“There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations. ... People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world.”
I know that I tend to see the world more dismally than some people, maybe because I get depressed by the fewer hours of daylight in winter, but it does seem like these days there really is distress among nations, and that we are right to have fear and foreboding about what is coming upon the world. I know that we continue to be preoccupied by the events in Paris a few weeks ago, with heightened security in major Western cities. But even before that tragic event, things in the world were really not good. People have been dying due to violent conflict in staggering numbers even before Paris. For instance, the number of people killed yearly by small arms, which means any weapon that can be carried by an individual - guns, landmines, cluster bombs, small missile launchers - these are all small arms - the number of people killed yearly by small arms is 500,000. Let me break that down for you. Half a million people a year is equal to 9,800 people a week, which is 1,400 people a day. Every day, 1,400 adults and children are killed by small arms. Breaking that number down even further, 500,000 people a year is equal to 58 people an hour. In the hour in which we are here in church worshipping, 58 people will have died due to either being shot, blown up, stepping up on a landmine, or from a cluster bomb.
Incidentally, do you know what a cluster bomb is? It’s a small bomb that is dropped from an aircraft, that carries smaller bomblets inside of it, that are meant to cover an area roughly the size of this church. Some of them explode when they hit something or someone, and some of them are designed with a time delay to explode later. Like landmines, not all of them work properly, and so some of them can lie on the ground unexploded until they get picked up. Because they are brightly coloured, they are often picked up by children, and you can imagine the consequences. Cluster bombs were used in the Vietnam war, and in the Yugoslavian conflict, and in those countries, they still claim lives. And, cluster bombs are still being used by countries at war around the world. Not by Canada, thankfully, but by our military allies including the United States. So - just picture that by the time we are done with this service, more people will be killed than are sitting here, by things like cluster bombs.
But Jesus says to us, “Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” In other words, don’t be down-hearted, don’t hang your head, don’t hide in a hole in despair and fear. Stand up. Raise your head. Things are going to get better. The prophet Jeremiah proclaims that “the days are surely coming, says the Lord, [when] I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up .. and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.” Despite the rather scary tone of our Gospel reading today, our Scripture readings tell us very clearly that these terrible times will one day come to an end, and that God will bring justice and righteousness to the world. Rather than living in fear, our Scriptures tell us to be comforted. God is going to make things better.
This is what we proclaim in Advent, actually. Advent is both a looking back at the birth of Christ, but more importantly a looking forward to when Christ will come again. Because we have seen proof of God’s commitment to peace in the birth of Christ, we look forward to Christ’s coming again. We celebrate what God has done in anticipation of what God will do. In Advent, we proclaim with hope and reassurance that the time is coming when people will no longer be the victims of war and violence - the Lord will reign and those who have brought about such horrors and violence and death will face justice.
Are you waiting for the other shoe to drop? Because here it is. When the Lord comes to judge those who have perpetrated injustice and violence and death, we are going to be on that list. And I don’t mean we in the general sense of humankind. I mean we - us, here, in this congregation, as Canadians. It’s easy for us to point the finger at arms manufacturers, for instance, at those people who make and deliver the guns and missile launchers and landmines and cluster bombs, and say, “Them - they are the ones who deserve God’s judgement. They are the ones who should be condemned, they are the ones who will face God’s wrath, who will be laid low when they see “‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory.”
But did you know that the major world banks, including Canadian ones, invest in arms manufacturing? Making small arms is apparently a very lucrative business opportunity, which I suppose really shouldn’t surprise us. Banks around the world, including the Bank of America, Deutsche Bank, and major financial investors like Morgan Stanley, JP Morgan Chase, and CitiBank all invest in arms manufacturing companies. In Canada, RBC, BMO-Bank of Montreal, HSBC, and Scotia Bank also invest in small arms. If you have savings or checking accounts with any of these banks, and I do, your money is being invested in small arms production - in weapons that kill 58 people an hour.
But maybe you don’t have money with any of these banks. Maybe you already knew about the connection between big banks and small arms. But did you know that our Canada Pension Plan has holdings in arms manufacturing companies? I don’t know about our Old Age Pension, but there’s no reason to believe it is invested completely separately from our CPP. Our Canada Pension Plan has holdings worth 65 million dollars in 36 weapons manufacturing companies around the world. This includes 75 million dollars in the nuclear-weapons industry, and 310 million dollars in cluster-bomb manufacturers. The Canada Pension Plan. Canada doesn’t itself use cluster-bombs, but apparently we are all funding their development and manufacturing. So, when we proclaim that God is coming to judge the unrighteous, that’s us.
Of course we might claim ignorance, and say that we didn’t know. I was ignorant of our CPP’s involvement in this until just a few days ago, but the harsh reality is that the bullet from a gun carried by a child soldier in Syria that pierces the heart of a fellow Syrian child’s father doesn’t care whether or not we know that our money - our money - is funding the making of the bullet or paying for the research that develops a gun that is more powerful than other guns and yet light enough to be held by a child. Because yes, that is the research that arms manufacturers are doing. That is the research our money is funding - How to make cluster bombs brightly coloured so they will be picked up by people, how to make guns light enough and small enough to be used by children. I got to fire a semi-automatic machine gun at a firing range in the States once, and I was horrified by how light it was - like a toy.
We might claim ignorance, but those who make and deliver the cluster bombs don’t care whether or not their investors are aware of what they are doing. We might rise up and say, “That’s not right,” but are you going to refuse your pension cheque? And so we stand under judgement. The coming of the Day of the Lord, the proclamation we make in Advent that justice and righteousness are coming - five minutes ago this filled us with comfort. Now, it fills us with terror. Our fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world now comes as we realize how deeply implicated we are in the violent deaths of this world. 58 people an hour die because of small arms. Our Canada Pension Plan and Old Age Pension actively fund those deaths.
Our Old Testament psalm speaks to and for us this morning. “To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul. ... Be mindful of your mercy, O Lord, and of your steadfast love, for they have been from of old. Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to your steadfast love remember me, for your goodness’ sake, O Lord!”
The psalm reminds us that the coming reign of God, the very thing we look forward to in Advent, will be based on justice, but one that is rooted in love. This is our ultimate comfort. God’s justice is not like our justice, which demands a bullet for a bullet, a death for a death, and bombs dropped on the enemy because they drop bombs on us. Our idea of justice motivates the weapons industry because we believe only death can wipe out our enemies’ transgressions. Our idea of justice is what makes small arms manufacturers such appealing investment opportunities. Our idea of justice condemns us. But God’s justice is deeper than anything we can imagine. God’s justice is inseparable from God’s steadfast love, which means it is a justice where the ruler of the world is a baby born in a feeding trough. God’s justice with love resurrects those who would die rather than fight for themselves, and forgives those who killed them. God’s justice with love brings the victims of violence and the perpetrators of violence to the same table, so that we all might be redeemed and reconciled. God’s justice with love is the reason we can stand up and raise our heads and look to our redemption drawing near, even though we are complicit in arms manufacturing and death, because we have God’s steadfast promise that Christ will bring true righteousness to the earth, a righteousness that is founded on love and mercy and forgiveness.
We celebrate Advent because we have seen in the past that God’s kingdom establishes our redemption - that it turns sinners into saints and that it makes the unrighteous righteous - and because we trust God to do it again in the future. We pray during these next four weeks that the days will come, that the Lord will fulfill the promise of justice and righteousness, and that the ‘Son of Man’ will come in a cloud with power and great glory, because we trust God’s promise to us.
“There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations. ... People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world. ... Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” And so we say, Come, Lord Jesus, Come. Amen.