Welcome to Advent!

November 29, 2015

Bible Text: Luke 21:25-36 |

“There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves.  People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world.”

Welcome to Advent!!

Hang on, isn’t this the season leading up to Christmas?  Aren’t we supposed to be awaiting the birth of the Christ Child?  In a manger?  With shepherds and angels, and hosannas in the highest??

What’s all this about distress, and fear, and foreboding?  Where’s our clear midnight and silent night?

This, my friends, is Advent.  The season in the church year when, just as we anticipate the Nazarene’s birth in Bethlehem, we await the return of the Messiah, the Cosmic Christ, the One whose appearance will announce judgment, and redemption, and an end to the trials and turmoil we face; the One for whom we’ve waited for millennia.

And yet, it seems we’re always surprised when faced with the readings for the first Sunday of the season.

We’ve only just celebrated Thanksgiving, shoppers are still recovering from the madness of Black Friday and Christmas Carols are already playing on 106.9.  We are committed to the holidays.  Perhaps we’ve decorated our homes or put up a tree.  Maybe you’re one of those individuals who have completed their Christmas shopping and are even wrapping gifts or addressing cards.

In the midst of our preparations for the Nativity of our Lord, it can be jarring to be greeted today with scripture full of omens and foreboding.

But what if, this year, the cosmic Christ really did return?

Jesus’ followers have been expecting his return ever since the resurrection.  We can’t know the moment when the world settled in to wait—when it became apparent that God’s time truly isn’t our time and that we operate on completely different schedules; but each Advent, we prepare ourselves in the expectation that this year, it might really happen.

It might actually come to pass that thousands of years of hope, of longing, and yearning for Christ to come and make things right, will finally be fulfilled.

Can you imagine?

No more fear of terrorism, of violence, of shootings; no more reports of humans slaughtering one another over religion, or politics, or tribal alliances; no more worries over global warming, or the desecration of the environment, or limited resources; no more battles with addiction, or mental illness, or disease.  No more death.

Instead, the redemption of creation.  All of creation—finally.

 

And so in this season when we’re already geared for the holidays and all that entails, it makes sense that we spend some energy preparing ourselves for the return of the Holy One.

After all, it might be a faux pas to forget to send a card to a favorite friend or relative, but it would be tragic to find Oneself unprepared when Christ returns.

But what does that mean?  How do we prepare?  What is it that we must do?  There’s no Black Friday sale where we’re liable to find the necessary gadget that will ensure our preparation, nor is there an app; although I wouldn’t be surprised to see one crop up.

There isn’t a place to which we can write a check that’s going to ensure our preparedness, nor is there a candidate or a person.

In the end, the annoying truth is it is up to us.  Each of us, individually.  We can assist one another in preparing ourselves, but I can’t do your work for you nor can you do mine.  This work is the work of our souls and it is the most important work with which we’ll engage.

The good news is that most of you are already doing the work.  You are already preparing the way of the Lord.  You are doing so in your daily lives—through your generosity, acts of kindness and ongoing care for one another.  You prepare by choosing NOT to live in fear and despondency, as some would wish; rather you, “stand up and raise your heads”.

You are preparing for the Lord by living as if the kingdom of God is already upon us.  As if all our hope and longing has been fulfilled.

In our bible study on Monday we looked at the text of this morning’s psalm and promised one another that we would pray it every day of Advent.  Listen again to some of the words:

To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul;

my God, I put my trust in you;

Show me your ways, O LORD, *

and teach me your paths.

Lead me in your truth and teach me,

for you are the God of my salvation;

in you have I trusted all the day long.

Remember, O LORD, your compassion and love, *

for they are from everlasting.

He guides the humble in doing right *

and teaches his way to the lowly.

 

All the paths of the LORD are love and faithfulness *

to those who keep his covenant and his testimonies.

This psalm lays out how we are to prepare our souls for the coming of Christ.

First of all, we trust in God.  We trust all our lives to God confident that in all the ins and outs of our days; our mountaintop experiences as well as our moments of deepest despair and grief we are not alone.  God is with us and there is nothing the world can do to us that can alter that truth.

Next, we ask.  We ask God to show us God’s ways, God’s paths.  We ask to be shown the righteousness of God so that we can know which way to turn, which course to take.

We ask to be taught.  And for some of us, this is the tricky part because before we can learn anything, we have to admit that we don’t know everything.

One of the blessings for me of growing older is the realization of how little I know.  It’s really such a relief, and it makes me a much more pleasant woman to be around than the one who thought she knew everything.  Make no mistake, she still resides in me and is likely to come out when I’m feeling afraid, or threatened, but for the most part, relinquishing that illusion of control has been liberating.

We ask God to remember God’s compassion and love.  Remember please, that we are just silly humans who will choose wrongly a large percentage of the time.  Remember your love for us—your faithfulness, your willingness to stay in relationship with us even when we are being intolerable.

And, when we remember who we are—and that we are not omniscient—we will be taught and guided along the paths of love and faithfulness.  The paths that open wide the way for the Christ into our broken world and into our breaking hearts.

We don’t talk as much about the end times or the second coming as some of our Christian brothers and sisters, but the hope of Christ’s return is very much a part of what we believe and what we espouse.  It is embedded into our Eucharistic prayers—significantly, the portion we all say together:

We proclaim the mystery of faith:

Christ has died

Christ has risen

Christ will come again

Or

We remember his death

We proclaim his resurrection

We await his coming in glory

 

Again,

We celebrate his death and resurrection, as we await the day of his coming.

 

And while we’re waiting, we do the work of preparation--- for he is sure to come.  In the ever so eloquent words Rowan Williams:

"He will come like last leaf's fall.  One night when the November wind has flayed the trees to bone, and earth wakes choking on the mould, the soft shroud's folding.

"He will come like frost.  One morning when the shrinking earth opens on mist, to find itself arrested in the net of alien, sword-set beauty.

"He will come like dark.  One evening when the bursting red December sun draws up the sheet and penny-masks its eye to yield the star-snowed fields of sky.

"He will come, will come, will come like crying in the night, like blood, like breaking, as the earth writhes to toss him free.  He will come like child."

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