The Days Are Surely Coming

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figIt’s an honour to be invited to preach as part of the celebration of your 85th anniversary. As I reviewed your Mission Statement I was particularly impressed by your collective ownership of being “co-creators of a world that works for all”. There is a lot packed in to that statement, and if I may this morning, I’d like to offer some meanings and implications that arise for me when I read it as an evolutionary theologian. It is perhaps no accident that I was available to be with you on a Sunday that both celebrates your anniversary and is the first Sunday of Advent—the start of a new year in the liturgical calendar.

I remember being surprised ten years into my ministry that the season of Advent was not about waiting for the baby Jesus to be born. I could never figure out what we were really supposed to be doing. I guess I thought we were involved in a kind of collective suspension of disbelief, and that the better we could pretend that he was going to born again on Christmas morning, the more meaningful Christmas would be. Of course, it’s good to remember the legend of Jesus’ birth. The collective re-enactment of in children’s pageants certainly has its charms. But then I read somewhere that Advent was never about waiting for the birth of Jesus. It was a season of anticipating the return of Jesus.

This explains why the readings for the first Sunday of Advent are apocalyptic. It’s why every Advent begins with the reading of the so-called mini-apocalypse.

21:25 “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves.

21:26 People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.

21:27 Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory.son of man

21:28 Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

21:29 Then he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees;

21:30 as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near.

21:31 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near.

21:32 Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place.

We don’t know if Jesus believed literally that a “son of man” was coming in the near future, or indeed if he believed that he himself was that apocalyptic figure from Daniel’s prophecy. Certainly, the early church was waiting for his return, and it represented a crisis of its own kind when he didn’t actually physically return.

New Testament scholar, Dominic Crossan, believes that Jesus’ preached and enacted what he calls a wisdom apocalypse. It wasn’t a crisis that was going to happen at a prescribed date in the future, the way a few modern day fundamentalist Christians claim. It was more like if we actually heard the deep intelligence of what Jesus was saying, then indeed the “powers of the heavens” would be shaken—here and now. Divine wisdom would overturn the ways of the world, and this itself would constitute a crisis or a reckoning. It’s hard to know what he means exactly by the powers of the heavens, but I suspect that the modern prophet and poet, Leonard Cohen, believed that they were associated with the “blizzard of the world” in his song The Future.

Things are going to slide, slide in all directions

Won’t be nothing

Nothing you can measure anymore

The blizzard, the blizzard of the world

has crossed the threshold

and it has overturned

the order of the soul

When they said REPENT REPENT

I wonder what they meant

When they said REPENT REPENT

I wonder what they meant

When they said REPENT REPENT

                                                I wonder what they meant.

The “blizzard of the world” is the earthly counterpart of the “powers of the heavens”, following the ancient cosmological principle of “as in heaven so on Earth”. It is a personal, cultural, and social order that is functioning contrary to divine wisdom. Cohen, like Jesus, perceives that a tipping point had been reached. The only way forward was to turn around, or “repent”. For those with ears to hear the wisdom that was coming through the soul of Jesus, a new order emerges, an order of beauty and coherence and love. In the presence of such wisdom, the old order must give way.

Notice that although Jesus’ language is apocalyptic, what he says is profoundly hopeful.  That’s not to Toronto Mayor Rob Fordsay that the signs are not ominous. They are, and they must be taken seriously. Today we might interpret the signs as ecological degradation, political corruption, and unequal distribution of wealth in the social and political domain. In the cultural domain, we might recognize the signs as a kind of hyper-individualism and the collapse of meaningful community life. In the personal domain, we don’t need to look much further than the rise of all manner of addiction in the Western world— alcohol, drugs, work, sugar, caffeine, and sex—to name a few. In the political realm, the fact that citizens can elect and support a character like Rob Ford might also be interpreted as a sign of end times! These are all signs that something about the order of the world as it now stands is profoundly alienating. The “order of the soul” has been obscured by the blizzard that is the spell of conventional reality. The signs that Jesus refers to are cosmological in scope, in that he depicts the heavens and Earth as participating in signaling the end of that world that is not aligned with divine wisdom. But again, notice how it ends with deep hope.

21:28 Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

21:29 Then he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees;

21:30 as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near.

21:31 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near.

21:32 Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place.

When the seas roar, the mountains smoke, the heavenly bodies leave their orbits, and the people start fainting, “look up…for your redemption is drawing near”.

