December 2, 2012 Sermon
1 Kings 12:1-20
The Story, Ch. 14
Well, here we are! Advent has arrived, with all the hustle and bustle of getting ready. And today will be our last day with The Story for awhile. (We’ll pick up again with chapter 15 on January 6. This is a great chance to catch up if you’ve gotten behind on the reading!)
You might remember at the beginning that I summarized the Bible in 30 seconds: God creates a good world, in which God walks and talks with human beings. But then human sin divides them, puts a barrier between human beings and God, between Adam and Eve themselves, and between them and creation (the land). Separation and division now become the norm.
All that only gets us through chapter 3. And then the whole rest of the Bible is God doing whatever it takes to be with God’s people again.
“Whatever it takes” has taken a number of forms so far in the story. There is the ark and the rainbow with Noah – and God’s promise never again to destroy the earth and all that lives on it. There is the Exodus, freeing the people from slavery and inviting – calling – them to covenant relationship with God. There is the Tabernacle, where God’s presence rests. There are judges and kings and prophets who speak to the people on God’s behalf, and to God on the people’s behalf. And there is, now, a temple where God’s presence can dwell, a house for God within a nation of God’s people.
Yet still there is separation and division. God’s presence may be with the people, but it is guarded, separated by a thick curtain and layers upon layers of ritualized religion. And the nation may be united under a king now – no longer a loose confederation of tribes as under the judges – but they are still fighting with one another, family member still betraying family member (remember David & Absalom). Their loyalties to God are still divided too – as we saw last week when Solomon bowed to other gods, even as he was completing the Temple as a house for Yahweh God.
So despite steps toward God being with God’s people, separation and division still rule the day. Families are still divided, hearts are still divided. And with today’s Scripture reading, the nation of God’s people will be divided.
Last week was a story of celebration; Israel was at peace with her neighbors, and Solomon had completed the Temple and consecrated it with a lavish dedication ceremony. But in the midst of that unity – a nation coming together, and God’s presence coming to dwell among them in the house that Solomon built for God – Solomon’s heart was still divided. His lust after foreign women caused him to divide his heart among many, many wives. And that, in turn, led to the division of his family.
Now, in 1 Kings 12, two men – Rehoboam and Jeroboam – will fight against one another for Solomon’s throne, and will in the end divide the nation. Judah will follow Rehoboam, while the tribes of Israel give their allegiance to Jeroboam. The kingdom is divided.
It seems that unity is just too hard, too difficult to sustain. It requires too much humility, too much cooperation, too much commitment – and despite our best intentions, human beings just can’t seem to sustain the kind of intimacy, the kind of “being with” God and each other that we long for.
So today, as we begin Advent, we see God’s people as a nation longing for unity and a family longing for wholeness. Israel waits for wholeness and unity to return to their country. They wait for God’s next saving act.
The waiting for Israel is just beginning. As we will see when we continue the Story in January, the waiting will go on…and on. And it becomes harder and harder the longer it goes.
Waiting is like that. It seems to get harder, not easier, as time goes on. And it is often hardest right at the end, when you’ve been waiting the longest and the waiting is almost over.
- The days just before a baby is born…
- The days just before a loved one comes home from deployment…
Advent is a time of waiting for us in the church too – and not just waiting for Christmas. In Advent, we remember Israel waiting on God. But we also wait for God to show up anew in our lives and our world. And often, the waiting gets harder the longer we’ve waited, in those areas of our lives when the brokenness is most evident and the need for wholeness most intense.
So we wait with Israel. We remember the ups and downs of their story and reflect on the ups and downs of our own life story. We see the broken places, the places where division and separation are most evident. And we wait for something – or someone – who will bring it all together again. Someone who will bring our families back together, unite our country, put all the pieces of our lives back together.
That’s the longing of Advent: a longing for wholeness, and for healthy relationship, with God and one another.
And that’s the promise of God’s salvation: being made whole. Relationships healed, families made whole. People made whole, divided loyalties and torn apart lives put back together again. Salvation. God with God’s people again.
The hope of Advent is that God will make us whole. That God will show up and make us wholly God’s people again – brought back into relationship with God through Jesus – Emmanuel, God with Us, the Word made flesh. And that when God is with us, God will make our families whole, our neighborhoods whole, and our country whole, too.
In fact, the entire Christmas story can be read as story of bringing back together, of reuniting all that has been divided by human sin. Jesus unites God and human beings, allows God to be with God’s people. And the reuniting extends out like ripples on the water: Israelites and foreigners united in the genealogy of Jesus. Young and old, generations united by shared longing and quite literally by Mary and Elizabeth’s shared pregnancies. The rich and the poor brought together as magi and shepherds meet at the manger. The Christmas story is a story of making human beings and human communities whole again.
What are you longing for this Advent? What do you need God to make whole? A relationship…a memory…your family…yourself?
Bring your longing to the Table today. Share the waiting with God’s people here in this place. And prepare your heart for God to show up and make you whole.