Advent 2 Year A
December 4, 2016
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my strength and my Redeemer. Amen.
Charles Schultz, the cartoonist who created the Peanuts characters - Charlie Brown, Lucy, Linus, and the rest - was a one-of-a-kind artist and storyteller. He was also a realist. For nearly 50 years, Schultz drew on his own personal experiences of anxiety, pride and jealousy, disappointment and despair and made them come alive through the Peanuts children. He was adamant that the children’s lives were realistic – not sugar coated and syrupy – they revealed the human condition, in cartoon form, that was repetitive and predictable. As Schultz put it, “All the loves were unreciprocated; all the baseball games were lost; all the test scores were D-minuses; where the Great Pumpkin never showed up; and the football was always pulled away.''
But into this world came Schultz’ dog Snoopy. Of course you know Snoopy was a beagle who danced and skated on two feet, who slept comfortably on top of his peaked dog house, and who was a friend to all bunnies and birds. In the Peanuts’ children’s lives, Snoopy was the herald of hope, joy, and love. Sure, at times he could be cowardly or sarcastic (again, Schultz wanted the characters to reveal realistic lives), but whenever the Peanuts children were stuck, Snoopy was the imaginative thinker, the one who could create a funny costume using nothing but Linus’ blanket or “SMACK” a kiss on Lucy’s lips to completely diffuse her exasperated screaming.
Through his character Snoopy, Schultz bravely dreamed of and imagined a world where love breaks in, and the strip repeatedly revealed a vision of a peaceable kingdom. He made that vision explicit through his book, “And the Beagles and the Bunnies Shall Lie Down Together,” which intentionally echoed the Prophet Isaiah’s dream of a peaceable kingdom.
We read this text from Isaiah today, on this second Sunday of Advent, because together with modern day prophets – like Charles Schultz - and the prophets of old – like Isaiah – we, too, actively dream and imagine as well. And actually, when you get right down to it, that’s exactly what the Advent season is all about. It’s an entire season of dreaming and imagining!
Now today’s text from Isaiah was written either in the 8th or the 6th century BCE at a time when the lives and political situation of the people of Israel were in complete disarray. And just when their future seemed completely hopeless, Isaiah uttered a most amazing vision and promise. He reminded them first that they were the people of God, and then promised that God would send them a king from the great line of Jesse, and this king would rule with wisdom, justice toward all, and with mercy toward the most vulnerable. The little ones. The defenseless ones. The innocent ones would be cared for and protected. It was an imaginative vision from Isaiah who was a herald of hope in an unsettled and very dangerous world.
So yes, as a mouthpiece of God, Isaiah prophesied an ideal world in both political and natural terms. “The wolf shall live with the lamb,” he wrote. “The leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them.” Isaiah envisioned a world of justice for the poor, of righteousness and faithfulness, of overcoming the destructiveness of power, and of the shocking ascendency of the powerless and vulnerable. Of course, we know that all these things were embodied through the birth of Jesus, and yet in this season of Advent over 2000 years later, we still anticipate – we still watch for and move toward - the completion of that vision. Clearly we’re not there yet. But in that great day, the rules of life will be bent in the direction of gentleness and peace, a peace that passes understanding, a peace known as “Shalom.”
Renowned Old Testament scholar and author, Walter Brueggemann defines this peace, "Shalom," as a “time of creation, when all God's creation eases up on hostility and destruction and finds a different way of relating.” Things will return to the way they were originally created, the way they were meant to be . . . as Brueggemann calls it, "the impossible possibility of the new creation!"
Like I said, this is of course NOT what we see right now. We see division. We see fear. We see isolation. We experience lives like the Peanuts gang where anxiety, pride and jealousy, disappointment and despair are regular occurrences in our world. But God’s imagination is dogged and persistent, greater than ours, and God is calling us to be prophets of hope and peace in our world right now. It’s the impossible possibility of a new creation. Partnering with God means that we must be creative and imaginative, bold and daring, and this, of course, is the challenge and the promise of our Advent season; it’s a season to look for a world where lions and lambs, beagles and bunnies lie down together; where the scattered pieces of a puzzle fit together to make a beautiful image, where seemingly impossible relationships become a reality. Imagine it . . . Jews, Muslims and Christians, together. Rich and poor. Black and white. Republicans and Democrats. Dallas Cowboys fans and New York Giants fans.
Now maybe you’ve never thought of it this way before, but we get to practice this new creation every week – 52 weeks a year, throughout our lives, in our worship. Our worship reveals God’s imagination for a new creation. When we process in on Sunday mornings, we are boldly ushering in God’s kingdom. We sit side by side, and sing with the saints and angels and all the company of heaven. We pray for the world, for the poor and suffering, for our enemies. We confess the times we’ve moved away from God, and then engage in what we call “Passing the Peace.” It is an ancient tradition where brothers and sisters in Christ share a hug, handshake or a “holy kiss” as a sign of reconciliation and love. And as we do, we offer counter-cultural words of God’s Peace to one another. It is a few minutes – ok, well, at 10am it might be longer than a few minutes – when we reconcile with one another and practice fulfilling God’s kingdom here on earth. It is a joyous moment of shalom, of hope and love that spills out into this room and calls us to share in the Eucharistic feast of God’s kingdom.
God is calling us to be the ones who allow hope, joy, and love to break in. So this Advent, let your imagination run together with God’s imagination. Where are the places we can allow love to break in? Where can we actually BE the love that breaks through? And how can we be heralds of hope and joy? We are practicing this morning, and then sent out into the world to be surprised by a God whose imagination is far greater than our own. See it, dream it, and be it. Amen.