Generational Déjà Vu

The Advent Season for 2021 is over (it started on November 28, 2021 and ended on December 24, 2021), but I just now came across a sermon online that was given at the beginning of Advent on November 30, 2021. The title for the sermon is Sermon for Advent–1C,” by Rev. Porter C. Taylor, Rector, at St. David’s by the Sea Episcopal Church.

I looked for a “reblog” button to reblog the post of that sermon (e.g., a transcript of the sermon along with a link to listen to the sermon), but I didn’t find one, so I decided to post the opening paragraphs to his sermon and you can read the rest (or listen to it online) at this link. It is thought-provoking, and it applies to all generations.

Here are the opening paragraphs to his sermon found at this link:

This sermon is from the First Sunday of Advent (Year C), November 28, 2021 and it was originally preached at St. David’s by the Sea Episcopal Church in Cocoa Beach, FL. where I [Peter C. Taylor] serve as Rector. You can listen to the sermon here.

Christian worship is meant to be multi-generational. I love that I can look out at you on any given Sunday and see church members who are 5 years old and church members who are well into their 90’s…and everyone in between. We have members of each extant generation present in our worship: Gen Z, Millennials, Gen X, Baby Boomers, and the Silent Generation. Members of each generation rubbing shoulders with and rubbing off on the next.

I think each and every generation asks itself two essential questions. First: “What kind of world have we inherited?” And second: will we be the last generation?

When reflecting upon his 1989 number one hit, “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” Billy Joel recalled an encounter he had with a young Sean Lennon. Lennon and his friend were bemoaning the state of the world they were inheriting from the generation before them: foreign debts, homeless vets, AIDS, crack, Bernie Goetz. Joel found himself reflecting on his own generational woes and worries with great ease and so he put pen to paper. In fact, it was the first time Joel had written full lyrics before the melody. 

Despite the fact that it is tied specifically to the late 1980’s, Joel provided a timeless classic by poignantly tracing the concerns of multiple generations. His verses capture the fears and insecurities of every decade from the 1940’s through the 1980’s. Here is a verse that will touch on things all of you remember: 

Birth control, Ho Chi Minh, Richard Nixon back again
Moonshot, Woodstock, Watergate, punk rock
Begin, Reagan, Palestine, terror on the airline
Ayatollah’s in Iran, Russians in Afghanistan

And the fun didn’t actually stop in 1989. “We Didn’t Start the Fire was even the inspiration for many pandemic memes last March. “Today was like if ‘we didn’t start the fire’ was a day,” the TV writer Matt Warburton tweeted on March 12, 2020, and shortly after a therapist named Brittany Barkholtz went viral when she took him up on this challenge:Schools close, Tom Hanks, trouble in the big banks, no vaccine, quarantine, no more toilet paper seen.”

It’s all very funny, and yet as Lindsay Zoladz commented in the NYT back in August, there is something strangely comforting about the lyrics. She writes:

It can be easy to feel that we are currently living through the nadir of human history—and hey, maybe we are! But Joel also wrote this song to capture a certain kind of generational déjà vu that has existed since the dawn of civilization. As he [Joel] reflected to his biographer: “Oh man, we all thought that too, when we were young: My God, what kind of world have we inherited?”

Zoladz captures the deep truth underlying the two questions each generation asks itself. At the end of the day, each generation is caught between a sense of “generational déjà vu” and a fear that they are on the precipice of the “nadir of human history.”

Part of the occupational hazard of being a human on this earth is the ability to ask the question, “Is this the end of the world as we know it?”…and are we feeling fine? We notice the fire blazing on around us and we don’t want the blame for its origins, but we also have a sense that we can’t extinguish it. So what do we do?

We enter Advent once again.

Bet you didn’t see that one coming! (Hint: It’s good news about Jesus. Read on at this link).

You’ll definitely . . .

Want to see . . .

How it ends . . . .

YouTube Video: “We Didn’t Start the Fire” (1989) by Billy Joel:

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