Sunday, November 29th, 2015 – 1st Sunday of Advent
Gower Christian Church, Gower, MO
Scriptures: Isaiah 60:13, Luke 1:46b-55, John 1:1-5,14, Luke 21:25-36, Isaiah 11:1-2, I Corinthians 11:23-26
Hymns: “Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus”, “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”, “O Come, All Ye Faithful”, “I Wonder As I Wander”, “Of the Father’s Love Begotten”, “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming”, “A Communion Hymn for Christmas”, “All the Heavens”, “Joy to the World”
All Along the Watchtower
All along the watchtower, princes kept the view, while all the women came and went – barefoot servants, too.
You may have noticed, about a month ago, that there was a bit of a kerfluffle in the world of mass-market corporate caffeine. Yes, indeed, at the beginning of November we saw the annual arrival of Starbucks’ holiday drinks that put a grin on the face of many a dentist – the peppermint mocha, the eggnog latte, the salted caramel brulée macchiato, and this year, a new arrival – the chestnut praline latte. Tasty and overpriced, but nonetheless no doubt to be consumed in mass quantities by a nation hooked on the outpourings of the mighty Seattle siren.
But it was not the drinks that led to the rumblings, oh no, but instead, the cups in which they were served. For you see, this year, Starbucks’ holiday cups were a simple affair – a red cup that color-shifted from a more maroon tone of red at the top to a more raspberry shade at the bottom, devoid of any decoration other than the traditional Starbucks siren logo.
If you ask me, rather boring.
And yet! Lo, in that first week of November did the headlines pour forth upon the Internet! Verily, did the Huffington Post declare, Christians are OUTRAGED by Starbucks and this latest blow in the War on Christmas, for the striking of the traditional greeting of “MERRY CHRISTMAS” from the cups was no doubt the act of SATAN HIMSELF! So too was this first blast of the trumpet against the monstrous regiment of anti-Christmas charlatans sounded by every Internet news source and cable news channel across the land!
Here’s the thing, though. When I saw those headlines, my first thought was, “Wait, what? How has Starbucks suddenly gone anti-Christmas by not having ‘Merry Christmas’ on their cups?” You see, I’ve drunk my fair share of Starbucks coffee. My fair share, and your fair share, and probably the fair share of everybody in the town of Gower, and that includes during the holidays. I’ve drunk coffee out of basically every special edition holiday cup Starbucks has ever done, and I was pretty certain that they had never once had the words “Merry Christmas” or any religious imagery on them.
As it turns out, I was right.
So I started poking around a bit, and as I and many others quickly ascertained, Christians nationwide were most certainly not outraged by Starbucks’ boring red cups. No, it was one dude, Joshua Feuerstein, a completely uncredentialed, self-proclaimed pastor from Phoenix (of course), who had decided that the 2015 Starbucks holiday cups were his path to Internet fame and fortune.
Guess what? It worked. Even though the vast majority of Christians quickly realized that the only charlatan here was Feuerstein himself, trying to pull the wool of a completely made-up story over their eyes, it was too late. The genie was out of the bottle, and the story had become a self-perpetuating zombie – it was unkillable, and it wasn’t going away.
Meanwhile, I have no doubt that in a secret volcanic lair somewhere outside of Seattle, Howard Schultz and the board of directors of Starbucks were cackling gleefully whilst chanting the mantra, “NO PUBLICITY IS BAD PUBLICITY,” because business at Starbucks stores, already ludicrous, has indeed gone up in the last month.
There will be on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves.
Last week, the Turkish Air Force shot down a Sukhoi Model 24 fighter-bomber, code name Fencer, belonging to the Russian Air Force. There is dispute over what exactly happened, whether the SU-24, flying a bombing mission against Daesh forces in Syria, made an incursion into Turkish airspace and was shot down by an automated ground defense system (as the Turkish government claims), or whether a group of four Turkish Lockheed F-16 Fighting Falcons tracked down the Fencer and shot it out of the sky (as the Russian government claims).
Either way, as soon as it happened, there was an uproar among the nations, with news outlets worldwide breathlessly proclaiming that surely, World War 3 was nigh, for you see, Turkey is a member state of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and should they go to war with Russia, they would be well within their rights to invoke Article 5 of the treaty, which regards an attack on one member nation as an attack on all member nations. NATO would be dragged into a shooting war with Russia which, while it has its issues, also still has the largest nuclear stockpile in the world. Bad times would surely ensue.
And yet, on Wednesday, Russian Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev held a press conference in which he said, “No, we’re not going to retaliate militarily against Turkey. Yes, there will be economic sanctions. Yes, we will cease purchasing winter produce from Turkey and buy it instead from Israel and Morocco. But no, we’re not going to be stupid and plunge the entire world into war.”
Somehow, though, the Internet and the cable news channels seem to have missed that little tidbit from the second most powerful person in Russia. They don’t seem to care that cooler heads have prevailed at the Kremlin, because peace does not make for good ratings – only war and rumors of war. And so, like the faux outrage that Christians were supposed to have shown over the Starbucks holiday cups, so too has the tail of war thoroughly wagged the Turkish and Russian dogs, leaving the whole world in a tizzy over yet another self-perpetuating zombie of a news story that, at this point, has little basis in reality.
