Turning Point (Second Sunday of Advent)
_20161204 The Second Sunday of Advent
Turning Point Isaiah 11:1-10 11 A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. 2 The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. 3 His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; 4 but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. 5 Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist, and faithfulness the belt around his loins. 6 The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. 7 The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. 8 The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den. 9 They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. 10 On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious.
Joel 2:12-13, 28-29 12 “Yet even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; 13 and rend your hearts and not your garments.” Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster. 28 “And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. 29 Even on the male and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit._
Two weeks ago, I officiated a funeral. At the graveside, right after the service, the people from funeral home brought two cases of white pigeons and set them free in the air. The drove of white pigeons flew high and hovered over Oak knoll Memorial Park. It was the first time for me to see pigeons let loose at a funeral. It was beautiful- Seeing the beautiful white pigeons flying around I thought pigeons had a returning instinct so probably the funeral staff didn’t have to worry about them returning to their original place where they kept them. The gorgeous white pigeons must be really expensive so if they are just one-time disposable items, then the cost of the funeral will be terribly expensive. I was thinking about these things standing there and looking at the flying white pigeons. I thought, “They should be fine. They have the instinct to return home. So they will be fine.” I tried to set myself at ease thinking like that. And last Tuesday, on the way from Coleta to Milledgeville, not too far from the Oak Knoll Memorial Park, I saw an unbelievable view. I saw a group of the white pigeons flying around over the cornfields. I couldn’t believe that. They must be the white pigeons that were released at the funeral because I’d never seen white pigeons there before! They must be them! So I followed them to see where they were going. There were about 20 pigeons and I believe about 40 were set free at the funeral so about half were missing. May the missing 20 went back to the funeral home. I don’t know. Anyway, they went to a farmhouse right on Genesee road where several chicken coops were out in the yard and they landed there and joined the chickens. It looked like they already figured out how to live there. Poor funeral home. They lost the half of their pigeons. It was really ( funny-? )
I have a yoyo, which is a toy that always winds itself back to the player’s hand. The yo-yo is thrown downwards, hits the end of the string, then winds up the string toward the hand, and finally the yo-yo is grabbed. Once the renowned priest, theologian and writer, Henry Nouwen once said, “All humans have their own strings that are attached to God regardless whether they recognize it or not. We all are connected to God by the string attached to us. So no matter where are - close to God, or lost our ways to God -all of us feel the pulling force that draws us back to God’s hand.” When I read this from his book, I immediately pictured ourselves as a yoyo with a string that winds us up back to the hand of God. Yes, I truly believe God has strings for all of God’s people and creation and is always working really hard winding up the strings to bring God’s people back.
In today’s Scripture, from the Book of Joel, God says, “Yet even now- Return to me!” Return to me with all your heart, with your sincerity! Yet even now – in the midst of disaster. Yet even now – in the midst of wandering and despair. Yet even now – as all around you looks hopeless and bleak … God is seeking your return, is in fact, pleading for it. God wants to forgive. God wants you to remember who you are, the covenantal people of God.
And so, Joel quotes words that were first uttered by God after the people had defied God at the foot of Mt. Sinai and built a golden calf, an idol. After that, where God was so angry that He was willing to punish the people, God relents and says in the 34th chapter of Exodus: The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin.
Out of the mouth of Joel, there are words of hope and encouragement. Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing. The Book of Joel is one of the books that we are not sure exactly when the book is written. But many scholars think most likely it was written right after the people of Israel have returned home from the Babylonian exile. The Babylonian captivity or Babylonian exile is the period in Jewish history during which a number of Judeans of the ancient Kingdom of Judah were captives in Babylonia. Numerous people of Israel were captivated in Babylon for almost 50 years and just returned to their homeland.
The people of Israel may have returned home to Jerusalem, but they had not returned to God – this homecoming was incomplete. But, here it is God who is longing, anxiously anticipating the return of the people. But before that can happen, they must remember who they are, they must turn away from their drifting that has separated them from God; they must rend their hearts – literally tear them open so that they can see their need for God.
Advent is a season of anticipation. Certainly we spend these four weeks, hopefully, anticipating the birth of Jesus. But we also spend our time anticipating our loved ones’ homecomings and family celebrations. A quick survey of some of our favorite Christmas carols reiterates this anticipation of returning home: •I’ll be home for Christmas…• There’s no place like home for the holidays…• Over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house we go. . Yes, Advent is time to return home, reunite with loving ones, and have a wonderful sharing of love and memories. Yes, Advent is time to return to God, reunited with your loving God, and have a great sharing of love and memories with your good God.
Advent means God has not let our hope die. Advent is a season for waiting in the Lord, for returning to the Lord, for hoping in the Lord. It is not yet time for “Good Christian friends, rejoice, with heart and soul and voice…” It is the season of “Come, now, O God of love, make us one body. Come, O Lord Jesus, reconcile your people.” And so, during this season of Advent, we are reminded that because God’s longing for us is so great, God simply doesn’t wait for us to return – but instead comes running to meet us – right here, where we are, as one of us – Emmanuel, God with us.
And during this season of Advent please invite your family and friends who haven’t been in churches for years. Surely God loves everyone, and God desperately calls them to return- Be the string for them to come back to God. Be the pulling force for them to experience God’s calling for them. We have a variety of venues to invite them to - special services - caroling or children’s pageant, which are less threatening than simply inviting to worship - We could also relate the people who are not coming to church like the 20 pigeons who are lost . They might think they are okay eating Chicken’s feed, but knowing that the Father in the Gospel of Luke who was desperately waiting for his prodigal son to come back home, God prepares a heavenly feast for the lost ones and awaits them to return to God. When we play yoyo, in order to get the yoyo return to your hand, we need to pull the yoyo a little bit when the yoyo hit the bottom. Advent is the time we need to pull our string for others a little bit with prayers for them. Their turning point to God would be the moment that you pull them to come to church-it doesn’t have to be this church- with your prayer and sincere care for their souls.
May God bless all your homecomings this Advent season – as you anxiously anticipate the birth of your Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Thanks be to God! Amen-