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Praying For A Whole New World

Praying For A Whole New World
Gospel Sermons For Advent/Christmas/Epiphany Cycle C
The door slammed. There was a rush upstairs. The man looked at the clock; it was time for his daughter to be home from school. Fourth grade was not going very well, and from the sound of the slam of the door, it had not improved.

He went up to her room and asked about her day. "It was awful," she said, and then she filled in the details. When she unzipped her backpack at school, her homework was nowhere to be found. Her normally charming teacher snarled at the class. The morning dragged on to lunch, when none of the cafeteria choices looked appetizing. The class went outside to the playground and her best friend decided to play with somebody else. To top it off, a big kid named Kevin had made fun of her on the bus.

"It was a rotten day," she sobbed, and he held her. After about ten minutes, she stopped quivering. He rubbed her back and she blew her nose. One more hug, and then he went downstairs.

About a half hour later, he thought it sounded unnaturally quiet, so he sneaked upstairs to see what was happening. To his surprise, she was down on her knees with her hands clasped and her eyes shut, and she was murmuring something.

"Honey," he said, "is everything all right?"

"I'm okay, Daddy, I'm just praying."

"That's good," he whispered. "What are you praying for?"

"Dad, I've decided I don't like this world, so I'm praying for a new one."

Whether she knew it or not, cute as she was, she was rooting herself in thousands of years of Christian tradition. Ever since Jesus appeared among us, Christians have been praying for a whole new world.

That's what lies behind Scripture texts like the one we heard from the twenty-first chapter of Luke. Jesus is speaking about the destruction of Jerusalem. "The day is coming," he says, "when the temple will be dismantled, stone by stone. The city will be circled by armies and people will be forced to flee to the mountains." All that is familiar and settled will be disrupted, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And when that happens, Jesus says, "Stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near" (Luke 21:28).

He is speaking, I think, about the final arrival of God's kingdom. The day is coming when this old world will pass away and a new creation will be given to us. Fear, fainting, and foreboding will give way to the power and glory of the Son of Man. Confusion and distress among the people of God will turn to trust and security. Every tear will be dried. Every heart will be mended. And no fourth grader will ever again have a terrible, awful, no-good day.

This is our Advent hope: a new world of wholeness and joy. It will literally be a whole new world. Jesus reminds us this new world will come only after the old world has passed away.

We have no problem imagining the end of the world. Every year, the movie industry cranks out disaster films about global destruction. Maybe it is a spy thriller, where a reckless villain seeks world domination with no regard for loss of life. Or we buy tickets to watch a technicolor asteroid smashing into New York City. The threat can come from above, as aliens hover over the White House and blast it to bits. Or the threat can come from below, as city dwellers destroy themselves in fire and violence. There is no lack of images about the end of the world. What we lack is a picture of the new creation.

Not long ago Hollywood gave us a television miniseries on Noah's Ark. As we have come to expect, some scriptwriter mixed up the sequence of biblical events, but the essential story stayed the same. A flood wipes out the entire known world. As the book of Genesis says, "The Lord saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually" (Genesis 6:5). So God decided to wash away human wickedness in the waters of a flood. Only Noah's family and pairs of every animal were spared. When the rain began to fall, it looked like the end of the world.

God gives a blessing as the water recedes. The Lord tells Noah and the animals to "be fruitful and multiply." It is a great "do-over" of creation. There is a new opportunity to make good on the original blessing of God. It's the first chapter of Genesis all over again. It looks like a whole new world.

Remember what happens next? Noah gets drunk. A scandal divides his family. A curse is reintroduced into creation. It wasn't a new world after all, but merely a replanting of the old, familiar field.

As Advent begins, we must ask ourselves if we will settle for that. Do we simply want a continuation of what we have seen and known? Or do we hope for something far greater?

In one of her books, Kathleen Norris writes about the hopes of her rural neighbors in South Dakota. The land is frequently harsh and unfruitful, and the people who live there have coined a phrase to underwrite their dreams for the land.

"Next-year-country" is a treasured idiom of the western Dakotas, an accurate description of the landscape that farmers and ranchers dwell in -- next year rains will come at the right time; next year I won't get hailed out; next year winter won't set in before I have my hay hauled in for some winter feeding. I don't know a single person on the land who uses the idea of "next year" as an excuse not to keep on reading the earth, not to look for the signs that mean you've got to get out and do the field work when the time is right.1

Jesus said, "Keep watch over the fig tree and all the trees. Suddenly they sprout leaves and you know the summer is around the bend. In the same way, watch for signs that the kingdom of God is at hand."

