First Sunday of Advent
Sunday, November 29, 2015
The Rev. Kealahou C. Alika
I spent most of my life being afraid of dogs. I was bitten by a dog when I was a boy and that pretty much set me back for over fifty years.
When I celebrated my 60th birthday in 2011, I decided it was time to face my fear and so Hanu came into my life at eight-weeks-old. Over the course of the next three years I learned a lot about dogs and about myself.
Some of you remember that his death at three years of age had a profound effect on me. I knew enough that there were those who looked upon the death of a dog or cat or any other animal companion as a sad passing and nothing more. But I knew and felt otherwise.
A few months later, his mother Kiko came into my life. I had thought about getting a lab or retriever but I saw so much of Hanu in his mom that it was basically a no-brainer and so I adopted her.
These days Kiko requires a morning walk and an evening walk. We spend a lot of time together and we’ve learned to “talk” to each other. If she is outside in our front yard at home and an afternoon rain comes our way, I will hear her: “Arrrf!” – which means, “Let me in the house. It’s raining.”
At 1:00 a.m. on Friday morning, she walked into my bedroom and began whining, “Uhhh!” - which meant, “Guess what, we missed our evening walk and it’s time for me to go and do my business” – and she did.
She talks to me all the time and these days I talk to her a lot. I know her and she knows me.
We were running late yesterday with work here at the church. It was a little past the end of our work day and she knew it. She made her way into my office, plopped her chin on my thigh and looked up, took a deep breath and said, “Umph! It’s time to go.”
“Wait a minute!” I responded. “I need a few more minutes to finish up. Just wait.”
As we begin this season of Advent, we are made aware that this is a time of waiting. And waiting is not something we do well.
Christmas can be a difficult time for those who have lost loved ones in recent years or for those who are caught in the hustle and bustle and the stress and strain of what can be a very busy holiday season – with too much to do and not enough time to get everything done. We are in a constant rush.
Few of us like waiting, let alone waiting for something special. One of the most aggravating phrases I learned as a child was comprised of two words: “Try wait!”
Depending on how it was said the aggravation would increase with intensity – whatever the task, whatever the circumstance, whatever the situation. Any anticipated delay would be punctuated by those two words: “Try wait.” “Try wait” sounded reasonable – a second or two of waiting would pass.
But, “Try wait, try wait, try wait!” – not good.
Waiting for Christmas can seem like a cruel joke: either we have far too much to do and it seems to be coming too quickly, or as is often the case with our keiki or children, it seems like the most wonderful day of the year and yet it seems to come ever so slowly.
As a consequence we should not be surprised that some of us are resistant to the idea of the waiting that Advent offers (Seasons of the Spirit, SeasonsFusion Advent, Christmas, Epiphany 2015-2015, Wood Lake Publishing Inc., 2015, page 51). Yet, Advent is here and the message is clear, “Try wait.”
In the midst of all our preparations, Advent invites us to consider what it means to us that God loved the world so much that God sent Jesus to be a part of our world and our lives. Our readings from the Bible reassure us of God’s promise that even in the midst of the stresses and strains of our lives, in the middle of the chaos and struggle in our world, God’s presence will prevail as we ourselves embody that presence.
It would seem that our reading from The Book of Jeremiah could have come from the front page of any newspaper today as we look to numerous wars and armed conflicts of the Middle East. In Jeremiah’s day, the kingdom of Judah was about to experience an enormous upheaval.
There was the external threat from Babylon that eventually reshaped the land and its people. Jeremiah would live to see the destruction of the city of Jerusalem, the exile of the Hebrew people as refugees to Babylon, and the end of the kingdom of Judah.
Jeremiah was and is generally viewed as a harsh prophet. He was stern in his warning of the judgment the people would incur if they did not adhere to the laws of God.
Even as he addressed a people who were feeling helpless and hopeless – their lives under the control of other rulers and empires that made decisions based on political power – he also offered words of comfort and hope. While under arrest in the palace of the king of Judah, he bought a piece of land, trusting that with God there would come a time when the land would flourish once more; that with God all things were possible (Jeremiah 32:17).
In the face of a seemingly hopeless situation, Jeremiah revealed his ultimate faith in God. He promised that a “righteous branch” would spring up and there would be justice and righteousness in the land. Jeremiah told those who were waiting for redemption that their hope resided in being God’s people and living lives of justice and faithfulness. This promise was a promise made to the people then and it is a promise made to us today.
Such a promise of a new day is what is reflected in our reading from The Gospel According to Luke. Jesus uses the parable of the fig tree to present a worldview that is devoid of hope.
The signs of upheaval are across all of creation. Earth and heaven will show distress. The nations will be confused.
The people will succumb to the “fear and foreboding” of what is coming upon the world. It is a fear and foreboding fueled by political and religious leaders who themselves are afraid of their own demise.
But as with Jeremiah, Jesus offers us words of comfort and hope. The future will bring fulfillment of God’s purposes. The parable of the fig tree and all the trees provides us with an assurance that despite our propensity as human beings to turn to violence and death, new life approaches.
My dog Hanu died a few weeks after his third birthday. But I found new life in a most unlikely new companion – my “talking dog” Kiko.
Chief Dan George was born on July 24, 1899 as a member of a First Peoples tribe - the Tsleil-Watuth Nation - located in the Southeast area of North Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. He died on September 23, 1981. He was an author, poet and actor.
Among the quotes attributed to Chief George is an observation he made of the animal world: “If you talk to the animals, they will talk to you. And you will know each other. If you do not talk to the animals, you will not know them. And what you do not know, you will fear. What one fears, one destroys.”
It would seem that we live in a world where we have not only stopped talking to the animals but we have stopped talking to each other. And we have discovered that what we fear, we will destroy.
The word from Jeremiah to the people of Judah and the word of Jesus to the disciples is a promise that God is not far off. There are those who would have us rush off to war - again!
Advent is here once more to remind us of what we know would be a far, far better choice: “Try wait.”
“The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill my promise to my people. Justice and righteousness will fill the land and all will live in peace and safety” (Jeremiah 33:14-16). “There will be signs in the heavens and distress among the nations . . . but when you see these things, lift up your heads: our redemption is drawing near. Heaven and earth may pass away, but the Word of God will stand unshaken” (Luke 21:25-36). Amen.