Near where my Grandma live, in Iron Mountain, Michigan there is an iron mine. These are just photos from the internet but they have been I think they are still using those classy yellow rain slickers to protect you from all that might fall from the cave. Your eyes deceive you inside that cave. You think it’s not that far to the other side but they put this large cut out in the far back of the cave, and it looks like it’s inches big.
When I was 10 or so, my dad took my cousin and I on the mine tour. We put on our rain slickers and hard hats. What we didn’t know was that my cousin, maybe 14 years old, was terrified of bats. Now, it’s an old cave, there were bats. We didn’t know that when we got to the heart of the cave, they were going to turn the lights out so they would know what it would have been like to be a miner in the cave. I’m guessing they had some light something that focused in a small area, that might not have let them know what was lurking in the corner. For a couple of minutes, it might as well have been hours, and it was probably 30 seconds, we all stood in the dark. That seems to have been the invitation for the bats to begin moving and what probably happened was that one flew by us. What did happen was that my cousin freaked out and so I assume that one attacked him and landed on his face. We left that mine like people who has experienced something. We had been tried and tested in the darkness of the mines of Khazad-dûm, I mean, Iron Mountain, and survived.
In our reading today, the people of God–the descendants of Sarah and Abraham, Rebekkah and Isaac, Rachel and Jacob, have been through some things. There has been trouble within and without, there has been trouble below and beyond.
The Hebrew people were, briefly, one nation but very quickly divided into to, Northern Israel and Southen Judah. Here’s a thing about the ancient world: it was particularly bloody and violent. Cities became nations, nations became empires, and empires swallowed everything around them. One of the first great empires of this part of the ancient world was Assyria. The world, the boundaries, the leaders were always changing, the world was filled with unknowns and uncertainties. Assyria was brutal and no matter what the northern Kingdom of Israel did, in 722BCE, they fell to the Assyria empire and the people were sent into other parts of the empire. There had been long and bloody battles, there had been alliances made and broken, there had been fear rising up as Assyria drew closer. And that is the darkness that Isaiah is talking about. Imagine living in that fear from the southern Kingdom of Judah. It’s like Arrowhead getting conquered by West Bend. We don’t always like Arrowhead, we will battle them in sports, but they’re basically us and we certainly didn’t expect them to be conquered and didn’t plan for them to be dispersed around Washington and Ozaukee Counties. And if West Bend could do that to them… how long will it be until they arrive at Oconomowoc and Dousman, Wales and Delafield.
Things in Judah had gotten dark, and scary, and a little hopeless.
But, my friends, we have seen some things this year. We have been through some stuff. Last year, CNN Reporter Jake Trapper described one particular event in a way that, for some, seemed to describe the whole year: “That was a hot mess, inside a dumpster fire, inside a train wreck.” Growing up, my mom would get us ornaments every year. I continue the tradition but like to make sure they represent the year in some way. **The 2020 dumpster fire ornament, and not be outdone: **2021 dumpster fire ornament.
There have been losses. There are people who will be missing at holiday gatherings, whether they have been gone from them for the first time or for years, whether they just can’t make it back or have died. We are grieving: our loved ones, jobs, traditions, experiences, hopes, promises, health. We have been sick, we have been afraid of sickness, we have been seen others so sick. We have been divided by distance, politics, priorities, values. We have been pitted against each other over race, education, gender, sexuality, and whose vision of the future takes priority. It can be a scary time. And in scary times, we aren’t always our best selves.
We have seen it in school board meetings turn into fights about masks, or racism, or banned books. We’ve seen protests turn to what some call riots and what Dr. King called the language of the unheard, turn to shootings, turned…trials and disappointment. Wars, immigrates struggling to find a home, and sickness. We have seen the earth cry out in floods and droughts and fire, and those with the power to move us toward healing, do nothing. We too have walked in darkness.
And every November 20th, is what is called Transgender Day of Remembrance. Much like All Saints Day, it is a day to remember those who have died, but in this case it is to remember the transgender and gender non-conforming persons who were killed. This past year saw the most trans persons killed in the US-46, breaking last year’s record. Most people of color. Most women. The international list includes more than 300 names, mostly women. Some have no dignity of being remembered with a name, or a story of their life. Some return to their families who will not admit the reality of who they were. They have walked in darkness too. Tori Cooper from HRC wrote, Each year, transgender and non-binary people gather together to mourn those lost and hope for a more peaceful future. On the Transgender Day of Remembrance, we must all reaffirm our commitment to fighting on every front necessary to ensure our transgender siblings’ deaths will not be forgotten. We will honor their lives and their memories with action.
Isaiah was trying to convince the people and the leaders of Judah not to try and make alliances that would ultimately fail them, but to trust in the God who was unfailing, had been with them in their troubles before and would be with them again. This is both prophecy and poem, it tells of what God is doing and has done and what God has already done in the future. God has acted, and is about to act in Judah, I the lives of those who live in Judah, on behalf of God’s people. God is going to set the world right. A world where the means of war are burned and destroyed, an end to that which divides us, and peace. Imagine the peace when all you have known is war and trouble.
This is a story of good news for all people. This is a poem of good news for the Jewish people and it’s good news for us. Because God is acting and has acted and is about to and has already in the future done a new thing. We believe that the child is coming, has come, that Jesus showed up, Emmanuel, God with us, to set the world right, and is coming back to do so again. That is the promise of the Good news, the world is set right. And when Jesus came to teach and tell stories he spoke of the Kin-dom of God that was now on earth and the kin-dom of God that is coming–it was present, it is present, it is coming, and we live in the promised space of what is and what is to come. That is what is bringing us hope. Hope in the dark times, in the loneliness, in the grief, in the loss, in the pain, in the struggles. Hope in the divide and the conflict. It is the hope that God, through Jesus, is revealing the world, is setting the world right, is setting that which divides us and brings us to fear into the fire so that it will be no more.
It is the promise of the restoration of Justice, of healing and liberation, it is the setting free and the setting right.
And we wait, that is what our Advent is all about, we wait. We are waiting for the future that is promised and that is here. And we don’t wait as those staring at the sky. We are not stuck. We are not passively waiting. We are looking toward a past where God has shown up. And we are looking to a future where God has already shown up. And we trust that God will do it again. We wait in the faith that what is to come is already here, and we are part of it. We are working in the kin-dom present and the kin-dom to come. We are living in the world where Emmanuel, God with us, is here and still to come. So we wait and participate in that which brings more love, more justice, more hope to the world. This is why religious leaders and faith show up to protest Julius Jones’ execution because we probably shouldn’t be executing people and someone else has confessed to the crimes the state was going to kill him for, until there wasn’t an execution. This is why faith leaders are showing up in Georgia to support the family of Amed Aubry. And this is why in Kenosha the leaders were disappointed but painted a vision of a better future for Kenosha and began to work to make that vision a reality. And God is present in that as God is present in our lives while we wait with action. We are building the better world, the world set right, the world based in justice and love. the kin-dom world.
We are not at the end of the story. we are working toward a better future and God will show us the way, and God will meet us where we are, and God will be there when we get there.