When your life feels like it’s coming apart, or you nothing but deadness in your heart, look up. These are signs that new life is about to sprout, that you are getting ready for a new order. Your redemption is drawing near. When political regimes are willing to kill their own people in order to hold on to a idolatrous political system, “look up”. When a greed-driven capitalist system becomes an idol that must be ideologically defended no matter at what cost to Earth her biosystems, and the growing majority of planetary citizens, “look up”.  When your beloved Church is falling apart and dwindling in numbers, “look up”. For your redemption is drawing near! Huh?

I don’t believe that Jesus was expecting G_d to come down from heaven and rescue humanity from our ignorance, and I don’t believe that he believed that his life was meant for some kind of divine rescue mission either. This is where evolutionary theology can be helpful to understand both the wisdom-logic of Jesus and the identity of Jesus himself. God doesn’t make episodic interventions—intervening say, to help the Roughriders win the Grey Cup, but choosing not to intervene in Syria or to end a deadly typhoon. That’s a grotesque theology that never made any sense to me.

When you hear the word evolution, what comes to mind? For most people it’s Darwin, dinosaurs, and DNA. And yes, the evolutionary process includes the physical realm. But evolution is not simply an external process. It has a correlative interior dimension, and guess what, you are it, all of you at Leaside United. You are the presence of the evolutionary process—this 13.8 billion year process of staggering creative energy— waking up to itself and shaping a future—a future now capable of being shaped, less by chance and more by choice. In my theology, the evolutionary process is animated by a divine wisdom, that is, by an Intelligence that desires an increase in conscious awareness, in beauty, and in love. How do we know this is true? It’s very simple. Ask yourself what you most deeply want at the soul level. You’ll find that you soul is yearning for more beauty, more wholeness of being, and for more love. And since you are the interior dimension of this intelligent and evolving process awakening to itself, when you hear the divine wisdom of a Jesus of Nazareth, your soul awakens. You recognize his words, because his wisdom words were fed from, and are an expression of, the same place from which your own soul is animated. It’s the light that the hidden light of your soul is drawn to.

curtainAnd here is the beauty of the creative unfolding of the universe that Darwin called evolution: it thrives on crisis. It loves apocalypse. In the Greek, the word means “a revealing”, a tearing back of the curtain of illusion so that we can see what is really there, and how we’re meant to actually live.

Crises are inherent in the unfolding of the universe. This is as true at the soul level as it is at the large-scale structures of the universe and life at the biological level. An exploding star, that scientists call a supernova, is a cataclysm of the greatest order. Talk about a sign in the heavens! And yet the crisis that is a supernova is what enabled us to be sitting here together this morning, reflecting on the meaning of life, and the emergence of a new order of wisdom. All the heavy elements required for the emergence of life on Earth were forged in the aftermath of a supernova. Earth herself has been through countless cataclysms, including five previous extinctions. And anyone of here this morning, upon reflection, understands that it is often the very presence of one kind of personal crisis or another—death, illness, loss of relationship—that triggered a transformation of consciousness, and the birth of a new identity.

After all this crisis, and cataclysm, here we are. When evolution is interpreted, not as a result of meaningless, random chance, but rather as the presence of a staggering intelligence that is patiently proceeding toward deeper, higher, and broader expression of beauty, truth, and goodness, we are confronted with a profound mystery: the crisis is the birth. Look for the bud, as Jesus puts it poetically. Summer is drawing near. We don’t need to conjure up some metaphysical pie-in-the-sky theology that bases our hope in a divine intervention that interrupts the natural order of things. Rather, embedded (or implicate) in the order of things is a natural grace.

Jesus, of course, was more poetic and a far better storyteller than most scientists. Instead of “crises” or cataclysm, Jesus uses the “signs”.  These signs that look for all the world like the end, and we’ll see, in a real sense they are, the end of one order: yet they are to be seen by the faithful as analogous to new buds on a fig tree. They signal a new season, or a new order. The crisis, in an evolutionary paradigm, is the provocation of new and necessary intelligences required to meet the challenge of the crisis and allow for the emergence of more elegant forms—forms of consciousness, forms of culture, forms of societal systems.

And this is where your mission statement I believe is so important. To call yourself “co-creators of a new humanworld that works for everybody” is actually to grasp your essential, creative nature. You are individually, and collectively, the presence of this evolutionary intelligence. You are the embodiment, and the en-soulment of the same creativity out of which a universe emerged and continues to develop. To assume the status of co-creator, is to really grasp this. The universe is creating in you, through you, and as you. As you combine your own inherent creative nature to bring forth the world that your hearts know is possible (Charles Eisenstein), with the creativity of this community and the worldwide community, you become the buds that are springing forth. You become the “new thing” in the prophet Isaiah’s words that is “springing forth” now and now and now. You become the creative response to the crisis that we are facing as an Earth community. In you, natural selection becomes actual selection. It’s an awesome and let’s face it, frightening responsibility that you’ve embraced.

