Advent 1: Sho’Nuff

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Jeremiah 33:14-16
Luke 21:25-36

There’s a wonderful little book out there that’s been turned into a musical about the life of Jesus. Now, I’m not really often one for the documentary-style PBS specials about the life of Christ, to be honest with you. I find that the material is a little too well-worn to say much that’s new, and that most of them depend more on the audience’s confirmation bias than anything else. In other words, they tend to preach to the choir.

That view entirely flips, however, if you want to talk to me about books and musicals and Jesus memes. Books like Lamb (a book written from the point of view of Jesus’ very goofy childhood friend) have lit up my life, and I do love a good (funny, please) Jesus meme. 

Now back to that wonderful little book: it’s written by Baptist pastor Clarence Jordan and it’s called The Cotton Patch Version of Matthew and John. It tells the story of Jesus as if he’d been born close to where I was born: specifically, in Southern Jesus’ case, rural Georgia. It was turned into a musical in the early 1980s by Tom Key and Russel Treyz with music by Harry Chapin. It’s called, naturally, Cotton Patch Gospel. It’s a one man show performed with a quartet of bluegrass musicians. So in other words, we definitely did a version of this bluegrass musical about Jesus at the first church I pastored in Montgomery, Alabama. 

Now that happened to lead to an entire sermon series for Advent that year based on the song of John the Baptizer, a song called “Sho’ ‘Nuff.” (For the one to two of you needing a translation, that would be “Sure enough,” or a thing that Southerners say almost interchangeably with “Amen.” It’s an affirmation, a call of support, a declaration that what has been said will surely come to pass.) 

And it goes like this: “If I told you he was comin’ to interrupt your dinner, what could you say ‘cept ‘sho ‘nuff? If I told you he was comin’ for the losers and winners, what could you say ‘cept ‘sho ‘nuff? If I told you he was comin’ to save all you sinners, what could you say ‘cept ‘sho nuff?” 

Seriously. When you get home from church, go and search YouTube for Cotton Patch Gospel. (1)

I need your help, though. You see, you’re in for a little Southern treat. It’s like grits, but better. 

I’m revisiting one of those little sermons from 2012. And in the musical as in the sermons as in my home culture, if someone says, “Sho’ ‘nuff,” you should say it back. It’s the liturgy. 

So let’s try it. Sho’ ‘nuff!
If I told you he was comin’ to interrupt your dinner, what could you say ‘cept sho’ ‘nuff? (Sho’ ‘nuff!)

So, an obvious warning: today’s Gospel reading is probably not the one you wanna read at your Christmas dinner this year, unless you’re trying to call down judgment on your relatives, which — if that’s the case, you do you.

Point is, it’s not very Christmassy. That’s because it’s Advent. 

I know. Retailers have told us all that it’s Christmas 2018 since basically October of last year. But in here, it’s Advent. Advent is about waiting when we don’t have to wait for anything anymore, save, of course, for two day shipping. Sure, we’ll go sing carols everywhere this month, including in a bar tomorrow night.

But in here, in worship, it’s Advent. We’re waiting. And we’re reading about the end of the world. 

Merry… Christmas?
“If I told you he was coming to interrupt your dinner, what could you say ‘cept sho’nuff?”

Some Christians think this passage is about a final struggle. Lutherans are pretty firm that God doesn’t do much struggling, you know, being God and all, outside of that whole cross thing. According to us, the struggle between good and evil was won then. Love won over death. We don’t have to fear a struggle.

What happens in between? Well, yeah. That can get a bit scary. But you live in the world, and you already knew that. Everybody knows that we get scared sometimes. Some of us get scared of monsters in our closets; others get scared from reading news. You tell me which is better.
“Stand up and lift up your heads; your redemption is drawing near.” 

“If I told you he was coming to interrupt your dinner, what could you say ‘cept sho’nuff?” 

Jesus talks about this in our Gospel reading. Luke tells us that Jesus told them a parable about a fig tree. “Look at the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near.” The kingdom of God is at hand. The leaves have already started to sprout. The Kingdom is breaking in already. Better keep watch — the time is near!

“If I told you he was coming to interrupt your dinner, what could you say ‘cept sho’nuff?”

Jesus tells them that this generation wouldn’t pass away until those things had taken place. And they did have their worlds shaken; probably less than fifty years from when Jesus said this, Jerusalem and the temple would be destroyed. This is the kind of event that would have you fainting from fear. 

But as for the rest of it? As for Jesus coming on a cloud? Is that a literal cloud? Lord, I don’t know. I’ll just be here with my Jesus memes. But I’ll tell you what I do know. 

The “kingdom of God” is kind of a bad translation since the word “kingdom” in Greek is active. It’s better to say “the reign of God.” When God reigns, God turns the world upside down and shakes it (in a good way). In the kingdom of God, Jesus tells us, the first are last and the last are first. Every mouth is fed, and every tear is dry. There is no more death or mourning or crying or pain.

“If I told you he was comin’ for the losers and winners — what could you say ‘cept sho’ ‘nuff?”

The color that we use for Advent is blue. It used to be purple, you see, before some people decided that we need to separate Advent from Lent. And I like that idea, because you see, the new color they chose is the color of the sky. 

It isn’t just the color of any sky, though. 

It’s the color of the sky right before the sun rises. In that moment that the dawn is breaking, but you haven’t seen the sun quite yet — the sky turns this color of blue. But the sun is on its way, and nothing, it seems, will stop it. No matter how big you think that monster under your bed is or how scary the news got that night.

I don’t know about you, but I need Advent. 

Because every year, I come back to Advent with more pain. Every year, I have seen more death in the world. Every year, my memory is filled with new wars and injustices and terrible things on the news. Every year, I’m missing at least one new person, usually several, because a friend or family member or another dear saint of God has died. Every year. New signs of the brokenness of the world, new divides have ripped through our relationships and our nation and our world. Every year, I have seen more hungry people. Every year, we lose someone else to cancer or addiction or heart disease or mental illness or an accident or one of the many ways we lose people. Every year, we bring our tears in here during the literal darkest days of the year, and we wait for the light.

“If I told you he was comin’ to save all you sinners — what could you say ‘cept sho’ ‘nuff?” 

Our ancestors weren’t dumb, you know. The ones from northern climates like this one gathered evergreen branches this time of year for a reason. We come together and we gather anything that looks alive outside and we light candles and we string up lights and we decorate this altar in blue to remind us: winter isn’t forever. The light is coming back. No matter how deep the darkness is sinking, the dawn is on the way. 

“If I told you he was comin’ to save all you sinners — what could you say ‘cept sho’ ‘nuff?”

Sho’ ‘nuff?
Sho’ ‘nuff. Amen.

1. You can listen to a cast recording here.

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