Putting on the armor of light

Texts: Isaiah 64:1-9; Mark 13:24-37

During the recession of 2008, the actor Kenan Thompson appeared on Saturday Night Live a few times as the character Oscar Rogers, a “financial expert.” Rogers portrayed with typical SNL humor the real frustration of people who were getting beat up by the economic woes of that year. His report on the economy was, emphatically, that IT needed to be FIXED. That was his whole thing: shouting FIX IT every time show host Seth Myers asked him a question. And when Myers asked him to say how he thought we should go about fixing it, Rogers reported: “Take it one step at a time. Identify the problem. FIX IT. Identify another problem. FIX IT! Repeat as necessary. And when I wake up in the morning, I want IT to be FIXED!”

That skit may have been created specifically for the economic crisis of 2008, but just read Isaiah today and we see that some kind of IT has been needing to be FIXED for a long time.

We always begin the season of Advent in Year B with this reading. O, that you would tear open the heavens and come down, O God, and do those awesome deeds we know you can do. Because we are in a big mess of our own making and cannot save ourselves. And Jesus speaks of cosmic disturbances in those same heavens and the need to watch for sudden appearances and signs of the master’s return.

And so it is not business as usual at church, this season of Advent, with these opening messages today. Advent is both looking ahead - for God to come - and looking around as Jesus commands - what signs do we see now? 

This is the season in which we yearn for restoration - restore us O God of Hosts! We long for salvation. We yearn for the presence of a power so awesome and righteous that we and all the world will be brought up short. We long to be molded into what God has created us to be.

And we long and yearn for those things because we know what a mess the world is. Come down and fix it, God, come down and save us, God, come down and gather us as your people. And yet also we have been given a savior to follow and we hear his commandments to love and serve our neighbors who also are God’s people and to look around for the signs of the kingdom which is in fact near.

We say that Advent is a time of waiting. But we don’t do nothing while we wait. We long but we don’t stop responding to the needs around us. We yearn but we don’t hold back for someone else to bind up wounds and work for the peace that we talk about so much at Christmas.

This year I expect to spend Advent meditating on peace. Last month I was in Northern Ireland learning from people who have been and are peacemakers in that country, which for thirty years was torn apart by violence, with more than half of those who died just folks who were on a bus or at a bar or walking by a building that was blown up by one side or the other. I visited places where violence took place and I visited places where secret meetings took place that would eventually evolve into bona fide peace talks. Some of the people I heard from were clergy, both Protestant and Catholic, but also lay folks who took seriously the command of Jesus to be a peacemaker. 

And no doubt they all prayed, and not just on the first Sunday of Advent, for God to come down and fix this mess. But also, while they waited, they kept showing up to the groups that had been formed to help Catholics and Protestants, or nationalists and republicans, or east-enders and west-enders to get to know each other, to play together or talk or dance and learn to see one another as fellow humans instead of members of the other side. While they waited for the authorities to hammer out deals, they invited one another into conversation, they listened to the awful stories of waking up to paramilitary groups bashing down the door looking for a father, of losing a sister who was just going to the grocery, and they learned to open their hearts to one another. While they waited for peace, they learned how to ask for peace, if necessary to march for peace, to come together from all sides for peace, and eventually some of them joined the ranks of the higher-ups who were able to broker the peace that did come in 1998 with the Good Friday Agreement.

The story goes that U.S. Senator George Mitchell, who had been appointed to broker that deal, felt that the time had come to close it, but both sides were holding back. So he announced that he was leaving on Wednesday. And on Friday, the deal was reached. Perhaps he did not say to both sides that when he woke up in the morning he wanted it to be fixed, but he did see the signs that the agreement was near, and he announced it to the people with whom he had worked diligently for five long years. And they saw it was so.

Our world is still torn by so much strife. And even if in our land we are not bombing each other, there is so much polarization, there is so little listening to one another, there is so much need for restoration of community, and it is hard to see that small group just out of sight that is always there, working for peace and reconciliation. As a follower of Jesus I am called to be in that small group, that reconciliation and restoration is our calling as Christians, individually and institutionally, right here where I am. I know that we are waiting for Jesus to come and save us once again because we cannot save ourselves.

And I know that Jesus has already come and we are also called to look for the signs that say he is near, the signs that he is in the midst of that small band of peacemakers wherever they may be. I know that when I see them, I need to join them, for the sake of Jesus who is the prince of peace.

This Advent, I invite you to join me in meditating on peace as we yearn and long and wait and watch for the signs that God has indeed drawn near. I invite you to yearn and long for peace and reconciliation, and to look for it, too, and to join in making it so. For now is the time, in this mortal life, in our own city and society, that Jesus calls us to cast away the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.