Monday, December 8, 2008

Advent 2


Has anyone ever seen, It`s a Wonderful Life? Of course you have… most of us have, it is seen as being the traditional holiday classic. Take this, White Christmas and A Christmas Carol, and you have probably seen what everyone considers the best of the Christmas classic Christmas movies.

Except for one thing; It’s a Wonderful Life is not a Christmas movie, it is an Advent movie. I am sure of it. If this movie did not take place on Christmas Eve, the affect of the story would still be the same. It is a movie that prepares us to see the true meaning of Christmas. It is a movie reflecting how God enters into our dark world and brings light.

Imagine for a second that you live in the time of the prophet Isaiah – Isaiah was the counselor to the king during a time when two different nations wanted to drive the Israelites off of their land; the Syrians were at war with them, and the Assyrian Empire was waiting in the wings to take what was left. It was a time of darkness, despair and utter hopelessness, a time when people wondered why God had abandoned them, and this is what Isaiah called to his beloved people in the temple:

“Comfort, O comfort my people… Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good tidings; lift up your voice with strength… lift it up, do not fear… Here is your God! See, the lord comes… he will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom…”

You see, Christmas has context. No matter whether we are looking ahead a couple of weeks, or looking back two thousand years; it does not happen in isolation. And the context of Christmas is the very real world we all live in; a world that, as we all know, can make us lose sight of all these Advent words, Hope, Peace, Joy and Love.

Jump ahead 500 years and we come across another prophet, this one closer to the original Christmas; Jesus’ cousin, John; who we sometimes call the Baptist. This wild and crazy prophet shows up outside of Jerusalem wearing a camel skin cloak and eating locusts with honey. He is so out of place that he draws a crowd – and then he begins to preach:

“Repent. The Kingdom of God is at hand.”

Now what we sometimes miss in this story is that John is pretty much recreating Isaiah for his generation. The people are still stuck in a war torn country – this time it is the Herodians and the Romans who have divided the spoils, and they are still wondering where God is.

The writer of Mark saw this – he even quotes Isaiah when he describes what John is doing – preparing a way for the Lord in the wilderness, making level every mountain and hill and raising up every valley and smoothing every rough places.

Now what else did Isaiah say? “Here is your God, see, the Lord comes!” Both Isaiah and John start with where we find ourselves and offer us a message filled with grace – a message about God’s presence with us – and how that can change everything.

In our Advent movie George Bailey, played by James Stewart, is a man at the end of his rope. Throughout his life, he has sacrificed his own needs and wants in order to make everybody else happy. In his youth, he had dreams of traveling the world, and doing interesting things, but a wrench is thrown into his plans when his father suddenly dies, and then he has no choice but to work for the family building and loan, a business which is well-respected in town for genuinely putting people ahead of profit, but for George seems like the ball and chain he cannot escape.

Despite his inner feelings, he carries on the tradition of being the only alternative to that of Mr. Potter, an old, corrupt man who owns virtually everything else in town, and who represents the most venal image of capitalism.

But, one Christmas Eve, 8000 dollars is misplaced by George`s absent-minded uncle, and all hope seems to be lost. The combination of his own dashed dreams and the prospect of abandoning the town to Potter send George into an emotional crisis so large that he soon contemplates suicide.

This Sunday, the second Sunday of Advent is the Sunday of Peace. It is important for us to remember that – because we need to be asking the question, what sort of peace do we need?

When you talk about peace the first thing that comes to mind is an absence of war. But that is not what the Bible is talking about at all. The Bible is talking about the peace that passes all understanding; a sense deep within us that everything is going to be all right; that everything is the way it should be, or at least that it will be. This type of peace comes because we know God is with us – no matter how it appears at first.

Every single thing is right in George Bailey’s life except this one small thing – he does not have peace with himself. And because of that, he chooses to end his life. It is no small thing this anxiety we all feel. That we are not good enough, that we are not loved enough, that we have not done the right things… these are the mountains and the valleys of our soul – these are the rough places that are not prepared for God.

Why does this world suffer from more depression, more suicide, and more pain than we ever have? Because we all have that long dark night of the soul – we all confront the darkness inside us and for the most part, we are too afraid to take a good hard look at it –and it eats away at us from the inside. So here is the good news – here is the Gospel – as told by the Archangel Gabriel to a lonely young girl afraid for her life: “you will conceive in your womb, and bear a son… he will be great, and of his kingdom there will be no end…” And you remember what Isaiah said the kingdom of God would be like? The Lamb and the lion, the baby and the snake, will all live n harmony with one another.

See, God still has a message for us in these dark times. Peace, I leave you with – not as the world understands peace, but as God does – wholeness, love, wonder, joy, and safety – peace. This is the grace of God and the love of God which Jesus came to show us.

George doesn’t die. Much of the story revolves around the fact that he is saved by Clarence, an Angel, Second Class who takes him back in time and shows how much good he contributed to the world, and what it would have been like if he hadn’t been born.

The movie always sounds sappy when I try to describe it or think about it – but it is not. Like A Christmas Carol, the story is not really about Christmas at all, but about a man’s anger and resentment over not living the life he desired, and a realization, helped by divine intervention that sometimes life is not always how you want it, but at the same time it is still something pretty wonderful. We just need to allow God’s love to reach into those dark places and show us what life is really about.

So how does it sound to you? Is it a message of peace? Does it bring you comfort? Does it help you to see that what God really does desire is that “Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill made low…”, so that we can come to appreciate the real message of Christmas?

The comfort we are being offered is the comfort of knowing that God chose us – yes us… You and me… and everyone else for that matter; God came to the middle of this dark and dreary stable one lonely night because we are worth it.

That is what we are preparing to celebrate. That is the message that changes everything. If we can set our hearts and minds on this one truth… we will find peace.


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