking that you are an inadequate parent, partner, student, daughter or son – and perhaps see in yourself what God already sees in you? Could you let go of some of the “what ifs” in your life and simply live in the moment? Could you let go of some of your attitude of scarcity – that there is never enough – and instead focus on the abundance that God has given you, not just in economic terms, but in terms of time, relationship, love, and faith?
Are you ready for some newness to break forth in Advent this year? If so, what might you ask God to help you with? The wonder of our faith is that you are not alone…you don’t have to muscle through tough changes on your own, because God is with you every step of the way.
Will you pray with me? God, we ask for you to accompany us on our Advent journey. May we take time to be present with you, with those we love, and with ourselves. May be gentle with the people around us and with ourselves. And may we be alert to the changes you may be calling forth within us and among us, and may we keep awake to the newness that Advent brings.
© 2019 Hal Chorpenning, all rights reserved. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to reprint, which will typically be granted for non-profit uses.
 “Pope Francis called for a world free of nuclear weapons” by Christopher White, Washington Post, November 24, 2019.
 Walter Brueggemann, Celebrating Abundance. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2017), p. 4
The Rev. Hal Chorpenning has been Plymouth's senior minister since 2002. Before that, he was associate conference minister with the Connecticut Conference of the UCC. A grant from the Lilly Endowment enabled him to study Celtic Christianity in the UK and Ireland. Prior to ordained ministry, Hal had a business in corporate communications. Read more about Hal.