Advent 2B; Isa 40:1-11; Mark 1:1-8 St. Paul’s Smithfield, 12/10/2017
Jim Melnyk: “Like the Melting Snow”
I discovered The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis during the fall of my sophomore year in college. In fact I’m sure that getting engrossed in the seven-volume work between late November and early December had a lot to do with the precipitous drop in my GPA that term.
The first story I read was The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe. And though I realize I’ve mentioned the plot in the past, it seems fitting to revisit it briefly as we move through the season of Advent.
In the story an evil queen – the White Witch – has held power in Narnia for a long, long time, enslaving all. The narrator tells us that during her reign it has always been winter in Narnia, but never Christmas. The citizens of Narnia – talking animals and other mythical beasts – all live in hope that one day the prophecies will be fulfilled and the Great Lion Aslan will return and free them from their cruel ruler.
As the story unfolds four young siblings from our world find themselves called by Aslan to Narnia. The group is comprised of two sons of Adam (that is, young boys) and two daughters of Eve (or, young girls). Their arrival signifies the fulfillment of an ancient prophecy – that when four such humans arrive in Narnia, Aslan will return and set all things right. The winter of Narnia’s discontent – the winter of their slavery to evil – will end. They will be set free. With the arrival of the four children the winds change and a warmth begins to creep into Narnia. The ice and snow, which are hallmarks of the queen’s terrible rule, begins to melt.
It doesn’t take an overactive imagination to tie this time of waiting in Narnia – this time where it’s always winter but never Christmas – with our season of Advent. “Advent symbolizes…the period of expectant waiting in hope. It is [indeed] like C.S. Lewis’ land of Narnia, where melting snow signals that Aslan is on the move” and that indeed the world will be made new (Reta Halteman Finger, Sojourners Online, Preaching the Word, 12/10/2017). For Christians, Advent symbolizes the hope that God is always on the move – always seeking to break into human history and make things right.
In ancient Israel, God speaks words of comfort through the mouth of the prophet Isaiah: “Comfort, O comfort my people. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid…” (40:1-2a). Even after all the brokenness, after all the betrayal, God still loves.
“Mark…announces good news by weaving together lines from Isaiah 40 and Malachi 3. ‘In the wilderness’ John the water-baptizer announces the coming of one who ‘will baptize you with the Holy Spirit’ (Verses1-8).
Decades later, [the author of Second Peter] addresses believers who wait for Jesus’s final return that never seems to come. Hang on—God’s timing is different than ours, but ‘the Day of the Lord’ will come!’ (Verse 10)” (ibid).
In other words, as Christians we have lived with nearly 2,000 years of waiting for the unfolding of the fullness of God’s kingdom here on earth. Our Jewish sisters and brothers have been waiting even longer. Advent reminds us of our hope that this new reality will continue to unfold around us and within us – transforming us, and transforming this world, into the dream of God. But, as we said last week, our hope must be an active hoping – a hoping that calls us to live and breathe the teachings of Jesus as followers of the One we call Christ.
The truth is, that while loving God with all our heart, and loving our neighbor as we hopefully love ourselves, is a vitally important part of our witness to God’s dream for this world, there is more. That’s where the third part of our stewardship theme for 2018 comes into play. Do you recall the theme? “Love God, Love Your Neighbor, Change the World.” It’s that last part – the part where we include the words, “Change the world” – that takes us beyond ourselves and into the world. Our desires – and our attempts – to help change the world are every bit as vitally important to our witness as the part about loving God with our whole heart and loving our neighbor. We may recall that the author of the Book of James writes, “So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead” (James 2:17).
If that is so, it only stands to reason that love – whether we’re talking about love of God or love of neighbor – without at least a desire on our part for some form of corresponding action – is as good as dead. As it has been said in light of today’s passage from Isaiah, “We are not meant to get comfortable, but to be comforted so we can then be moved into action” (Casey Cross, The Rules of God, For Us).
The melting ice and snow in Lewis’ great work signifies the Great Lion Aslan being on the move in Narnia – with all faithful Narnians summoned to follow. Our work at loving God, our work at loving our neighbor, and our working to transform the world around us, signifies Christ on the move in our world – signifies that the Incarnation of God is once again at hand – signifies that the Incarnation of God continues to take place within the human heart and soul – within our hearts and souls. And when God is on the move in our world, all who dare to claim the name of Christ are summoned to follow as well.
“God comes [to us] again and again, because that is who God is” writes Lutheran pastor Kari Jo Verhulst. “God seeks and finds us, again and again, because that is how God is.” And it’s our willingness to respond positively toward God – no matter how tentatively or fearfully on our part – that makes us “most fully alive” and makes us most fully present to both God and this world (Kari Jo Verhulst, Sojourners Online, Preaching the Word, 12/10/2017).
We are a people baptized into the life, death, and resurrection of our Lord, Jesus Christ. We have been “sealed by the Holy Spirit in baptism and marked as Christ’s own forever.” We find ourselves nourished at this holy altar time and again – and we pray time and again that in the power of God’s Holy Spirit we might “go out in peace to love and serve the Lord.” We are not meant to take any of that language lightly, my friends! Those words are a constant call to a life of active hope – to a life of active longing for God’s kingdom to come here on earth, as it is in heaven.
The reality is that we may not be able to see or perceive exactly how God is working in our lives at any given moment – perhaps that’s true for some of us even as we sit in this sacred space this morning. “If so, take Jesus at his word: We will come to know God’s presence with us by following the example of Jesus: by teaching and healing, [by] listening to our neighbors, both known and unknown to us; by doing acts of love and mercy” even when we don’t know if that same love and mercy will be given back to us in return (Br. Jim Woodrum, Brother, Give Us a Word, 12/6/2017).
We all long for someone to come among us – someone born to us and in us – someone who melts the ice and snow that can afflict our hearts, and who frees us from the ills of this world. The Good News is that the One we love and serve – the One whose coming we hope and long for in our lives – is the One we call “Emmanuel” – that is “God with us.” Emmanuel – God Incarnate in the person of Jesus of Nazareth – the fullness of God made alive in each us; teaching us to love, enabling us to love, and empowering us to help change this world.