Advent One Sermon by the Rev. L. Cameron O’Riley

We welcome Advent today not joyfully, but with an initial sense of distress. The words and the pleas imparted through our readings continue to reach across time as the authors seek God’s intervention and restoration. “Isaiah has beseeched God to rend the heavens and come down. The Psalmist calls on God to restore the fortunes of God’s people. Paul speaks to a community that waits for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ.” And in Mark’s “Little Apocalypse,” Jesus seems to warn “Be careful what you ask for.” (New Proclamation 2005)

The people are disheartened and lonely, yet express a sincere confidence that God can and will save them. As scary as it is, they call for God to make a spectacular entrance, an awesome display of unbridled vibrant power that scares our fears away and shows our enemies and us who’s in control. What a contrast to the gentle quiet God we envision coming into the world on a Silent Night in a stable bare. This is a raw plea, for a passionate God. So keep your eyes open and be on guard, because you know neither day nor the hour. And you don’t want to miss this!

Thomas Merton’s poem Earthquake best captures the spirit of this morning’s (Evening’s) readings. It can be found in a series entitled “Eight Freedom Songs,” written in 1966 in response to a special request in connection to the Christian Civil Rights movement. (The Collected Poems of Thomas Merton, pg. 670) I first learned of Earthquake in 2007 when the Concert Choir at my Alma Mater performed a musical adaptation by the inspired composer Gwyneth Walker. The lyrics are arranged into verse pairings, so the men’s voices are paired with, and answered by, the women’s voices. The alternation between them continues several times, with the revolving notes of the piece shifting up a step with each section of the poem. The modulations, or variations in vocal tone, are intended to increase the strength and intensity of the song, and thereby the voice of God. The hearer is carried along by the call for peace in the sections in which “pacem” is inserted to form bridges between the verses. The overall effect is both unified and dimensional. As Merton calls for the earth to shake “with marching feet of messengers of peace,” the singers bringing of peace becomes the means by which the people are brought together as one. (http://www.gwynethwalker.com/tellthee.html)
These are the words of Merton’s Earthquake:

Go tell the earth to shake
And tell the thunder
To wake the sky

And tear the clouds apart
Tell my people to come out
And wonder

Where the old world is gone
For a new world is born
And all my people
Shall be one

So tell the earth to shake
With marching feet

Of messengers of peace
Proclaim my law of love
To every nation
Every race.
For the old wrongs are over
The old days are gone
A new world is rising
where my people shall be one.

So tell the earth to shake
With marching feet
Of messengers of peace
Proclaim my law of love
To every nation
Every race.

And say
The old wrongs are over
The old ways are done
There shall be no more hate
And no more war
My people shall be one.

So tell the earth to shake
With marching feet
Of messengers of peace
Proclaim my law of love
To every nation
Every race.

For the old world is ended
The old sky is torn Apart.
A new day is born
They hate no more

They do not go to war
My people shall be one

So tell the earth to shake
With marching feet
Of messengers of peace
Proclaim my law of love
To every nation
Every race.

There shall be no more hate
And no more oppression
The old wrongs are done
My people shall be one.

Hearing these words, I wonder if such a world is possible given our proclivity to sin. As we mark the first week of Advent, we are beckoned into holy sobriety. To glance back and look forward, and ask of ourselves are we living as a people of hope believing and behaving as though there can be peace on earth. The splitting open of the heavens is exactly what we seek each Advent, recalling heavenly visitations of the past, angels spilling over heavens edge, God made manifest, and anticipating the magnificent return of Christ yet to come. We seek divine intervention, a revelation that what we believe is real, and we aren’t alone, that our suffering has not been for naught. “We seek signposts and roadmaps to help us find our way.” (New Proclamation, 2005) Perhaps even a fig tree or two. And what lesson were we to learn from the fig tree. Not long ago the tree was cursed, and now today it’s leafing and tender. But Life is found in the continuity of cycles, “in the flashes of grace and forgiveness we see every day.” (New Proclamation, 2012) It’s as sure as one season turning to another. One must end so that another may begin. Do not be anxious of life changes, Jesus’s words, the love of God, do not pass away. They are continual. “For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel: In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.” (Isaiah 30:15)
The challenge then is to break open our hearts, so that we may be overcome with the peace and love of our awesome God. Then perhaps courageously and confidently, fully alert, we can Go and tell the earth to shake with marching feet as messengers of peace proclaiming God’s law of love to every nation, every race. In the bringing of peace, there is hope. Just you watch…We shall be one.