Isaiah 64: 1-9 Rev. Dr. Galen E. Russell III
1 Corinthians 1: 3-9 December 3, 2017
“… in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind ...”
Prayer: O God, ever present on our journeys with us, please open our inner spirit so we may receive the gifts you offer. In the name of the Christ-Child, whose birth we prepare for. Amen.
May I have a drumroll, please? [drum roll] Today is the first Sunday of Advent, the first day of the new church year. So, “Happy New Year!” C’mon… you know the church always marches to the beat of a different drum played by a different Drummer, right? So, it’s no surprise that the church would have its own calendar and its own New Year’s Day. Today.
And, it’s no surprise that the drum beat marches the Church right into Advent with some ideas that society and our culture say sounds strange and abnormal. [With the beat of God’s holy Drummer, Jesus Christ (not to be confused with the “Little Drummer Boy” of the Christmas carol), the Church marches right into the darkest time of the year, and calls it sacred. The Church marches right into Bible readings of Advent that are anything but sweet and cuddly and all about a baby. Bible readings that call upon God to act in powerful ways like God did in the past, readings that make us view our own ineptness and unfaithfulness, readings that tell us to keep working for God but to watch for God’s arrival again in our lives.
As Christians, as followers of Christ, who is the Holy Drummer, as people who call him Savior and Redeemer, we march to the beat of his drum, which of course, calls us to love when culture says it’s easier to hate We’re called to include others when society and some churches says exclude those who are different. We’re called to forgive when the routine practice is to seek revenge, or hold a grudge. We’re called to keep “Keep Christ in Christmas” (to use a well-worn phrase) instead of letting the secular celebration reduce Christmas to little more than shopping and family festivities. We’re called to live out God’s shalom with others, which is living with this sense of peacefulness, well-being, justice, have love for others and practice grace with others instead of staying suspicious, wary of motives, and always guarded when it comes to other people.
When we march to the beat of God’s drum on this journey through life, we’re called to look at life a little differently, aren’t we?
Our theme for this Advent season is “Alleluia Journey!” ‘Alleluia’ is a Greek word that means “Praise the Lord!’ in English. ‘Advent’ is a Latin word that means “important arrival.” So, our Advent theme this year can mean that we’re on a journey praising God because we are expecting an important arrival—the arrival of God’s Drummer, Jesus Christ.
That’s pretty good. We can use the arrival of God’s Drummer right about now, couldn’t we? We could use a resurgence of the birth of Christ in our souls and in our world. Because the reality of humanity’s waywardness and faithlessness is all over the news. We hear of the threat of nuclear war. We hear of accusations of misconduct, acts of violence, racism, alienation, brutality. We are enslaved to fear. And yet we’re called to praise the Lord on this journey.
Are we praising God because we know that the “important arrival” can come and fix our problems? Don’t you wish sometimes that God would “tear open the heavens,” and come right here, like God did in ages past? Do we secretly hope that God would come and take the side of those who gladly do right and follow God? And finish off those who do wrong?
That is sort of the psalmist’s mentality: “Listen to us, O God! Act on our behalf! Save us, redeem us. Get us out of this mess! You did amazing things in the past; you brought Israel out of Egypt. But, they still grew unfaithful and wandered away. Still, O, God, have mercy and do amazing things now! Let your Chosen One be blessed you. Strong by you. Your Chosen One who saves us!” (see Ps. 80: 1-7, 17-19).
Both passages from Isaiah and the psalmist seem to suggest that the people were starved for God’s involvement in their lives. They hint rather strongly that God’s presence was scarce, that God’s grace was withheld due to lack of faith. The cries of the people come from that scarcity, not from an abundance of God’s presence.
I think we can be and often are tempted to cry out to God from a sense of scarcity instead of abundance, from sensing God’s absence instead of God’s presence.
I suggest to us that Paul offers a different approach. He starts his letter to the church folk in Corinth affirming that the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ IS present. That’s for us! God fully enriches our lives with grace. Paul writes, “I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind…”
What an amazing thought! We are enriched with the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ! In spite of circumstances that we face making it difficult to believe that. In spite of sometimes crying out to God because it feels like God is scarce. We have every spiritual gift we need to flourish in this world, in this place, in this time. God is faithful and asks only that we faithfully respond to the grace we’ve received in our particular time and place and with our particular gifts we have. I think we can remember that we live in and with God in this life, so new energies and possibilities are always coming to us as we live and move and have our being in Jesus, as we share those gifts with each other. God is not scarce; God is within us.
A man by the name of Will Malambri received a fellowship when he was 22 years old that allowed him to travel worldwide. He started with the Philippines, but very soon, he was in an unsafe hostel. After a couple of weeks, the loneliness and culture shock made him suspicious of everyone. He was wary, and alone. He wanted to go home. After getting out of that first hostel, at the next one, he started to meet people who demonstrated faith and joy even as they helped out after the devastating effects of Mount Pinatubo’s eruption. In Thailand, he met a Buddhist monk who opened an AIDS hospice so that people could die with dignity. Will wrote in an essay, “Wherever I went, life was better and more fulfilling when I was sharing it with others and focused on something besides me. People who embodied Christ’s teachings and the Sprit's leading turned my wilderness of self-absorption into the promised land of community” (Malambri, Will, “Wilderness,” Christian Century, Nov. 8, 2017, p. 22).
Like Will Malambri, it can be easy for us to think we have no one, that God is not present, that God’s grace is scarce. But we are enriched with God’s grace. We’re on an “Alleluia Journey!” And, God is faithful. God enriches us with grace—we have it. It shows up in faithful people around us. It shows up in the gifts we have, not what we don’t have. It shows up in our prayer time and Advent devotional time. It shows up as we march to the beat of Christ’s drum, as Christ’s Church, as people of faith.
May I have a drumroll, please? [drum roll] Amen!