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“May they prosper who love you.

7 Peace be within your walls *
and quietness within your towers.

8 For my brethren and companions’ sake, *
I pray for your prosperity.

9 Because of the house of the Lord our God, *
I will seek to do you good.” (Psalm 122: 6b-9)

In 1971, John Lennon and Yoko Ono wrote a hauntingly beautiful song with very disruptive lyrics. I am sure most of you know it and could sing along.

Imagine there’s no heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people living for today

Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people living life in peace

You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will be as one

In this song, I hear John and Yoko dreaming of a world where there are no boundaries, no border walls, no wars, no separation between us, only the recognition of the preciousness of each other that results in actions that bring humans together in thoughtful reverence for all creation. It sounded then in the midst of the Vietnam War as a fantasy, as an unreal dream–something only a seriously naïve person would construct. It sounds pretty far fetched today. 

But as a Christian, as a person who tries to shape her life around the life and ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, I hear these words in this way:

Imagine living our life as if heaven is right here on earth. 

Imagine living our life as hell can be here also.

Imagine living our life as Christ is always with us

God’s kingdom right here right now

Imagine living our lives as if our only country is the kingdom of God

Nothing to kill or die for.

No religion that divides us. 

Our only religion –Love 

Imagine all the people living life in peace

You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will be as one

Welcome to Advent. A time of holy expectation. A time for hopes and dreams, for provocative possibilities that take us beyond the world as we know it to the world it could be—as it should be—a world of healing, justice, of Shalom. A time to imagine what may seem impossible and to become a part of that which walks towards achieving it–a time to imagine when all people from every nation, every race, clan, culture, gender, and age, will follow the path God intends that will lead to unity and wholeness, kindness and abundance. A time to imagine how it can begin right here in our church, in our families, in the Berkshires. Where every person knows their neighbor, sees their neighbor and cares for their neighbor. Where instruments of destruction are abolished and instruments of healing and nourishment are advanced. Where Departments of Defense and National Security only exist is to distribute food, build schools and hospitals, and help raise funds for toys for tots. Where all power and wealth is directed toward caring with compassion for any who suffer and are vulnerable. Where methods of eliminating those seen as “other” are ended and opportunities for feasting tables where all are welcomed and all are fed are constructed. As our Presiding Bishop says, to participate in moving the world from the nightmare it too often is toward God’s dream for what it can be. Imagine!

This can seem like a fantasy, like an unreal dream some naïve person would construct. But in this time of Advent we are invited to imagine and respond to what God is doing in the world. We need this dream, this hope, this time of Advent now! 

Two weeks ago, I was called to a meeting by the Superintendent of Schools for the Berkshire Regional School District. It was a call to respond to an act of horrendous hate aimed at children who are Jewish. A middle school student threatened to kill all Jews and claimed to have a list. The student who received this threat, was on this list and was traumatized by the danger. You see in this day, where school shootings happen almost every week, a threat of violence is not an idle one. In this day when “active shooter drills” are a part of every school child’s experience, threats like this are not dismissed. In this meeting there were religious leaders, parents, school and community leaders. There was a palpable feeling of sadness. The hate speech, the denigration of people who are different from us, the policies that target the most vulnerable that are coming from places of great power and great wealth are not being missed by our children. 

Bullying is as old as human kind. There will always be persons who try to attain power and status by belittling others. And having been a teacher for many years, this has always been an important effort to show children a different way, a way to rise by lifting others, a way for those who feel unsafe to ask for, to demand support. But with the proliferation of guns, with the heightened levels of fear and anger, with the unleashing of hate speech as a worthy response—the work of schools and parents and communities have taken on increased importance. So Advent could not come at a more important time.

The prophet Isaiah invites the people of Judah and Jerusalem to walk in the light of the Lord. To see themselves as the center of God’s authority, a place of peace where all nations will come to witness God’s promise. Isaiah speaks these words not in a time of peace and prosperity, but in a time of war and threats of imminent devastation from fierce enemies to the north. Isaiah’s time saw the once proud and powerful Jerusalem decimated and its people stripped of home, temple, and country sent far away as war refugees.

