Cultivating Love (Cultivating Hope in the Climate Crisis- Advent 4)


Post Author: Rev. Talitha Amadea Aho

This is part of a sermon series on the promise of Advent and the reality of living in the midst of a climate crisis. Read the rest of the series by selecting the Cultivating Hope in the Climate Crisis tag.


Prayer
O God, show us your steadfast love. In a changing world speak your word of eternal Love which does not change. Hear our cries, from the depths of our longing. Bring us mercy and compassion, tenderness and commitment, all that we need to carry us through. Be born in us this day. As we open to you in vulnerability, surround us and fill us with your love. 

Commentary on Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26
How can we believe in a God of “steadfast love” in a world where everything is broken? Covenants are broken, treaties, climate agreements, and the norms of civil society, not to mention governmental promises and election-time pledges. Ah, but those are merely human, we might say- everything human is broken, but everything divine is steadfast forever. No: here in the Psalm eternal love is pledged to a human king and his line (well, David, in particular). This love could be seen as finally fulfilled for all time in Jesus, but could also equally well be seen as an abandoned promise because the sons of David did not rule in perpetuity. 

As we prepare our Advent services we are told by our lectionary forebears that we should read, in this Psalm, verses 1-4, 19-26, and no more. That’s some positive stuff: introductory words about God’s goodness, and celebration of the covenant made with David, the honoring of the pledge and the covenant. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could proclaim “pledge fulfilled” and cover up all the brokenness? That will not ring true. Rebel from that lectionary, sisters and siblings. Read verses 46-51 instead, and those in your congregations who carry the burden of angst and sorrow, those who prefer the Blue Christmas service, will feel seen and heard even on Sunday morning. How long, O Lord? Where is your former great love, which in your faithfulness you swore to David? 

Read those verses instead, and let lament live even in the midst of the Christmas preparations. We live in the midst of brokenness. Former generations could count the goodness of God by the steadfastness of sunrise and sunset, moons and tides and appointed seasons all plainly declaring the goodness of a God who “rules the storming seas” and “calms the roaring waves” (v9). But the storming seas are not ruled or calmed any more. They are getting out of hand, swelling beyond reach, and we can expect them to continue their increase as long as fossil fuel companies keep spewing into the atmosphere, which is to say, for the foreseeable future. And perhaps this has not happened to you, but those of us who have experienced days when the sun never comes up (due to chokingly thick wildfire smoke) know the feeling of existential vertigo. The goodness of nature, which used to give us solace and comfort, now reminds us of our desperate need for change and help. We now live with solastalgia, the pain we feel for our home environment, the homesickness we feel while still at home, the anguish of watching our world flood and burn around us. 

An image of a mid-afternoon smoky sky behind live oak, Oakland California, Sept 9 2020

Mid-afternoon smoky sky behind live oak, Oakland California, Sept 9 2020. Photo by the author.

Rather than look for strength in the conquering God of verses 8 and 9, who stands firm above the chaos of creation, let us take refuge this year in the vulnerability of God who enters the mess with us; the one who comes to us as an infant far from home, a child in need. Before the angels come rejoicing, spend a moment longer on the road with Mary and Joseph, and perhaps with Mary you will say “how long, O Lord?” How long until we find a place to rest? As we think of the many refugees in our world – human and non-human refugees of climate chaos as well as war and destruction – let us look to the child born in a borrowed room. From him perhaps we can learn the kind of tenacious love that sustains us even through terrible times. Here is where the miracle of the incarnation can slip in and catch our hearts: God loves us so much that God wants to become one of us, to live with us in the chaos and pain. God will not let us go. 

And read in the psalm verse 52 as well. After all this tirade, the How Long O Lord and the broken promises and the fist-shaking lament, read Blessed be God forever, Amen and amen. The Psalmist decides despite their many mood changes to let this be the last word. And we pray it may be so, that even through the chaos of then, of now, and of our tenuous future, we will find God is ever with us, loving us and leading us through the hard times. 

Hymn Suggestions
O Little Town of Bethlehem (or use just the final verse as a prayer)
Love Has Come, a Light in the Darkness!
He Came Down
Born in the Night, Mary’s Child
On the Road to Bethlehem (by the author: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-g_jffyyDFM

Where We’ve Been: 

Advent 1: Cultivating Hope – Isaiah 64:1-9 & Mark 13:24-37 by Rev. Elizabeth S. Ivell
Advent 2: Cultivating Peace – Isaiah 40:1-11 & Mark 1:1-8 by Rev. Corey Turnpenny
Advent 3: Cultivating Joy – Luke 1:46b-55 by Rev. Merianna Harrelson

What Comes Next:

Christmas Eve/Day: Cultivating Light – Isaiah 9:2-7 & Psalm 97 by Rev. Kara  Wiechmann


Rev. Talitha Amadea Aho is the author of In Deep Water: Spiritual Care for Young People in a Climate Crisis (Fortress Press, 2022) and a pediatric hospital chaplain in Oakland, California. 


Image by: Rev. Talitha Amadea Aho
Used with permission
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