People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.
For the past few weeks, a new argument has rippled back and forth across this great land, an argument over whether or not the United States should allow refugees from Syria into the country. Governors and mayors have stood up and boasted that no refugees will be allowed into their states and cities – although, as it turns out, under the Constitution, they have no such authority. Fearmongerers have wailed that surely the refugees will lead to our doom, for have no doubt, they say, Daesh will slip in their terrorists among them to wreak havoc upon our great nation!
Never mind the fact that, since Operation Enduring Freedom began in November of 2001, tens of thousands of refugees from predominantly Muslim countries have been permitted into the United States, and not one refugee has committed an act of terror against the United States. While admittedly, the Tsarnaev brothers who perpetrated the atrocities at the 2013 Boston Marathon immigrated to the United States from a predominantly Muslim country, they did so on tourist visas – not as refugees.
You see, the method through which they entered the United States did not require them to go through a three year long vetting process, such as every person who applies for refugee status in the United States must endure. If a person attempting to escape the madness in Syria were to apply TODAY for refugee status in the United States, they would be fortunate to be granted that status by Christmas of 2018.
And yet, in spite of those facts, the Internet and cable news channels (there seems to be a theme here) have jumped all over the story, breathlessly declaring that surely refugees will lead to the destruction of America, and we must draw a line in the sand and not let them in! Even when historians come on these channels and remind the hosts and pundits that seventy-five years ago, when we refused to let refugees in, they ended up sailing back to Europe and being largely hunted down and killed because they were Jews, the hosts and pundits remain resolute.
As philosopher George Santayana stated some one hundred ten years ago, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” And so it is that those who stand to gain the most from a continuing news cycle have chosen to not remember the past, thus condemning us to another self-perpetuating zombie that serves only to distract and confuse from the true issues at hand – hundreds of thousands of God’s children, cast out of their homes, with no place to go.
Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down… with the worries of this life.
It may seem curious that on this, the first Sunday of Advent, we should be looking at a passage in which Jesus essentially discusses the end of the world, and even more curious that I should preach on that sermon by discussing topics which – if the news companies of the Internet and cable television had their way – would be harbingers of the imminent eschaton of this Earth. Is not Advent a season of preparation, we say? Are we not preparing for the arrival of the Christ child, the one about whom angels will sing, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace, goodwill toward men”? Why on earth would we go down the rabbit hole of studying a passage preached by Jesus right before his death?
What if I told you that, in a sense, the world indeed has to end for Christ to be part of it?
If you think about it, when we become followers of Christ, it’s not just our lives that change, it’s our entire world. Yes, we may still live in the same place, go to the same job, associate with the same people, but there is an intrinsic change in the way the world around us works. No longer do we just go about our daily lives living as we would have ourselves live, but we live our lives doing our utmost to live them for the glory of God. As Paul said in the fifth chapter of the second letter to the Corinthians, we are new creations – the old ways are washed away!
This is not to say that the greater physical world must come to an end in order for Christ to arrive at the end of Advent. Jesus was born into a world that was beset by war and political and religious corruption, with plagues of disease and refugee crises further upsetting the delicate balance that the Roman Empire had sought to achieve across southern Europe, southwest Asia, and northern Africa. If you think about it, the world into which Jesus arrived was not terribly different, geopolitically speaking, from the world we know today. You know, with the exception of the Internet and cable news.
But that world didn’t end when Jesus arrived. As a matter of fact, it was a full three years before his birth was even a blip on a political radar – the arrival of the Magi and their questioning of King Herod as to where they could find the King of the Jews was the first time that Jesus came to the attention of the authorities, although it would certainly not be the last.
Similarly, the world won’t end on December 25th, when Advent comes to an end and we celebrate Christmas. Indeed, it’s an arbitrary date, made up by the early church to replace the pagan Saturnalia festival. But what we must acknowledge, as every follower of Christ since the earliest days had to acknowledge, is that the world we KNEW must come to an end in order for us to fully live into a world with Christ in it.
“All along the watchtower, princes kept the view,” Bob Dylan proclaimed in 1967, quoting Isaiah 21:5, in which the prophet commands the people Israel to stay alert for the day of the Lord, that they might not miss it. So too we must keep alert for the day of the Lord, so that we are not weighed down by the worries of this life and miss the arrival of Christ in our lives.
And so, yes, there will continue to be madness and strife in this world. Complaints will continue about Starbucks’ boring holiday cups. Rumblings of war will continue to abound in the Middle East. Howls of outrage against refugees will continue to sound in the news cycle. And all the while, the news companies of the Internet and cable television that stand to make money will continue to perpetuate these zombies that serve only to distract us.
Therefore, I implore you, be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man. For when he enters into our lives, we must put the foolishness of the world behind us, and instead, commit our lives to the glory of the kingdom of God.