But as God’s prophet, Isaiah charts time by God’s reign–a time that comes with radically new possibilities. Because Isaiah speaks God’s truth, he foresees Jerusalem and Judah rising from their destruction and despair, not by inflicting pain on others, but by being a source of teaching and instruction of God’s holy love. Strangers will find a home there. Refugees will experience safety within its borders. 

The Psalmist sings of praying for peace. Not just in Jerusalem, but in all the world. When we offer peace to each other, we are not simply saying “good morning” or even “welcome.” We are offering peace into the lives of those we meet,  a peace that transforms our lives and the lives beyond this community, a peace that is offered into the wider world. It is a way of offering connection and hope. Peace is what is needed in our places of worship, in our homes, in our communities, and in the halls of power. We need to share our peace, to accept the peace offered by others, to recognize the power of offering Shalom.

Oh how wonderful are these dreams of healing and hope for our world. Advent is about hope—hope rooted in what God has already done in Jesus Christ and hope for the completion of God’s purposes in the world. This hope is not glib hope. It is not a form of anesthesia to numb our realities or to selfishly ignore the very real suffering in this world. This hope does not tell those who struggle to “buck up” to just “hang in there” because at the end, the promise of heaven will make all your pain worthwhile. No, Advent is about hope because of what God has done in Jesus and because of Jesus what we can hope for on earth—what we can join in to bring about on earth. Advent is about realistic hope that for many may disrupt our orderly lives.

Paul writes in his letter to the church in Rome, “Do you know what time it is? It’s time to wake up!!” Your time of self-focused complacency is over! It’s God’s time, right here and right now. All time is sacred and claimed by the One who created us, loves us, and calls us all forward. It is time to lift up our heads, to take the hand of the One who promises us that God’s dream of wholeness is a reality for this world. We need to look for it. We need to be a part of it. Paul tells the people of the church, act today as a citizen of heaven in your everyday life by how you greet the morning, connect with others, work for healing and justice in your home, in the grocery store, and on the protest lines. Right now, you have one foot in God’s kingdom. God’s creative transformation –living and acting in God’s kingdom is available to us all the time.

Jesus in the gospel according to Matthew calls us to keep watch and to be ready. God’s people are to embrace God’s promise of life now in this time, here and now. We are not to wait for some cataclysmic occurrence, some “end times” where the good (us) will be brought to be with God and the bad (other people) will suffer forever. As people in this time and place we are too aware that life can come at you fast. A healthy vibrant partner can suddenly without warning be taken. As people in this time and place we are too aware that life can seem to be going along smoothly when suddenly a bridge is closed or a terrifying diagnosis is received or an accident sends all our plans into a tailspin. Yet we are not called to spend our lives looking nervously over our shoulder or head for the highest hill or most secluded valley to sit and wait for an unknown future—a future that is known by no one other than God. No, we must live our lives in expectation that is informed by our God who we believe is always moving towards us. God who we believe hears our prayers and always makes a way. God, in whom we live and move, and have our being, is aware of us and is always for us. We are God’s children, God’s own creation. God will never abandon us. 

Advent is not the season to long for saving grace in some other time or place. Advent is not the time to ignore or be complacent towards life’s realities. Advent is the time to wake up, look for, be prepared for God’s grace that comes to us often when we least expect it. Advent is a time, like all time, to imagine the world in peace as one, and to share this hope with others. 

Advent is a time that calls us to be persons who already have one foot in God’s new age and who imagine ourselves as being the change we want to see in the world. We must have a holy unrest, we must be alert, we must be open to seeing God’s possibility, God’s promise everywhere. Our families, our places of worship, our communities, our children need to hear this message. They need to see us caring for each other. They need to hear us speaking words of kindness towards each other. They need to hear us living in hope that we can live today in peace, sharing all we are and have, living as one. Advent is a time to look expectantly for a world like that. And to believe that in God, it will be given.