This brings me back to Advent and what in the world we think we’re waiting for? The second coming is not about the literal return of Jesus. That’s not what we’re waiting expectantly for during Advent. What we’re waiting for is the emergence of a new humanity. The apocalyptic image of the “son of man” is a metaphor for the new human. Futurist Barbara Marx Hubbard calls this new human “homo universalis”. Or you could call it “homo Christus” – the Christic human, the human who lives by Christ consciousness.  This is the human being who has awoken to his or her big identity as the presence of this Spirit-driven, love-allured, creative process in human form, who is on this Earth, as was Jesus to be a redemptive force. These are the ones who embrace the practice of consciously evolving, individually and as a collective, in and toward deeper realizations of love. In the words of Paul, these are the ones who have consented to letting the heart and mind that was in Jesus of Nazareth (divine wisdom and love) to animate their souls.

In the Advent season, rather than get ourselves in a consumerist frenzy, (which I know none of us are doing), we allow the deepening darkness to be a womb for the birth of this new humanity, in us. Does this seem hubristic? I don’t think it is. In an evolutionary paradigm a core meaning of the life of a Jesus of Nazareth is that he becomes the assurance that the universe is now capable of a certain kind of human presence. Just like the universe needed to lay down the foundations of various physical systems, including digestive, respiratory, circulatory, and sensory in order for the human species to emerge, so Jesus is an incarnation of the interior dimensions of the evolutionary process. The universe is capable of his awakened consciousness, his divine wisdom, and his human courage. He represents the in breaking of a new order of humanity. His humanity was so developed that his early followers were convinced that he was also fully divine, and I would add, fully cosmic. In other words, the first coming of a Jesus is not an interruption of the natural order, but rather an eruption of natural grace, or an intensification of the entire spirit-infused cosmic process. The universe is now capable of all that we associate with Jesus of Nazareth. Which means, wait for it, that the universe wants to do more of what was going in Jesus. So, when you affirm that you are co-creators, you’re going to want to do your co-creating with at least the heart and mind and courage that made Jesus such an exemplar of the new human—the new human (the “son of man”) that is coming.

righteous branchThe prophet Jeremiah possesses this same unexpected confidence in the midst of crisis as Jesus. “The days are surely coming”…Surely coming. The day of redemption is surely drawing near. When evolution is interpreted not as a godless process, but a divine strategy for making a “world that works for everybody”, a trajectory toward an increase in wholeness, beauty, compassion, and justice becomes unmistakable. Yes, it’s possible to pay attention, as do our media, only to the dark and desperate aspects of the human condition. But doing so misses an undeniable progress in human rights. For most of civilization, slavery was believed to be the natural order of things. Until it wasn’t, and then suddenly everyone knew that it was morally repugnant. The same is true of equal rights for women, the physically and mentally challenged, gays, lesbians, and transsexuals, and even the rights of animals. Even where these rights are not enacted, there is a growing general consensus that it’s morally and ethically wrong to deny equal rights to any of these groups. Author Jeremy Rifkin exhaustively documents the evolution of empathy in the human condition over the history of our species in his book The Empathic Impulse.

Jeremiah is confident that a Righteous Branch is springing up. Think of this Righteous Branch as those to whom it has been revealed that right alignment with divine wisdom, this deep cosmic intelligence, is the future. This doesn’t happen magically. It happens when human beings listen to the yearnings of their own soul to fall in love with the same Heart and Mind out of which a universe emerged and continues to emerge. This divine Heart and Mind wants to be realized, in and through, the likes of you Leaside co-creators. The second coming we are expecting in Advent is the birth of a new humanity that is fired with the same heart and mind that was in Jesus of Nazareth. This is the coming son of man—the human being fully alive, fully ensouled, and fully fired with divine wisdom.

So in Advent, we let the crisis deepen, we face into it. And we do so with confidence that a new order is coming, a new humanity, and that by some mysterious grace, we constitute that new order.

The day is surely coming, when humans will face into their personal and collective trauma, and discover that behind a life constructed and obscured by fear, is a heart that just wants to love.

The day is surely coming, when the new human will wake up from this obsession with, and service to, a phantom economy, and put their trust in the soul’s yearning for more beauty, truth, and goodness.

The day is surely coming, when the new human will hear the cries of their Mother Earth, and return to her deep wisdom to learn the way forward.

