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On the Fourth Sunday of Advent this past Sunday I was privileged to be in worship with the good people at Third Christian Reformed Church in Zeeland, Michigan. I preached from the Annunciation story from Luke 1 and pointed out that in her exchange with Gabriel, Mary’s end of the conversation boiled down to one question (“How can this be?”) and one bottom line response (“Let it be”). The sermon noted that those two lines could have become slogans for Mary’s subsequent life as she had plenty of times to look at her son and the events that eventually swept him to his death only to ask “How can this be?” But in the end she, like all believers, had to trust God to fulfill all his promises–and all that Gabriel promised–through the words “Let it be.”
It’s no different for us, I then noted, and most especially this Advent as terrorist attacks abroad and at home, fear and uncertainty, nasty politics on the domestic level, and so many other events in our lives often cause us to say “How can this be? Is THIS the world that has already seen one advent of God’s Christ? Is THIS the world he even now rules as Lord and King? How can this be?” But somehow, through the terror and the tragedy and the uncertainty of it all, Advent faith by the grace of God lets us cling to the promises and say with Mary “Let it be. Let it be to us as you have said.” And somehow out of the carnage of life, we go on in faith.
Then the sermon was finished and it was time for me to sit down while the offering was taken. It was then I was able to take a good long look at Third Church’s Jesse Tree that they have also used as the equivalent of the Advent Wreath. It was created by church member and welder and artist Tim Klynstra. Klynstra took several long piece of rebar (reinforcing bar) to create this unique sculpture. Rebar is the very strong, quarter-inch in diameter steel rods that masons use to strengthen walls made of brick and cinder blocks. Cinder blocks have holes in them such that once the masons have build a cinder block wall–cementing each brick to the next–they then can drop down the long steel rebars all the way through the holes in the bricks, then filling the whole thing up with cement to hold the rebars in place, thus giving strength and structure to the brick wall so it won’t fall down.
Rebar is strong stuff. Solid steel. Heavy. Klynstra used heat and specialty tools (I am guessing) and a lot of strength to bend and twist the rebar into the Jesse Tree that is now also an Advent “Wreath.” But here’s the thing: as I pondered this tree during the offering Sunday morning, I was transported back to my visit last April to the 9/11 Museum and Memorial in New York City. There you can see the rebar and the steel girders from the Twin Towers that had been exposed to such high heat and structural buckling that terrible day that this otherwise unbendable steel did bend and twist like piles of wet spaghetti noodles.
Whatever Mr. Klynstra had in mind for his sculpture, to me it spoke powerful theological volumes. Because Advent–this year for sure but really every year–does emerge from a world pockmarked with the wreckage of sin and evil. As Third CRC hung its Advent candles on the twisted branches of the rebar, so we all hang our hopes up in a world that constantly tries to knock us back with bad news, a world that assaults our faith with a never-ending chorus of those who shout “There is no hope! Faith is futile fantasy!”
Yet by the grace of the same Holy Spirit whose overshadowing of Mary was first evident when she was able to say “Let it be” to the seemingly impossible, we are able to look at the carnage, the wreckage, the twisted steel of a broken world and still have the courage to say “Let it be. Let Jesus come.”
It would be nice if the real world in which we hold onto our faith were as warm and cozy as a church sanctuary during a candlelight Lessons & Carols service. We wish the world were as lovely a place as our living rooms when the lights in December are low, the fire on the hearth is crackling, and twinkling lights on our Christmas trees provide a soft glow. But it’s not. The world, like Third CRC’s Jesse Tree, is a twisted place of hard steel realities.
Yet Advent goes on. Christ has come and will come again. We hang our very hopes and dreams on the sad wreckages we find in life because we know, we just know, that God is greater and that Jesus meant what he said when he declared “In the world you will have trouble but I have overcome the world.”
Yes. Yes, Lord. Let it be.