Nov. 29, 2015 (Advent 1)
Promise and Signs
There is a young comedian called Amy Schumer who is considered to be one of the biggest rising stars recently. She has a TV show called Inside Amy Schumer in which she does a satiric reflection on today’s world especially dealing with gender equality issues a lot. In one of the episodes of her TV show, Bill Nye, the host of a TV program called the Science Guy appears as a guest star and pretends to host a science show called “The Universe.” This is how it starts; “The universe! For centuries, humankind has strived to understand this vast expansive energy of gas and dust. In recent years, a stunning breakthrough has been made in our concept of what the universe is”. Then the scene changes and two young women are sitting in a coffee shop chatting. “So I was texting while I was driving, and I ended up taking a wrong turn that took directly past a vitamin shop. I was just like, “This is totally the universe telling me I should be taking calcium”. And her friend says, “Oh my God.” And she says, “Right?” This skit makes fun of “white women in their twenties”, as Bill Nye says, and their trend of trying to find meanings in every little unimportant thing in their daily lives and pin their wishes on the universe or fate. It’s an atheist way of saying, “This is God’s will”; and like a lot of Christians who try to justify their choices by claiming it to be God’s will, a lot of none Christians use the universe or destiny.
This material is funny because it is based on the true reality. I remember hearing some Republican presidential candidates in the US saying, “God told me to run.” Oh this world of ours doesn’t really need comedy shows to make us laugh, does it? One truth about humans is that we constantly look for meaning and signs to guide us, whether we believe in a supreme being or not. When do we do this? I think we do this when we are desperate for something, or when we have a strong wish. For those “women in their twenties” that Amy Schumer’s skit talks about, these wishes might not be very important matters, but in a lot of cases, people are desperate for answers… OR HOPE.
Jesus’ people were indeed in need of some serious hope. They had been in a collective trauma for several hundred years with various nations attacking and occupying their homeland. Believing themselves to be God’s chosen people, they cried out to God. They kept crying out to God for several hundred years and asked desperately, “Why?” In a theological effort to understand why their God who chose them and loved them would do this to them, they found the answers in their disloyalty/ unfaithfulness. God was to bless them, but they were to faithfully follow God’s commandments. They failed to be faithful to God, so God was punishing them big time. This was their theology at the time and one we should probably not learn from them because God is not a vengeful God, who makes us tremble of fear as a dark lord in Star Wars. Our God is made of unconditional and impartial love.
Anyway, after the “punishment”, God sent prophets to promise the healing and restoration of God’s people. Since David was considered to be THE ideal God-loving king, the promised hero to deliver them from distress should come from David’s lineage. They understood God’s representative should rule with justice and righteousness; this promise is reflected in the Jeremiah text that we read today. So the people of Israel started looking for signs everywhere; when, where, how, and who?
When Jesus was born, people were still looking and waiting. Even those who have experienced Jesus in the flesh couldn’t be sure if he was the one. Some believed it, and some didn’t. Some had doubts. They kept looking for signs. In today’s gospel text, Jesus is telling his disciples about the signs of the end time when God would judge the righteous and the evil. Remember the prediction concerning the destruction of the Temple we heard some weeks ago? There are to be chaos and distress before God’s glory is revealed. It was a common apocalyptic idea that the end times will come with major cosmic events; strange signs in the sun, moon, and stars… roaring seas and strange tides (verse 25). Whatever it is, God was to give them a sign that it is coming. Come to think of it, maybe this is why a lot of us are obsessed with the signs of the universe! The Bible is surely full of signs of important events!
Today, we start the Season of Advent and the beginning of the Christian Calendar (Happy Christian New Year, by the way). We are spiritually joining the ancient Hebrew people in their search for hope. Although our historical and social contexts are different, we are with them in this spiritual journey. So in today’s very different world, what should we look for, and what signs?
This Season of Advent, let us search for Jesus in the needy brothers and sisters of our local and global community, and in the selfless people who serve them in the name of Jesus; for they are the hope that God sends to the hopeless. Jesus became hope for humanity through the people of ancient Israel. As the people who chose to be God’s people, let us look for places in our world that desperately need hope like those ancient Israelites. What are the signs we should look for? Just like the ancient Israelites, we should look for the sign of Jesus in the places where people cry out for their distress; that is where Jesus can be found. That is the sign that, as the followers of Jesus, God is sending US to BE the hope in our world.
American priest and author Brennan Manning said, “Christmas is the promise that God who came in history and comes daily in mystery will one day come in glory.” This sentence summarizes the essence of God’s plan for our salvation and also the essence of Christmas. As we say yes to God’s offer of love and hope for the ultimate happy ending, we should also look for Jesus in our world where hope is still needed. God’s reign is about God’s people forming a community ruled by God’s principles of love and justice. If we see people crying out, that is our sign to follow to seek Jesus. As Jesus is our hope in our life’s distress, we should become the same hope for other people of God. Hope of God is to be shared. This hope for disciples is about creating a community, a world, where all God’s people are equal and loved; yes, it is the hope for the reign of God I have been talking about. As we lit the candle earlier, we said, “Those who mourn shall be comforted, those who hunger and thirst shall be filled. But who do you think will DO the comforting and filling? (Silence) That was, of course, a rhetoric question.
May our first week of Advent be filled with personal hope that we received from God through Jesus, and also with the hope for the marginalized brothers and sisters that WE will bring to our world. Amen.