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Advent Anthology: Stories of Faith

Date: 05/12/2021/Speaker: Rev Miak Siew

Lighting of Advent Candle.

First candle is already lit before service starts.

On this second Sunday of Advent, we light the second candle, the candle of faith –

As we wait and prepare, Living God, help us have faith – faith in our waiting, faith in our preparing, faith in the coming of Your kin-dom.

As you come towards us, help us live out that faith to move towards You, and may your Holy Spirit move us to do the things we have not yet done, the kin-dom things we did not think we had in us, the neighbour things we cringe from.

May you act in us, through us, beyond us, more than we imagine, because newness is on its way among us – in faith, justice, hope, peace and in love.

The second candle is lit.

Sermon

As we tell stories of faith during this season of Advent, we return to a story we are familiar with.

A story of God coming towards us. A story of a voice in the wilderness. <>

Luke 3:1-6

3:1 In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene,

3:2 during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness.

3:3 He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins,

3:4 as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.

3:5 Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth;

3:6 and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.'”

What do you hear in this passage from Luke?

We often hear what we want to hear, not what we are supposed to hear.

We hear what we have been taught to hear.

The word of God did not come to Emperor Tiberius, nor Pontius Pilate, nor Herod ruler of Galilee, nor his brother Philip of Ituraea and Trachonitis or Lysanias ruler of Abilene, or the high priests Annas and Caiaphas. They didn’t hear.

The word of God did not go to the rulers who were rich and powerful. The word of God did not go those who live in the comfort of wealth and palaces. The word of God did not even go to the high priests who were the religious leaders – the ones who were supposed to speak on behalf of God. Instead the word of God went to John, son of Zechariah in the wilderness.

Why is this? Why does the word go to someone in the wilderness?

The wilderness is not a place anyone wants to be – while we may want to “go off the beaten path” and connect with nature, this wilderness is not the same as that romanticised vision we have. I would say that we don’t have any “wilderness” hear in Singapore. The wilderness is a place of danger. Most people end up in the wilderness not by choice. They are the persecuted, the displaced, the desperate. They are those who suffered and endured famine, war, natural disaster, and even ethnic cleansing. When we sing O Come O Come Emmanuel,“ we repeat the story of the Israelites who were held captive in Babylon – “and ransom captive Israel that mourns in lonely exile here.” They, too, did not choose to leave home. They were captives. Exiled. And they had to journey through the wilderness back home.

27 people drowned trying to cross the English Channel 3 weeks ago. They were refugees. Hundreds of people have died trying to cross the Arizona desert each year, seeking a new life and hope in the US. Closer to home, in 2017 more than 600,000 Rohingyas fled to Bangladesh to avoid ethic and religious persecution.

These are the people walking in darkness of the wilderness. These are people seeking refuge.

It is easy to turn away.

In the comforts of our homes, often air conditioned, a click of the button and we can dive into Netflix and not be bothered by what is going on elsewhere.

There is just too much going on. We just want to shut it all out.

Why couldn’t Tiberius, Pontius Pilate, Herod, Philip, Lysaniasm, Annas or Caiaphas hear the word of God? Because they don’t need God. They don’t need God in the luxury of their palaces, the warmth of their hearths, the safety with their guards, and the fullness of their stomachs. Maybe, they don’t want to hear. Because hearing means they will need to act. Hearing means they can no longer pretend everything is well.

But the people walking in the darkness? The people struggling to survive? The ones living from moment to moment, not knowing when their next meal will come, not knowing if they will make it through the day? These desperate ones? They need God.

Debie Thomas writes –“In the wilderness, we have no choice but to wait and watch as if our lives depend on God showing up. Because they do. And it’s into such an environment — an environment so far removed from power as to make power laughable — that the word of God comes.”

Can we hear the word of God? In our comfort and safety, are we also insulated from what God is still doing in the world? Are we insulated from realising what the word of God is trying to tell us to do in the world? Is it all about me, me, me?

I think we are.

Do we believe that we can change things?

This sermon was difficult to birth. It started as a stale rehash of what preparation for the coming of Christ is.

It was difficult because I have not ventured to the wilderness. But when I allowed myself to see, I heard.

Even though we are worn out and worn down after 2 years of the Covid 19 pandemic, we are still in slumber. We are still not awaken to what God is inviting us to do.

One Greek letter is on everyone’s mind right now – Omicron.

NPR (the National Public Radio, a non-profit media organisation founded to create a more informed public – really important nowadays because we don’t realise how profit distorts journalism) featured an interview with two scientists -Trevor Bedford, a computational virologist and professor at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle and Richard Lessells, an infectious disease specialist at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Durban, South Africa, and part of the team that identified omicron in South Africa and alerted the world – and they had this to say.

Omicron’s “emergence is one more reminder that dangerous future variants could be created by the mutation of the virus in an immunocompromised person. This is especially urgent when it comes to the millions of people in southern Africa who have HIV and are not on medication.

The point is not to blame or stigmatize people in this situation, they say, but rather to recognize that helping them is a key to ending the coronavirus pandemic. As Lessells puts it: “The intervention here is clear. We just need to strengthen our HIV response and get as many people as we possibly can onto effective treatment regimens.”

