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Presented December 23, 2008, by Rev. Dr. Hemchand Gossai
There are many metaphors or images in this life that we have come to know that speak to us in times when all appears bleak, and where there seems not to be much hope, and not much promise for new life. As we look around at this time of year, the land is fast becoming dormant and indeed presently all seems frozen---in these parts anyway and it might be that the land will be covered over with snow. Again and again we are sharply reminded that the season of sleeping, or dormancy or darkness is in fact a season and a fleeting moment. The truth is that all will appear dead and if we were to think about it in any kind of intentional manner, we would conclude that there is little sign of life.
The birds have gone; the crops have disappeared. And of course the days are getting shorter and darker, and now there is a darkness that continues to envelop the land earlier and earlier in the day. All of this points to a sort of bleakness, a death of sorts. A barrenness; an ending that takes more than ordinary imagination to see and believe that there is life.
Winter has a way of doing this to us. Wintry days and wintry moments have a way of doing this to us.
Unlike the Spring, where there is hope in the air and the shoots of the crops are emerging miraculously form the frozen earth, and the flowers are beginning to bloom, and the animals are out and the birds have again come to the land, and there is a season of green and light, now all begins to become brown, and dark, and dead. Gloom seems to descend.
I would like to reflect on this season of Advent as it ends. It ends as it began inconspicuously and without fanfare. It is one of those seasons that frankly for many might easily be classified under the rubric of "who cares" or "Bridge to Christmas."
The paradox of Advent is that in many ways is life that is enveloped in what might appear to be darkness, and yet within a few short days, Advent will be gone and in the bleak winter comes forth a promise, a radical promise of new life.
Yes, there will be life, despite all that might suggest otherwise. Advent is a time of deep reflection, and truly a time of hope that expresses itself in preparation.
It is something of a contrast to the life that we live and even to our natural surrounding; we are called to have hope, when there appears to be no hope; we are called to believe in the gift of new life, when we are surrounded by the sight and odor of death---in so many of its different manifestations. We are called to newness that envisions and encompasses ourselves and the world, when the conventions dictate otherwise. We seek a radical peace in this season. When I speak of radical here, I am speaking of the very root of this word, which in Latin means "root". We seek a peace that is all encompassing. A peace that is rooted, not branched in one place or in one direction or in one nation or in one people. But a peace do deeply radical, so deeply rooted that its branches reach across all boundaries.
The words of Isaiah are not new to most of us. Is there a more pronounced and
appropriate time for such words? Is there a more relevant time when these ancient
words challenge our modern conventions?
They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks;
nations shall not lift up sword against nation, and neither shall they learn war any more.
Now if these words were spoken by some government official or religious leader calling for peace, then some of us might dismiss it as simply another pronouncement generated by a particular ideology---or some kind of peacenik---you know maybe the kind of rhetoric that one might hear with an eye toward a caucus in a couple of weeks. But these words, spoken by a prophet of God to the people of God; not to the enemy---but to the people who were in covenant relationship with God; a people then and now. These are words that simply do not allow us to rest in our varying degrees of comfort and complacency; they jolt us; shock us; pierce us; confront us relentlessly; they ricochet in one's consciousness. When the prophet Isaiah spoke these words, the ancient nation of Israel was in a terrible internal turmoil and all kinds of political intrigue and communal divisiveness, thought externally all appeared well. War was ravaging the land and the people were placing more and more emphasis on their ability to defend themselves and save themselves---all under the guise of "true believers", the "people of God."
The people of Israel were involved in a sort of idolatry and inevitably it led to a dramatic confrontation with God. That possibility has not been lost in time, certainly not lost in our time. So are the prophet's words some kind of utopian ideal that is out of reach, that is lost in time, that is not relevant or applicable to us? Is the prophet calling us to reach and look to the skies, when our arms and vision only stretch to the top of the trees? Is this calling out of touch with reality? The reality which we face today? This day?
And how do we respond? We respond as people who have been called to be partners with the divine---howsoever we conceive of the Divine in the quest for peace in all nations, in all of creation. The instruments of war will be transformed into instruments that will work the land to bring food and sustenance and life. That which was designed to bring death and destruction will be made into that which will bring and sustain life. But what shall we do?
So we live prepared, we seek to live our days with the expectation of a peace that will lead all nations to the mountain---that place where in ancient times and in or time where our promised have climbed and have seen the promised land. One day! But what shall we do until then. What can we do, what shall we do in the quest for peace?
The God for whom we are making preparations this Advent is a God who calls for peace and one who is on the side of life---not selectively but for all of life. In the preparations which we make; in the glitter of the season; in this season of tenderness and poignancy, when we seek to open ourselves to the one who in the first place is called the "Prince of Peace." And no, we are not given a blueprint for what the foreign policy of this nation or any nation should be, but it does say that God seeks to bring wars to an end and if God calls for the beating of swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks, then we have no choice but to follow suit as the people of God. Is it risky? Of course it is., for it challenges us to the core of our belief beyond all that convention dictates is settled. From the bloodshed of Cain over his brother Abel whose very blood saturated the ground, to the violence today against those who have taken on the mantle of peacemaker and peace keeper. These are tenuous times for peace makers and peace keepers---for those who believe. Whatever our political orientation and our political leaning; whatever our status in society; our station in life, our race or ethnicity; whatever our age and whatever our faith level, the call remains the same for all people, a call for peace. How can we not imagine; how can we possibly sacrifice the future for the sake of the present, perhaps a fleeting present. Neither structure nor systems; force or factions must stand in the way of the people who have seen the light and choose not to live in darkness. 2700 years ago the prophet Isaiah spoke these words and there has not been a time when the call is more pointed than our time.
Advent is a time for new beginnings, and this Advent is most pointedly such as time -- in every way! And we live with the blessing of the one who pronounces, "Blessed are the Peacemakers."
I close with two poems.
It Is I Who Must Begin
It is I who must begin.
Once I begin, once I try --
here and now,
right where I am
not excusing myself
by saying that things
would be easier elsewhere,
without grand speeches and
but all the more persistently
--to live in harmony
with the "voice of Being," as I
understand it within myself
--as soon as I begin that,
I suddenly discover,
to my surprise, that
I am neither the only one,
Nor the first,
nor the most important one
to have set out
upon that road.
Whether all is really lost
Or not depends entirely on
Whether or not I am lost.
Where the Mind Is Without Fear
Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high;
Where knowledge is free;
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls;
Where words come out from the depth of truth;
Where tireless striving stretches its arms toward perfection;
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit;
Where the mind is led forward by thee into ever-widening thought and action---
Into that heaven of freedom, my father, let my country awake.
The Quincy Unitarian Church Home
The list of Selected Sermons.