Radical NotionsRead Now
The Rev. Hal Chorpenning,
Plymouth Congregational UCC
Fort Collins, Colorado
I’m going to let you in on a secret…when we offer silent prayers, the shortcoming I confess most is impatience. I wonder if God gets tired to hearing “Lord, help me to be more patient” from the occupant of that chair behind me. I am not someone who is great at waiting, anticipating, and knowing that things will fall into place in due course. And maybe you’re like that, too.
Our consumer culture is based on faster technology and immediate results, and short-term profitability. Immediate isn’t always better…think about how communications and diplomatic relations might improve if someone in the West Wing took the president’s Twitter account and said that any messaging had to come through consultation with the cabinet or communications office of the White House. Immediate isn’t always better. Sometime delayed gratification yields greater rewards.
Back in the last millennium, when I was working with Apple as a communications consultant, there was a huge shift in corporate culture when Fidelity Investments became a major stockholder in Apple, and they wanted to show positive earnings each and every quarter, which meant that Apple was more risk averse and didn’t take as many chances. When Steve Jobs came back as CEO, Apple shifted their vision to risk short-term profits for longer-term gains. The long-game has worked out pretty well for Apple. And as Christians, we play a v-e-r-y l-o-n-g game.
The other message our culture sends us is that “it’s all about me.” Look at the first-person pronouns in trade names of apps: MyHealthConnection, MySwimPro, MyFitnessPal, MyRAC, iPhone…and those are just what’s on my smartphone! It’s all about me and my needs and wants. If you want to do an experiment, see how many apps start with “my” and how many start with “our.” You’ll see my point.
So, you and I find ourselves on this first Sunday of Advent in a culture that says fast is good and immediate is better and that it’s all about me, my needs, my wants. And we find ourselves in a spiritual tradition that says emphatically that it’s not all about me — it’s about all of us — and it’s a tradition that especially during Advent relies on waiting, anticipating, longing, yearning for a promised future and a change in God’s world.
Martin Luther King, Jr., quoting Theodore Parker, said, “The arc of history bends toward justice.” But, dear God, does that arc bend slowly!
The text from Jeremiah comes from a period when many of the best and brightest of Judea were taken captive and exiled in Babylon. Jeremiah, though, stayed in Jerusalem, but eventually fled to Egypt. The Babylonian exile is a story about refugees, immigrants, and exiles, and a prophet who declares that things will get better. (I know that sounds totally unfamiliar…) Jeremiah conveys the words of God in declaring, “The days are surely coming, says, YHWH, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah.” Jeremiah is adamant; there are no “mights” or “maybes” in his prophecy…the days are surely coming!
The characteristics of this new ruler from the lineage of King David will be justice and righteousness, which are nearly synonymous. That rootedness in the Davidic line must have seemed like dreamy wishful thinking to some of the Israelites, perhaps like the vision of the kingdom or realm of God seems unattainable to some of us.
You and I find ourselves in a nation that seems quite different that it did even five years ago: a nation in which truth gets branded as false news, in which journalists are labeled as traitors, in which demagogues abroad are seen as friends and our closest allies are treated as enemies, in which federal immigration agents have shot tear gas across the border at refugees and children. This is not the America many of us know and love. And the death of President George H.W. Bush on Friday underscores the contrast. We yearn at the core of our being for something different than what we currently have.
“The days are surely coming, says the Lord,” when we will get a new branch of the Davidic line, who will be a voice for justice and shalom. That new branch stems from the root -– radix in Latin, from which we get the English word, “radical” –- that stem is Jesus…that’s why Matthew’s gospel has that enormous unpronounceable genealogy of Jesus –- to show that he has descended from David. Jesus came to proclaim the good news of God’s kingdom, a realm of righteousness and shalom, an alternative reign to the empires of this world. That is a radical notion.
Sometimes, you hear me use a phrase, “the kingdom of God, here and now and still unfolding.” The kingdom we pray for twice in the Lord’s Prayer was initiated by Jesus and was central to his teachings and his presence with us today, even though that kingdom is not there in its completeness. The kingdom is still unfolding.
I grow impatient for the coming of the fulfillment of the reign of God. I see too much injustice, too little peace in the world. Too much greed, to little generosity in the world. Too much violence, too little love in the world.
I spent a night last week at a Jesuit retreat center near Denver to have some quiet time to reflect and write about Advent, and I found the words of a wonderful Jesuit who died in the 1950s, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, and it helps me to balance my sense of urgency with these words of wisdom:
Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are quite naturally impatient in everything to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way to something new.
And yet it is the law of progress that it is made by passing through some stability --
And that it may take a very long time.
Really meaningful, isn’t it? Yeah, well, Teilhard was a paleontologist, and using his timeframe, Jeremiah’s prophecy seemed like it was just yesterday and Jesus was born this morning. Impatient people like me have a lot to learn from paleontology.
I yearn deeply, I long for, a day when families no longer have to sleep in churches, because everyone has a home; when teens no longer sleep out on the front lawn of Plymouth in the winter, because there is no homelessness to make people aware of. And in the meantime, those hosts and cold teenagers give me hope.
What do you yearn for, long for most deeply this Advent? What do you long for to come about in God’s world and with your help? I invite you to reflect on that in the time you spend in prayer this week: What are your deepest longings?
The kingdom coming requires our faith to know “it is surely coming.” It requires our full participation…every one of us…it requires our hands, our voices, our prayers, and our imaginations. We need to be able to envision a new world order that Jesus proclaimed is we are to be co-creators for the new realm, a kingdom radically rooted in Jeremiah, in Isaiah, in Jesus, in God, and in you.
As we begin walking through Advent together, I leave you with these words of longing and waiting from UCC minister and theologian, Reinhold Niebuhr:
Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime;
therefore, we must be saved by hope.
Nothing which is true or beautiful or good
makes complete sense in any immediate context of history;
therefore we must be saved by faith.
Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone;
therefore we must be saved by love.
May it be so. Amen.
© 2018 Hal Chorpenning, all rights reserved. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to reprint, which will typically be granted for non-profit uses.
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.
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