To put it in layman terms – millions of people in southern Africa have HIV and are not on medication – because they just cannot afford it. Because of their economic situation, they have no access to life saving medication. And that leaves them immunocompromised and cannot fight off the covid virus completely, and the covid virus can stay very long in their system and mutate. They are recommending to get as many people onto effective treatment regimens – meaning get them on HIV medication.

It really sucks that we need consequences like this to start stepping in to help people have access to HIV medication. We should be helping people because we can, period. We have always been interconnected. Our well-being has always been interconnected.

We have enough resources in the world to do that. 99% of the world’s wealth is in the hands of 1%. This system isn’t the kin-dom of God. And while we may not be the 1%, we have to participate in changing the world. That means we need to see the system for what it is. Totally bankrupt of morality and totally bankrupt of the word of God. That master is money. When we are driven by profit, by bottom lines, by GDP, which master do we serve? We have been serving one master – and that master isn’t God.

This is what we need to repent of today. This is the sin today.

Repent! The kin-dom of God is near!

Repent! Turn around! Turn around and go towards the kin-dom of God

We have to start proclaiming instead the way of the Lord – where every valley shall be filled, every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth –

What is preparing the way of the Lord to you?

You know what that is? Accessibility. The way of the Lord is about making the path accessible, so all flesh – ALL FLESH- shall see the salvation of God.

Preparing for the way is not the Christmas shopping, or the preparations for feasting and gatherings, or preparations to travel at the end of the year during the holidays.

No. It is about preparing ourselves for the coming of Christ. It is about repentance, reflection and journeying into the wilderness so that we can encounter God – and face up to our stubbornness, selfishness, self-centeredness, and resistance to change –

“Unless we’re in the wilderness, it’s hard to see our own privilege, and even harder to imagine giving it up. No one standing on a mountaintop wants the mountain flattened. But when we’re wandering in the wilderness, and immense, barren landscapes stretch out before us in every direction, we’re able to see what privileged locations obscure. Suddenly, we feel the rough places beneath our feet. We experience what it’s like to struggle down twisty, crooked paths. We glimpse arrogance in the mountains and desolation in the valleys, and we begin to dream God’s dream of a wholly reimagined landscape. A landscape where the valleys of death are filled, and the mountains of oppression are flattened. A landscape so smooth and straight, it enables “all flesh” to see the salvation of God.”

But that’s what God wants us to do. Just as God is coming towards us, God wants us to move towards God as well – towards love, justice, compassion. That is living out our faith.

What should we do then? You may ask. Funny enough, that’s what the people asked John the Baptist.

Luke 3:10-15

John answered, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.”

12 Even tax collectors came to be baptized. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?”

13 “Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” he told them.

14 Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?”

He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay.”

Faith isn’t just about believing – it is also about living out the values of the kin-dom of God – that’s what letting our lives speak mean.

What does it mean today for us?

sharing what we have with those who have none – like what we do in the T-Mart Project – providing groceries for beneficiaries of T-Project (last week, we were told T Project was moving and they needed 11 new mattresses because they were concerned about bed bugs.)

it is not chasing after money, money and more money – but to have faith that God will provide. There will be enough. To let our lives speak is to have faith in the God who loved us into being, to sustain us, instead of being driven by fear and anxiety, always concerned about scarcity and not enough.

Will we come to see that in God’s kin-dom there will always be enough for us? He who fed the five thousand with 5 loaves and 2 fishes will certainly be able to feed us. But we need to learn to step forward to offer what we have.

How committed are we to God’s kin-dom? What price are we willing to pay? What are we willing to sacrifice?

The way of the Lord is also in our hearts. And in our hearts, there aren’t just brick walls – but also mountains and valleys – obstacles to the way. Brick walls are easier to tear down. But what if we are standing on mountains of privilege, are we willing to level them?

I want to invite you to think about what are these obstacles –

What are your blockages to God? What is your stubbornness? What is your resistance? What are your mountains and valleys and crooked paths?

We call ourselves Christians. Are we committed to God’s way?

Or will we be like the man with many possessions in Mark 10, who went away grieving when Jesus asked him to “what you own, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”

Or do we continue to hoard and store up for ourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal?

Or do we follow the way of the Lord – because where our treasure is, there our heart will be also. Where is your heart?

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God, your way is not easy, because levelling mountains and filling valleys is not easy.

The coming of your kin-dom can feel like chaos.

We have to unlearn what we have learned.

We have to unclench our hands and stop holding on to things we think give us safety, comfort and power.

And with these open hands we give, we touch, we bless, we heal our world.

Just like Jesus breaking bread (a reflection of his own body), he gave of himself to us,

Just as he touched, blessed and healed.

God strengthen us – and gently guide us as we learn to level the mountains and fill the valleys and straighten the crooked paths in ourselves,

And in the world

May our lives speak –

So that one day, all flesh will see your salvation, your dream.

Your dream of a wholly reimagined landscape. A landscape where the valleys of death are filled, and the mountains of oppression are flattened. A landscape so smooth and straight, it enables “all flesh” to see the salvation of God.”

Amen