It is possible to read some of these signs. Whether it's our own disappointment over a no-good, rotten day, or our disturbance over events on the 11:00 news, we look for God to come and make everything right. Whether we hope for a good corn crop or pray for the power to climb out of a rut, our desire for a new future is God's opportunity to make something new. To make us new. And that is the heart of our Advent hope.

We have to cope with change all the time. There's a man who felt a mid-life crisis coming on. On the precipice of his fiftieth birthday, he announced to his wife, "I feel the need to make a serious change in my life. I can't decide if I want a sports car or an affair."

His wise wife is a marriage and family therapist. She thought for a minute and said, "I recommend the sports car. In the long run, it will be cheaper." So he bought the car.

Sometimes we can make changes that help us cope with the turmoil in our lives. We can buy something or do something, and gain enough time and distance to manage whatever we must. Sooner or later, however, we can't outrun our own weaknesses. Like Noah, we get off the boat and discover we've brought our own baggage on the journey.

The good news for Advent is that we don't have to expect a logical continuation of everything we have already seen and known. Something different is on the way. As theologian Walter Bruegge-mann notes, "What we ready ourselves for in Advent is the sneaking suspicion, the growing awareness, the building restlessness that this weary world is not the one God has in mind. God will work another world ... according to the person and passion of Jesus."2 The day is coming when the love and justice of Jesus Christ will fill the universe. According to Jesus, it can only happen after the world as we know it is unplugged and dismantled.

Do we want that?

Sometimes it is so easy to say yes. Think how wonderful it would be to see the end of all the stuff in the world that makes us sick: petty jealousy among family members, mean-spirited backbiting among neighbors, poverty and over-consumption, violence and destruction, racism and hatred. Wouldn't it be nice to get a huge garbage can and throw it all away?

That's what I pray for. Then I am reminded of my own complicity in maintaining the status quo and perpetuating the unbalance of power.

I went out to dinner with friends -- mixed greens with balsamic vinaigrette, pine nut crusted chicken with sun dried tomatoes, rice pilaf, summer squash, a bottle of white wine, all followed by chocolate cheesecake. The total bill with tip came to $139.13. The evening was delicious in every way. I went home and turned on the television just in time to see pictures of starving children in Africa. The only words on my heart were, "Lamb of God, have mercy on me."

I took my children to a water park on a hot summer day. All afternoon we slipped and slid down water slides. We splashed in inner tubes and shot down the rapids of a whitewater raft ride. It was the highlight of a great vacation. Still glowing from the experience, I picked up the newspaper to read how a lingering drought back home caused my neighbor's farm to fail. The only prayer I could utter was, "Do over!"

They are small scenes, to be sure, and easily justified to our friends and children. Yet they are signs that can shake the heavens and prepare us for what God has in store. In personal moments like these, the Holy Spirit is God's subversive Advocate. We can expect the Spirit to disrupt us until we are ready to receive what God has prepared for his beloved children and a cherished creation.

As Walter Brueggemann goes on to say:

Advent asks if we are bold and sharp enough to speak the hurt that belongs to our weary world. It asks if we are ready and open enough for a newness to be given. It asks if we know the name of the Father to whom we belong, of the Lord whom we confess, of the coming one for whom we wait, and if we trust that one enough to relinquish the old world.3

A whole new world is at hand. All the promises of Scripture will come true. The poor will be filled with good things and the selfish brought down from their thrones. The nations shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. No more shall there be an infant that lives but a few days, or an old person who does not live out a lifetime. The wolf shall lie down with the lamb, the ox and the fatling together. The pure in heart shall see God and the brokenhearted shall dance. God himself will be with us, to wipe every tear from every eye. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more. A piece of bread and a sip of wine will be transformed into a banquet where every hungry guest shall be satisfied.

These are previews of what God promises. They give us glimpses of the whole new world that God intends. The new creation will not come cheaply. Every vested interest in the old order will be challenged by the word of Christ. God will stop at nothing until "the kingdom of this world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ" (Revelation 11:15).

Even so, come, Lord Jesus!


1. Kathleen Norris, Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith (New York: Riverhead Books, 1998), p. 319.

2. Walter Brueggemann, Proclamation 3: Advent/Christmas (Series B) (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1984), p. 14.

3. Ibid., p. 15.

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