North American theologian Douglas John Hall

names the task of Advent proclamation as one of

telling the truth

while staying hopeful


God help us


I hear the prophets promise that there’s coming a day when

God will judge between the nations

and arbitrate for many peoples

but domestic violence impacts more than half of all families in this country


I hear the prophet’s promises of peace

of swords and spears

transformed into implements of farming

caring for the earth

feeding the multitudes

but listen to these statistics about the current state of our world community:

The United Nations defines “major wars” as military conflicts inflicting 1,000 battlefield deaths per year. In 1965, there were 10 major wars under way. The new millennium began with much of the world consumed in armed conflict or cultivating an uncertain peace. As of mid-2005, there were eight Major Wars under way [down from 15 at the end of 2003], with as many as two dozen “lesser” conflicts ongoing with varying degrees of intensity.

Most of these are civil or “intrastate” wars, fueled as much by racial, ethnic, or religious animosities as by ideological fervor. Most victims are civilians, a feature that distinguishes modern conflicts. During World War I, civilians made up fewer than 5 percent of all casualties. Today, 75 percent or more of those killed or wounded in wars are non-combatants.

Africa, to a greater extent than any other continent, is afflicted by war. Africa has been marred by more than 20 major civil wars since 1960. Rwanda, Somalia, Angola, Sudan, Liberia, and Burundi are among those countries that have recently suffered serious armed conflict.

War has caused untold economic and social damage to the countries of Africa. Food production is impossible in conflict areas, and famine often results. Widespread conflict has condemned many of Africa’s children to lives of misery and, in certain cases, has threatened the existence of traditional African cultures.

Conflict prevention, mediation, humanitarian intervention and demobilization are among the tools needed to underwrite the success of development assistance programs. Nutrition and education programs, for example, cannot succeed in a nation at war. Billions of dollars of development assistance have been virtually wasted in war-ravaged countries such as Liberia, Somalia, and Sudan.  –


and I hear the prophet’s promise that nations will no longer lift up the sword

against one another

or learn war anymore

but, like you, I see the news

the war in Afghanistan continues

and just this week

North Korea has launched missiles into civilian populated areas –

The first time this has happened since the end of the Korean Conflict


It all seems like so much darkness

and darkness can be a frightening thing

night terrors

fear of the dark are painfully real


and it’s not just the little ones who experience such torment in our days


I know people of faith

Leaders in the Church who struggle regularly with night terrors


Darkness, real and metaphorical

is a scary thing


and so I guess I can understand the popularity of the escapist mentality

found in things like the Left Behind series of books and movies

which uses as a starting point

a misreading of Matthew 24 – our Gospel text for today


You see, the truth is

There’s no rapture here –

being taken in this context is not a comforting thing

but we miss this because we’re so stuck in our own context

those of us in this room don’t live with the threat

that someone might snatch us up

or one that we love


but living in Matthew’s Christian community

during a time of Roman persecution

this was a constant reality


I don’t know if any of you saw the movie, The Nativity a few years ago –

it’s historically, fairly accurate


There’s a scene that shows Herod’s soldiers collecting taxes in Nazareth

Only there’s a man who can’t pay


Apparently he was unable to pay on a previous attempt as well

And he begs the soldiers to wait until harvest


But instead, they rip his teenaged daughter from the arms of her mother

Throw her on a horse

And take her away


It’s a heart-wrenching scene

To see these two women working around the house

One is taken –

The other is left


Of course, the people living in Nazareth

around the time of Christ

Aren’t the only ones ever to face such threats


Consider those living in Cambodia during the cultural revolution

or in Soviet Russia just a couple of decades ago

or in the Sudan among other places today


Consider, for example, the people

right in our back yards

for whom the threat of being snatched up

and locked away

is a very real possibility

because they don’t have proper documentation


or those who are wasting away in federal detention centers

and in 5 county jails right here in New Jersey

because they escaped one threatening situation

only to find that, after all, they weren’t welcomed here

in the land of the free either


In such contexts being taken means something far different

than how American evangelicals tend to read it

as if Jesus is sanctioning

or even participating in escapism

through some sort of rapture –

as if the best thing that could happen is for us “to git outta Dodge”

and to get on with some other life

a supposedly more real life

in what we suppose to be the real kingdom of God


But that’s not what Jesus is teaching

and looking at the larger context of Matthew’s Gospel makes that quite clear


What we read today comes from Jesus’ teaching in the temple in Jerusalem

during the last week of his ministry


and over and over the subject of the teaching returns

to what the coming of the Son of Man will be like


it’ll be like a wedding banquet

like the days of Noah

like ten virgins waiting for a bridegroom

like a master who entrusts silver pieces to his servants


and the whole series of teachings culminates

with Jesus teaching about the final judgment

about the separation of the sheep and the goats –

a judgment based on what?


Well, based on how they lived among others

and not just any others

but specifically

some are sheep

and some are goats

based on how they lived among

and stood with the victimized

the outcast

the excluded

the hungry

the thirsty

the homeless

the naked

the ill

the imprisoned


like it or not, this is the stuff of real life

and this is where we’re called to stand as God’s beloved children

not looking for a way out

not looking to a pie in the sky time and place

to some distant reality of living in God’s reign



God’s reign comes here and now

in the mess and darkness of daily living

in the real world

where real people

suffer real injustices…


This coming Wednesday is World AIDS day

So did you know that infections are again on the rise here in the US?


Or that right now, 22,500,000 Africans are infected with the AIDS virus


Or that about 6,600 die of AIDS every day –

that’s somewhere around 50 people during the time of this sermon

and well over 300 people during the length of this worship service


And more

Right now, tensions are boiling over into open hostilities between N & S Korea

Right now, our society seems to think it’s not only okay

to exclude people from the most basic human forms of relationship

as 44 states claim to protect traditional marriage

either through statute

or through their constitution

and that many in the Church believe it’s representative of the gospel of Christ

to exclude people from full participation in the life of the Church

because someone says they love the wrong person

in the wrong way


Right now, we’re living in a country

with the highest death rate among police officers since the 1970s


Right now, we’re living in a world where

Bullies think it’s okay to humiliate others

Using the internet

And other technologies

Driving those being bullied to make the most desperate decisions in response…


But right now, we’re also living at a time when

A little boy risks his own freedom

And, supported by his parents,

Goes to Tiananmen Square

To call China’s leaders

And our President as well

To intervene in the escalating conflict between North & South Korea


And right now, we are living in a time when

God’s reign in Christ Jesus

continues to call us to shine as lights

to wake up

to pay attention

to put on the armor of light

to put on the Lord Jesus Christ

to walk in the light of the Lord…


In our experience of creation at this time of year

The days are growing shorter

The hours of darkness increase daily

And the church’s traditional response to the gathering darkness of the season

racing rapidly toward the winter solstice

the shortest and darkest day of the year

is to begin lighting candles

adding one more each week

countering the world’s gathering darkness

with the increasing light of Christ’s promise to come

to dwell among us

to be our God


to gather all things to himself

in his loving grace that conquers all


to gather all things into the light of his presence –

that light which no darkness can overcome


In much the same way we’re called to shed more and more light in the world

to speak the truth

to call hatred what it is

to call exclusion what it is

to call prejudice what it is

to call poverty what it is

to call hunger what it is

to call disease what it is

in short, to call sin and death

and all that is dark and demonic

what they are


But, we do so remembering that we speak the truth

while all the while holding to the hope we have in the gospel of Christ

whose promises are trustworthy and true

whose coming is certain

whose advent is near


even so, come Lord Jesus!