The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness does not overcome it. AMEN.
What generation are you? Some of you were born into what is sometimes
called “The Greatest Generation”, having grown up during the Great Depression
and survived World War II. Many more of you may be “Baby Boomers”, born
during the modern expansionism of the years after the World Wars. I myself am
part of what is sometimes known as “Generation Jones” — born in the sixties, a
time of space exploration and civil rights advances — with great energy (or “Jonesing”) for justice and transformation in society. People evolve over time, and are formed in part by the history and society surrounding them.
So, when we consider texts written during the 40 years of Israel’s exile, it’s wise to remember that the generation which re-entered Jerusalem in 537 BCE was not the same as the one that left it in 597 BCE. Our reading today from Jeremiah was written just after the exile, and situated in the Bible following the story of a low point for both the prophet and for Judah, enduring siege and imprisonment by the Babylonians. Many call Chapters 30 to 33 “The Little Book of Consolation”, verses that promise restoration, hope and renewal to the new generation.
The generation into which Jesus was born was centuries later! By then, both Roman and Jewish leadership had grown great in power, and began to oppress the same ones that they claimed to serve. Time was ripe for a new generation!
So, what do we know of today’s post-modern generations? What wisdom do they have to bring us? “Millennials”, born during the inflated hair and economy of the 1980’s and 90’s, are complicated; often burdened with the label of being “the Me generation”, they are also inclusive and confident, and more civically minded. We hear a lot about “Gen X”, born in the shifting society between Boomers and Millenials, and thought of as more independent, sometimes cynical, fans of grunge and hip hop, and having grown into happy entrepreneurs.
What of the newest Generation? Our youth today are “Gen Z”, born after 1997, in a time of global and political awareness. One article calls them “part of a generation that is global, social, visual and technological. They are the most connected, educated and sophisticated generation ever. They are the up-agers, with influence beyond their years.” They include change makers like Malala Yousafzai,
and the young survivors of the Parkland tragedy. They want to be involved, to make a difference, to do things spontaneously, to be inclusive, and not put into a box. And they are going to church! Studies say that these young people are attending church at a rate of around 40%: 20% more than recent generations. And they are going for different reasons! This shift in generation seems similar to me to the one that Jesus encountered when he began his movement of Love, of justice, of transformation. What may seem like the end of religion may in fact be just a
change in direction, a shift in focus.
“Truly I tell you,” Jesus says in the Temple, “this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place.” “My words will not pass away,” Jesus says, quoting from 2 nd Isaiah — For as rain and snow fall from the heavens and return not again, but water the earth, Bringing forth life and giving growth . . . So is my word that goes forth from my mouth; it will not return to me empty; But it will accomplish that which I have purposed, and prosper in that for which I sent it.
Jesus entered the Temple to reclaim it from unjust, oppressive rulers, to show a new way of living out their faith. And Jesus quotes from many of the ancient Hebrew Prophets — Isaiah, Joel, Ezekiel, Amos — to predict the end times of darkness and chaos, a precursor to change. Jesus knew that Isaiah also prophesied “I will make justice the line, and righteousness the plummet; hail will sweep away the refuge of lies” and Amos, in a quote favored by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an everflowing stream.” Jesus hailed a new time, a new generation, a new path forward. Not one of complacency or status quo, but one of freedom, peace and
Love; a time that calls us to new attention, to new presence and action. Thus we are heralded into this first Sunday of Advent, the first day of the New Church Year. Where shall we direct our focus?
It may be tempting to focus only on the light; yet we must also acknowledge the darkness, in order to cast it away! If that is not comfortable for the Church, it may be because we have been resting in the comfort of our own privilege for too long. I wonder if the blessing hidden in these uncertain, sometimes heartbreaking times may be our growing willingness to confront the darkness, and to put on our armor of light. Jesus tells us to do so with light, hopeful hearts — “not weighed down with dissipation . . . and the worries of this life”. We are to confront
pessimism, and complacency with the optimism of a new generation.
During this season of Advent, we prepare for the birth of a child, a new leader for a new time. We focus on our children — growing up and sprouting leaves and wings. Let’s listen for what they may teach us. Can we make room for a new generation of leaders? Can we– by laying down our old expectations and habits, our viewpoints of scarcity and wariness — lighten our hearts enough to welcome a new way? Can we create a Church that is lighter, more flexible, more responsive to the generations to come? I truly believe in God’s promise that we can! And so did Mary, the mother of Jesus, who rejoiced saying:“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, . . .Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.”And all of God’s faithful generations said together AMEN!