Yesterday's sermon is .... well, what is happening to it? I was going to say it is dissipating. There is no written record of it. Writing it down gives a feeling of permanence even though what is written down is only a collection of symbols that proximate the experience. Whatever God may be making of the sermon is happening in the congregation that gathered to participate in hosting the Word. That something intriguing occurred was reflected in the number of people who took the time to say something about it, something that indicated it had been a good word, a new word, a surprising word. I think I know the moment when that word found its highest voltage and connected with the soul of the congregation most powerfully.
It was when I recounted Jesus describing the trouble that lies ahead ("There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves ..." Lk 21:25ff). When this kind of chaos begins to overtake our life - when deep trouble and trauma breaks out in the world, the household, the soul - our instinct is "duck and cover" or "batten down the hatches" or even "bombs away". Instead, Jesus' command is counter-intuitive: "Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near." He says that just as leaves budding on the tree mean that summer is close at hand in the same way when trouble breaks in upon us "the kingdom of God is near" (Lk 21:31).
Jesus warns that in the face of trouble we will be tempted to self-medicate ("dissipation and drunkenness") or to be overcome with anxiety ("the worries of this life"). It's not a bad picture of much of western culture these days - either self-medicated on consumption and distraction or overwhelmed with anxiety and loss of control. Yet here is a community called together to face the troubles head on, with heads up, watching for signs that God is near. And, if God is near, that means that those held captive by anxiety and addiction are soon to be released - ie: redeemed.
The language of redemption seems almost beyond, well, redemption. The word "redeemed" has become such a theological word that it often does not make a good connection anymore. Yet I notice that if a dinner party is going badly because the conversation has turned ugly the host is grateful beyond words when one of the guests does something that "redeems" the situation. Redemption takes a situation or a person that is surely lost and restores it or them to high value. These days redemption seems reserved for those store coupons that are otherwise worthless unless "redeemed" for fifty cents or a dollar off when used to purchase the seller's product.
This restoration from worthless to precious is at the heart of the gospel. It is also at the heart of the turn from Advent to Christmas. Advent begins with the trouble, the deep trouble. It is the reason that our congregation does not hold special "Blue Christmas" services for those who are having a hard time in the festive season. Our Sunday morning worship during Advent is all about a world and its people having a hard time in the festive season. God does not show up on the earth for those who are having an easy time. The surprising news of Christmas is a reply to the ache and trouble that cries out for redemption in Advent.
Yesterday this seemed to resonate with some power. Whether or not this means that the Holy Spirit was, for some reason, more active or that I was, somehow, more coherent I do not know. I do not know how much it has to do with the medical evidence that my future includes storm clouds in the forecast. I do know that heads that had been ducking were lifted and hatches that had been battened were opened.
Sometimes a redemptive word is given - written, spoken, lived - and it changes every minute of our future.