Someone walks into the room and says something so weird, time and conversation stop. Silence hangs like a funeral pall in the air. No one says a word until they leave the room. You look at each other, and someone finally says, “What parallel universe is he from?” Or someone else says: “She must be from Planet Utah.”
That could easily been said about Jeremiah the prophet. He sounds like an alien who stepped off a UFO. He’s hated, been thrown in prison and nearly killed because he says what people don’t want to hear: “You are not as safe and secure as you think. Stop stepping on the poor. Avert disaster. God’ll get you.” No one sends Jeremiah a Christmas card anymore.
But Jeremiah’s right. Babylon comes to visit. Jerusalem falls. The Jews watch their city and Temple burning as Babylon hauls them off into captivity. Jeremiah stands at the edge of town watching them depart. And here’s what is really strange: Instead of saying, “I told you so; you didn’t listen,” he’s singing, “Don’t worry. Be Happy. God’s got something good up His sleeve for you.” “What planet did he just step off?”
Happy New Year – by the way! It’s Advent – today – new church year and all. Made any spiritual resolutions yet? In Advent we’re so out of touch with the rhythm of the world they might think we just stepped off planet Utah. We are to live in the world, but not be of the world, according to Jesus’ manual for would-be followers – we can expect to be a bit out of sync. We quietly huddle against a cacophony of worldly noise as Christmas bears down. In the earth-bound universe out there, Christmas arrives right after Labor Day. Malls go sale-crazy. Catalogues arrive in our mailboxes. We eagerly shop online to avoid crowds. I love this time of year – really. It’s happier – when act more kindly at least for a few weeks. We can muster enough to tolerate our snarkiest relatives – for a family meal – a day at the most. God’s got a lot of stiff competition out there. Jesus gets a footnote – and a picture is some soupy card of Bethlehem. Honestly, it’s easier to attach our hearts to a new Keurig coffeemaker, with a reusable K-cup filter cartridge to protect the environment, to set our hearts upon God. Yet it’s still a most wonderful time of the year.
In a parallel universe of Advent, prophets like Jeremiah still warn of impending doom, and when doom and foreboding come – here’s the crazy part, next come words of comfort and hope – right when our world is falling apart. Are we from a parallel universe to proclaim hope when everything around us says otherwise? Advent calls us to stop, wait for God. Listen for what matters eternally. Take time to sync our desires with God’s. God comes not to obliterate His people, but to awaken their longing for Him, for holy things. Granted it may seem extreme. Yet hope spoken in darkness can open people to a larger world than the one so many think is the only one – this one. For those depressed, fearful, who watch dreams crumble, feel alone in an alien land where no one understands, God will bring comfort and hope. Keep looking for it. It takes faith to hear it, and then courage to trust – a claim that sounds like it comes from a parallel universe – because it does.
It’s hard to keep faith in the dark times. It’s hard to see blessings when you can’t see over the field of thorns. Remember, Jeremiah gets it right. Whether we break our promises, or we think it’s bad luck or karma, or it’s our own stubbornness, God still keeps His promise. When we become captive in places of despair, God won’t leave us there. Wait, be alert – keep looking for blessings, grace – it’s still there.
Eventually the Jews return to Jerusalem and rebuild a Temple. It’s an old story that repeats over and over in Biblical history. People get in a mess; God rescues; hope returns. God’s promises are sure. And in Advent we await the birth again into our lives of the one God sends finally to rescue us and bring us into new places, now.
What will real hope look like? Hope is an attitude – a perspective – a way to live life regardless of what state we are in; a grace sent from above. Hope is not the effort of an overactive imagination, a field of dreams, or Pollyanna simplicity. We don’t create hope – we receive hope. Hope doesn’t come by waiting for God to do something. God waits for us to be prophets who bring hope into the world’s darkness. God tells us to work toward a day when swords will finally be beaten into plows; when food pantries and shelters are no longer needed; when teenagers no longer are shot on our streets; and no child goes to bed hungry. Hope is to work for a world where all have enough, where lion and lamb lie down together, and where enemies are no more. Hope is bearing God’s future in our lives for the world now.
So Happy New Year – spend some time this Advent in a parallel universe, sacred time. Open yourself and see anew. Name God’s infinite blessings. Then wait to see how God will next keep His promise. Live confidently, the child soon to be born again in our hearts makes us righteous in his death; makes us whole and redeemed in his resurrection. This is the hope that matters – the hope we most deeply long for. This Advent be a sign of God’s hope in this world, after all, God so loves it. At worst people will probably look at us like we’re from Planet Utah.