Watch…Look…Prepare…Seasonal Themes of Advent

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There are more Mass Shootings in the News…this week in California and Georgia. Last week in Colorado Springs.

We are no longer shocked by the large numbers of people being killed … sometimes by terrorists, but more often than not by our own neighbors. While we look for reasons for the shootings, they continue…and it often seems like we feel helpless to make a difference.

Closer to home…there was a recent shooting in a local hospital…a murder/suicide.

I have visited this hospital many times over the years. My dad lived down the block…on Fletcher Avenue in John Knox Village…from the old University Community Hospital which is now Florida Hospital Tampa, part of the Adventist Health System.

Back when my dad was still alive, I took our grandchilden to visit him in that hospital, and I always felt totally safe going there until now.

Grandchildren…I feel so protective when they visit us. Just two years ago, Thanksgiving week, I took two of my granddaughters to see the new Hunger Games movie at our local theater in The Groves in Wesley Chapel. Less than two months later, there was a shooting there. A retired cop was annoyed at a man texting, and shot him dead in cold blood, and injured his wife. His defense: “Stand Your Ground.” I haven’t been back to this movie theater since this senseless killing there.

I try to live my life based on faith and not fear. But these senseless murders so nearby my lovely suburban home in a quiet upscale neighborhood have shaken me a bit. Where is safe anymore? I realize that if this trend continues, even a quick trip to the supermarket could end up costing me my life.

So I have asked myself, where do I feel safe? Don’t we all want to find safe places in a world that seems to have gone mad?

 

During the Season of Advent, we hear words like Watch…Look…Prepare.

Just what are we looking for? And how can we be prepared for what is to come?

The Revised Common Lectionary, which is the source of our appointed lessons for today, offers us two choices for readings from the Hebrew Scriptures.

The first is from the Book of Malachi, the last book of the Old Testament. In this passage, we are warned that God’s messenger is coming “with strong soap” and “refiners’ fire.” But who will be able to endure this stinging and burning?

Over the centuries, many artists have painted judgement scenes full of people burning in hell. You can almost hear them screaming in pain. I guess those scenes used to scare people into becoming “believers,” especially during the Middle Ages. But I don’t think they scare us anymore. We see carnage all the time on television, and people fleeing from the horrors or wars or bombings or shootings. We have become almost numb to these scenes.

An optional reading from the Old Testament for today is from the Book of Baruch. This is from the Apocrypha…from books sometimes included in Christian Bibles but not found in the Hebrew Scriptures.

In the Fifth Chapter of Baruch, we are given a very different picture of a messenger being sent by God to the people of Israel. It appears to have been written during the time of Babylonian captivity during the same period as the Prophet Jeremiah. It deals with the themes of comfort and restoration.

Listen to these words:

Take off the garment of your sorrow and affliction, O Jerusalem, and put on forever the beauty of the glory from God.

Put on the robe of the righteousness from God; put on your head the diadem of the glory of the Everlasting.

For God will show your splendor everywhere under heaven. For your name will forever be called by God, ‘Peace of righteousness and glory of godliness.’

Arise O Jerusalem…

For God has ordered that every high mountain and the everlasting hills be made low and the valleys filled up, to make level ground, so that Israel may walk safely in the glory of God.

These words are encouraging God’s faithful to be strong in the beauty and the glory of God.

Interestingly, today’s Gospel reading from Luke echos this image:

After the birth of John the Baptist, his father…who was a priest at the temple….offers this prayer…this prophecy:

Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people, and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David,

As he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, that we should be saved from all our enemies, and from the hand of all who hate us, to perform the mercy promised to our fathers [and mothers]….

And to serve him without fear.

I needed to hear those words this week…to serve God without fear.

 

People throughout the centuries have faced difficult times…fearful times… yet the message we hear from God is “Do not fear…I am with you… even to the end of the age.”

It doesn’t mean being naïve, and pretending that we are not living in dangerous times. What it does mean is that God wants us to walk as children of the light…living in hope…trusting in the Lord with all of our hearts.

How can we do this?

First of all, we have to remember that we are children of God. By virtue of our Baptism, we have been joined with God in a bond that is indissoluble.

Remember…Nothing can separate us from the Love of God in Christ Jesus Our Lord.

As St. Paul says in the Book of Romans:

For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38).

Once we recall that we are God’s children and that nothing can separate us from God’s love, we are free to trust God with our lives.

It seems once we do this, we are tested.

Just this week, my very dear friend Virginia was admitted to the very hospital, Florida Hospital Tampa, where the murder suicide had occurred. My desire to visit her in intensive care overrode my fear of entering the hospital and being with her at her bedside.

She was lying there in ICU in an induced coma with a feeding tube in her mouth. It was hard to see this vibrant woman lying there helpless, hooked up to monitors and machines.

They have not been able to determine what is causing her seizures. I ask you to pray for Virginia, and all others who are suffering from medical conditions. While modern day medicine can help so many people, it often takes a while to get a good diagnosis, and hopefully treatment that can bring healing and wholeness.

During my visit, I realized that my love for my friend overcame my fear of going into the hospital that had been the scene of a murder/suicide not that many days before.

And I also knew that I now I would not fear going to our local malls during this busy holiday shopping season. Love can overcome fear.

I do not want to live in fear. Do you?

As far as the mass shootings go, a friend of mine posted a blog that made a lot of sense to me.

We hear these days about the freedom to bear arms as a constitutional right.

He reminded his readers that our country, the United States of America, is not only the home of the free but it is also the home of the brave.

We all want our freedoms given to us by our Constitution, but we also have to remember that it will take bravery to really discuss the mass shootings that are occurring daily in this country.

Another blogger suggested that we need to think of these mass shootings in the terms of the Twelve Step Program. We need to acknowledge that we, as a country, feel powerless to stop the mass shootings that are happening.

We can no longer remain numb and throw up our hands and say there is absolutely nothing we can do about it.

We need to come together as a country, so acknowledge that we have a problem, and to finally face that the time has come to do something about it.

We should no longer just run to our corners and cry for either “mandatory new gun control” or “freedom to bear arms at any price.” The price is now too high to stay locked in that polarization.

I have my personal beliefs, but what I want to ask you today is to find it in your heart to try to solve this problem of mass shootings by discarding rhetoric of fear and replacing it with how can we bring about a more peaceful and hopeful society in which we can limit and perhaps even eliminate the daily shootings in our midst.

Is it fear of losing our right to bear arms that causes us to throw up our hands and say that there is nothing we can do about it?

Or is it fear of loved ones being shot down in cold blood that causes us to throw up their hands and demand stricter gun laws that may or may not solve the problem?

I don’t know how to solve the gun violence in our country. But what I ask is: What if both sides let go of their fears and start working together!?!

We may not be able to stop all the shootings, but we can stop some. Shouldn’t we at least try?

Maybe we should all turn off the television news for at least 24 hours and ask God…what should I do? What can we as a country do to stop the violence we are experiencing every day.

We can also ask ourselves: Do we view the world as all gloom and doom as in the Book of Malachi or do we see the world as a more peaceful place where children of God can make a difference in their world as in the Book of Baruch.

Let us Dare to think through what is calling us to do…and to beg the question…How Can We Make a Difference this Advent/Christmas Season.

Let us be watchful, and be prepared, and to live lives full of hope, knowing that with God’s help, we can bring light into a world of darkness, and peace into a world longing for messengers of hope. Amen.

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