Advent 2 (Ezekiel 37:1-13)

Joan MacPherson, December 10, 2017
Part of the Sunday series, preached at a Sunday Morning service

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Advent 2
Ezekiel 37:1-13
“Our bones are dried up, our hope is gone, there is nothing left of us” - so cried out the exiled people in Ezekiel’s vision. We can talk about the physical and geo-political realities of their day. You remember, right? The Jewish people living in the Southern kingdom of Judah have been sent into exile in Babylon. Foreigners have occupied their home land and cast them out to pasture. Their current reality leads them to cry out - our bones are dried up, our hope is gone, there is nothing left of us. In that hurting, barren, no hope for the future place the prophet Ezekiel shares his vision and the declaration of what God will do to restore life to those whose bones are dried up, whose hope is gone and for whom there is nothing left. And what a vision he has. You heard the details from Jeff. A valley of bones. Dried out carcasses and skeletons. Maybe those who are fans of the Walking Dead embrace this image differently but for me not so much. For the people listening to Ezekiel? Those images described were easily embraced. The total death of their dreams, their world, their future - they were in exile and a stack of dry bones? This was their reality.
Faith was also part of their reality and the prophet Ezekiel reminds them of that and of the power and promise of their God. That valley of dry bones? Yup, they are dead. What had once been for all those bones is no more. Grief is real but God is not done. There is more to come. The Holy One instructs Ezekiel to prophesy. Cry out oh Prophet. Speak God’s promise of new life to this pile of death and decay. God is not through and Ezekiel prophesies that truth. God is bringing the breath of life and will be peaking and breathing into and through this mass of death transforming it into something new, of hope, of life of future. The thigh bone connected to the hip bone, the hip bone connected to the back bone, the back bone connected to the neck bone - oh hear the word of our God! That pile of seeming rubbish being connected, one part to another. And wait, there is more to come. Its not just the bones that are being put together - God is going to breathe holy life into the new shapes and create life. God is going to bring life back to the people who are exiled, broken hearted, without hope. That is the promise. It’s future tense. Ezekiel speaks words of prophecy that something is to come that will change the current pain. Ezekiel doesn’t make it happen right then. The people wait but the promise and the prophecy can shape how they wait. As it can for us - the promise of God can shape how we wait - despairing or with hope, retracting or reaching out, lecturing or conversing, loving or warring.
What if we were to skip forward 2500 years or so. Skip to December 10, 2017 and land in a church in Amesbury Massachusetts. Might we encounter anyone in our mix who is crying out “our bones are dried up, our hope is gone, there is nothing left of us”? And that vision of a future which Ezekiel prophesies? I cling to that promise and vision, sometimes with solid conviction, sometimes grasping to hold on to a thread. This week was one of grasping for me. I have been feeling the hurts, the fear, the hopelessness and I have been sitting in the light of the advent candles. I have been feeling the tension of despair and the hope of God and the prophecy of Ezekiel stirring it all up. A prophecy of what God will do to bring life from that which we have given up for dead. So how about it God? Isn’t now a good time to bring life, to heal, to transform? We have people crying out “our bones are dried up, our hope is gone, there is nothing left”.
But wait. Here we on December 10th in the season of Advent. The time when followers of Jesus wait with expectant hope. In Advent we focus in on the promise of a messiah who will come to us and bring us new life. We wait and count down the days until that Messiah comes to us in flesh. We know how the story is going to end. We know about the baby born to the displaced parents without a decent place to live. We know it all and we have traditions that remind us about it all. Movies to watch. Carols to sing. Cookies to bake. We know what to do and what is to come.
At least we think we do. Not that I want to discourage biblical literacy…I am glad that there are some that know those stories…but there is a critical part of the sacred story that cries out to me. The folks first waiting for the messiah? They were knocked off their feet and shocked when their anticipated Messiah showed up as a vulnerable and dependent infant and then grew to take on the challenges of the world with love and radical inclusion. This Messiah was not at all what they had been anticipating. This Messiah didn’t use the tools or powers or privilege of the empire. This Messiah defied expectations and plans. This Messiah was God in flesh and God in flesh was really different then what they had decided that would be. How they thought they would know God and experience God was not how God showed up to them. God came in God’s way surprising and disrupting all that had been anticipated. Which is what God is doing still. Showing up, bringing life, transforming pain, creating a future - in ways that will pull the rug out from under us and landing us in the abundant grace, light, love, acceptance of God with us.
So all this Advent and seasonal angst? It can be life giving for me if I am able to be rooted in Advent and expectant hope for God knocking me off me feet with love and light and acceptance and future. If I am able to remember that following Jesus and claiming him as my Messiah means that I will regularly be shaken up and off balance. He wasn’t about transformation to blend in, he was about transformation to shape the kingdom on earth. The church is different. The church challenges. Not as masochists but for healing. Not as a private club but for helping all to know the love, acceptance, presence, hope of God who is breathing life into the dry bones of our lives and this world.
The tension of the promise bumping up against brokenness is real and ongoing. Jesus does not remove us from the hurt but enters in with us and invites us to look for God in our midst - who is present and leading us forward, transforming death into life with weapons of love and acceptance. So we light a second candle, shining more light into the darkness and crying out come o come emmanuel. Amen.

Joan MacPherson
Main Street Congregational UCC
December 10, 2017

Note: This manuscript was prepared for oral delivery only.
It contains excerpted material not properly cited.
Please do not redistribute without permission.


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