The day is surely coming, when the new human will shift from being a consumer to a planetary citizen of a single Earth community.

The day is surely coming, when the new human will realize that, truly, she is a co-creator of a world that works for all. Thank you Leaside United for historical witness in this neck of the woods for 85 years, and for having the courage to be the Righteous Branch, out of which a new future is springing forth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Comments

  1. Don Smith says

    Great sermon, Bruce!

    Your reference to Crossan reminded me of his (paraphrased?) quote:

    “While we’re waiting for God to act, did it ever occur to you that God is waiting for us to act?!”

    Keep up the good work – I’ll subscribe to your crazy new online thing!

  2. Richard Lewis says

    Love your work–it!s always an uplift and a call to grow in depth.
    I will subscribe to your new online writtings

  3. Jackson says

    My Dear Friend Bruce – I sincerely hope the members of Leaside United were as inspired as I, having read your Advent sermon. There is no other source like this where I may go to sense these expressions of truth and beauty as you help us see and understand them. I am deeply grateful to you and for you, always. Namaste. J.

    • Bruce Sanguin says

      Namaste Jackson, It means something to me that we can reach across such distance and touch into each other’s souls.

  4. says

    Dear Bruce,
    Thank you for that great new take on Advent. I was sorry to be unable to come and meet you in Canberra this year as Carolyn Sutherland and others from our group did. May your new venture go well.
    I add a poem for Advent that I wrote recently.
    Shalom Jean

    ADVENT CANDLE

    I hold a candle
    though it is not night
    but glowing day

    and yet…

    there’s something
    in the candle once alight
    that speaks to me
    I see the way…

    its golden flame
    shines bright
    reducing doubt
    taking all gloom away.

    jmsd.

  5. darryl says

    Greetings Dear Bruce
    Great sermon. ….. While the long-awaited “Advent ” does sound like an ‘Event ‘ it is more likely, as you say, an evolutionary arrival rather than some sort of Judgement Day or “sudden” Resurrection. …..Notwithstanding that all of our future expectations and perceptual understandings are somewhat haunted by our slippery ghosts and vain imaginings of (linear) time. ; and yet even without the capacity to appreciate eternity, timelessness or ‘true time’ , isn’t evolution somewhat characterised by ‘sudden’ mutations or quantum leaps ?….. Aaaaand “as in heaven so on earth’ …..so couldn’t our spiritual evolution/ Christic Advent also be characterised by such quickenings ? That this Divine process has a series of outer Crises and inner Victories also attests to the likelihood that the so-called Advent is both Event-ful and evolutionary. Just as after a ‘long’ pregnancy there is a crisis called ‘labour’ and then the relatively ‘sudden’ and victorious Event of birth. Such a marriage of death to one world and rebirth into another is also evolutionary, just as the first light of dawn reveals an amazing new world order (even tho’ it has timelessly existed all along) and the apocalyptic curtain of night-“time” has “suddenly” been drawn back……blah-bla…. The point I’m trying to reach is that while the/your Christic /evolutionary concepts sound likely to me, yet they need not exclude a physical return of Christ. IE This is a form of Divine intervention that doesn’t just fix everything for us, any more than the Sun heals the earth when it reappears after a long dark night of ignorant ‘crisis’ and apparent destruction. But every time there is such an Advent/Manifestation of the Holy Spirit upon our earth and a Most Great Revelation occurs, God has intervened, His Son appears, shows us more of the Truth and gives us the co-creational opportunity to face our demons, follow the light , and suffer the labour pains of birthing a new world in a cooperation that is still graced by the all-generous gift of free will, and the option of taking the straight path, as mapped by His/Her infallible instruction, or paying the greater price of traumatic truancy……… and doing it ‘our’ way just makes our hell blaze all the more fiercely ….. .. Thy Will be done…… Thy Will is being done……. Thy Will is always being done…….Amen.

    • Bruce Sanguin says

      Nice to hear from you Darryl, I’m with you, if I’m understanding you correctly. I don’t really think that “the Christ” who would return would resemble Jesus very much, though. But to say that the same consciousness, heart, and mind that animated Jesus will appear again, makes sense, and evolutionary sense to me. The Originating Wholeness, through the evolutionary process, can now do a Jesus. What is wanting to happen, it seems to me, is a birth of a new humanity, which has internalized “the Word made flesh” in their own life. And part of this internalization indeed would mean a kind of human oriented precisely around “thy will be done”, those who are not heroically constructing the new Jerusalem based on architectural drawings of the ego. Thanks for weighing in Darryl.

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