“To Dismantle the Present Order?”
A sermon preached by Rev. David M. Crawford at Rundle Memorial United Church, November 27, 2011 (Advent 1). Based on Mark 13:24-37.
Barbara Brown Taylor has been one of the most respected teachers and preachers in the area of hermenuetics or sermon-making over the last 20 years or so. In commenting on today’s rather alarming text from Mark, she writes this: “The most surprising thing this text proclaims is that the One who comes to dismantle the present order comes not as an enemy, but as God’s own beloved.” To dismantle the present order? Advent becoming anarchy? Christmas understood as chaos? She writes further: “While manger scenes pop up all over town and Christmas carols ﬁll the airwaves, today we are given a different version of the coming of the Lord. According to Mark, we can forget the stable, the star, the shepherds keeping watch over their ﬂock by night. When Mark looks into the sky, what he sees are cosmic ﬁreworks: a darkened sun, a dim moon, stars falling from the sky like sparks from a sparkler – and there, in the center of the smoke, the Son of God coming in clouds with great power and glory.”
An unexpected scripture reading to be sure, here on an icy Advent Sunday in beautiful Banff. Seems kind of inappropriate, off the mark! Maybe those academics who planned these Scripture readings for us in a three year cycle needing to get out a bit more, experience the real world, where we’re eager to sing “Away in a Manger” and sip egg nog, decorate our trees and maybe throw onto the old turntable, if we still have it, that ancient, scratchy but beloved Christmas album of Robert Goulet. Dismantle the present order? Come on!
Two weeks ago Miho and I found ourselves wandering through the Dollar Store in Canmore. We happened upon a shopping cart full of cheap dvds, among them Mel Gibson’s “Passion of the Christ”. Seven dollars, so we bought it, and then watched it over two nights this week because it was too much, simply too heavy, disturbing to watch in one night.
It’s kind of an odd feeling watching that brutal, horriﬁc, and by the way historically inaccurate depiction of the suffering and death of Christ only a few days before Advent. An odd feeling, yet, I would argue, not all that inappropriate, not a mistake. For I was reminded in watching “The Passion” how Jesus in his life very much assaulted the present order with an eye to dismantling it, that another order, which we call the kingdom of heaven, might replace it. I was reminded that the infant born to impoverished parents in a backwater part of the Roman Empire, surrounded by adoring farm animals (if we accept the common imagery of so many Christmas cards), worshipped by Magi, that this infant grew up to become extremely political, challenging the authorities at every turn, challenging accepted mores, ethics, and traditions, redeﬁning them! Gentle Jesus meek and mild is a myth, mostly.
The truth of our faith is that there would be no Advent without Lent ﬁrst, just as there would be no Christmas if Easter had not ﬁrst occurred, and every Sunday, as one prominent Bible scholar has famously declared, “is a little Easter”, even in Advent. So behind or quietly underguirding our Advent excitement, our Christmas enthusiasm, is the story of how the holy child became a holy man, yet more than a man, with a mission of cosmic proportions, indeed sent to dismantle the “present order” of the world (which, if we’re more honest than we wish to be is actually disorder), perhaps even sent to dismantle aspects of our own lives, those unseemly elements of our psyches, spirits, words and actions which tend to betray everything Jesus was about.
In the end, or in our case the beginning, the beginning of Advent, maybe a little alarmist preaching, tinged with threat, warning, is what we need today. Perhaps we need our minds cleared, need to be awakened, alerted, brought to attention, slapped upside the head, have a wake-up call, … as we anticipate Jesus’ arrival!! For just think about what he said, think about how the baby from Bethlehem comes to transform us, with a little dismantling ﬁrst:
– “You have heard that it as said, ‘You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy’, but I say to you, Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.”
– “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn ‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother…” (he uses extreme hyperbole here to emphasize what Bonheoffer called “the cost of discipleship”)
– “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the Law and the Prophets.”
– “If any wish to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will ﬁnd it.”
Advent is Hope, Peace, Joy and Love, as the various Sundays of the season proclaim. It is anticipation, excitement, joy! Perhaps it is also a time for dismantling, re-ordering, recommitting ourselves to this adventurous Teacher and Messiah, in whose ways are life and grace and salvation!
Not what you expected today? Maybe that’s as it should be, for we worship a God who is relentless in His seeking of us, relentlessly unexpected, unpredictable, uncontrollable! Thanks be to God!