A sermon for the First Sunday of Advent, Luke 21:25-36
History often has a way of repeating itself.
This simple fact is part of the reason for the smashing success of the Broadway musical, Hamilton. A story about a founding father in Alexander Hamilton that had not been well known, and yet, a story that resonates forward to today. A story that speaks to us because of the reality of our world today, the challenges we face, the questioning of intent and meaning in how we were founded, and how that has evolved since. One line that consistently drew the biggest cheers was shared between Hamilton and Marquis de Lafayette, “Immigrants, we get the job done.” Speaking to the truth of Hamilton and Lafayette being leaders of a revolution for a home that they had adopted as much as it had adopted them. This line even inspired a powerful and moving remix on The Hamilton Mixtape, where contemporary artists built off of this fact to share their story of being an immigrant in today’s America.
As Hamilton prepares for revolution in the musical, he sings a song about his shot, his opportunity to leave a mark in the pages of history. Hamilton sings, “I’m just like my country, I’m young, scrappy and hungry, And I’m not throwing away my shot.” And interwoven into this personal drive is the call to all those who will enter into revolution with him, “We’re gonna, rise up, rise up, It’s time to take a shot, Rise up, rise up, it’s time to take a shot.”
Rise up, Alexander Hamilton sings on stage 200 years after his death. History, repeats itself.
Rise up, Jesus seems to be calling to us today. History, repeats itself once more.
The fact that history repeats itself in cycle is utilized to great extent by the Church. This is how a story written two-thousand years ago can still hold such deep and powerful significance in our lives. This is why the words of the gospel seem to leap off the page and speak to us today, as if they were written for our contemporary audience, our modern understanding of the world. This biblical tradition of viewing the story through our current lens keeps the story fresh and pertinent, while also respecting the fact that it doesn’t really take much to bring these stories forward, because history has a way of repeating itself.
Our liturgical tradition condenses this reality of cyclical history into our church year. Segmented into seasons but flowing from one story to the next. The year builds on itself and exposes us to stories in a three-year cycle, repeating and yet revealing anew each time. And such, we find ourselves at the beginning once more, entering into the season of Advent, preparing ourselves once more for the coming of the Christ child, re-entering into this cycle of waiting, listening, responding to the call to raise our heads, to hear the voice crying out, to rise up.
Here at St. Stephen’s we are committing ourselves to rise up this Advent. Last night, we hosted our first night of Winter’s Night @ the Baird House. If you receive emails from the parish, you will already know about this program, but if you haven’t seen or heard about it yet, we have committed to open the Baird House on nights when the temperature is forecast to drop below freezing in order to offer youth under the age of 18 a safe and warm place to lay their head for the night. We enter into this work with Janus Youth Programs, a local branch of a regional organization that works directly with homeless and unstably housed children and youth. We also enter into this work with a host of ecumenical partners that are offering further volunteer assistance and food for those who come to us.
And, as I wrote in my email, I can’t help but be struck about how history repeats itself even in this work we are engaging in. Once more, a young child needs a safe place to lay their head, and every effort is made by those who care for that child to secure that safe place, even if it’s not perfect, even if it’s only temporary. This sounds a lot like the story we are preparing ourselves for in this season of Advent. This sounds a lot like the work we are continually called into by Christ, time and time again.
“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’”
We rise up to help Christ again and again by serving the least of these. By seeing a pressing need in our community and figuring out, however we can, to meet that need. To provide a warm place for a child to lay their head. To feed a hungry soul. To create a community that extends well beyond the walls of this sanctuary. And when we rise up, it inspires others to rise up with us. Donations of sleeping mats, pillows, bags, blankets, food, have come from our congregation, from our partner congregations, and from other ministry organizations in town who have answered our call for help. The need for this ministry is known in our community, and our ability to provide a space has enabled others to fill in the remaining needs to make this ministry a reality. To provide a home, even if it’s only for a night or two. To provide a community that embraces the children we are serving as our own, for they are our own.
The call to “rise up” comes again and again, and we must be inspired to respond, “I’m not throwing away my shot.” We must stand up, raise our heads, and be prepared for the coming of the Son of Man. We must be ready to stand before that throne of judgement and proclaim I didn’t throw away my shot to do this to one of the least of these when that opportunity presented itself. We are called to rise up and follow the call of Christ, and we are inspired and reaffirmed in this call as the cycle of history, of church history, of our biblical tradition, continue to repeat and speak to us from two thousand years ago just as freshly as yesterday speaks to us.
History has a way of repeating itself. And while that can inspire and embolden us through stories and messages that continue to speak to us, even from two thousand years ago, we also must be inspired and emboldened to change the trajectory of history. To eliminate the need for us to respond in such ways. There should really be no reason that we have to work around the edges in order to provide a safe and warm place for youth facing dangerously cold temperatures as they sleep outside in the heart of winter. There should be no youth sleeping outside at any time of the year. But, at this point, this is our reality. And, we should try to change this reality. We should create opportunities so that our youth in particular have an opportunity to live a life where food, shelter, clothing are not a concern, where love and community aren’t just an expectation but a reality for every child.
Rise up. Stand up. Raise your heads and see that Christ is soon coming. And know that as Christ comes once again to be with us, we are called again and again to make room for this child, to prepare the way for our king unlike any king, to create a world that reflects that heavenly kingdom we are all hoping to experience not just in the life to come, but here, now.