12/3/2017 First Sunday of Advent The text is Mark 13:24-37.
Grace and peace to you from God, our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Today, we begin a new season in the church year…the season of hope and preparation known as Advent. It is a season of waiting, not for a baby in a manger or the beginning of Jesus ministry on earth. We wait with anticipation and joy for the appearance of the crucified and risen Lord. We wait for the time in which Jesus will come again and usher in God’s merciful kingdom.
Sadly, the Season of Advent is often reduced to a countdown to Christmas and the anniversary of Jesus’ birth. The candles on our wreath remind us of lights on our trees and the decorations adorning houses. The wreaths on the church doors, the giving tree set up in the narthex, and eventually the ceramic Mary and Joseph sitting on the altar all remind us of the coming of Christmas day. Even our gospel lessons during the season speak of Christ’s conception and foretell of his ministry. Yet, the main focus of the Advent is not the past. It is aimed squarely at the future and how we are to prepare for the day in which we will meet Jesus face to face.
With that being the case, it’s not surprising that our gospel for today contains some of the last words Jesus speaks before the spiral of events which lead to his crucifixion. It is with the end in sight that our time of preparation begins. It begins here, not with Jesus’ conception, but with the foretelling of his death. It begins here to remind us that Christmas and Easter are intricately connected to each other. For, if it were not for the events of Holy Week, there would be no advent and no Christmas to celebrate.
Advent points us to the reason for Christmas. It reminds us that Jesus was sent into the world for a reason. He was sent into the world for us. He was born to save those who can’t save themselves. He came to take our sins with him to the cross and grave in order to form the everlasting bridge of forgiveness that connects the earth below to the heaven above. His purpose was and is to usher in his Father’s kingdom. That’s why my favorite Christmas hymn isn’t “Silent Night,” but “Of the Father’s Love Begotten.”
Jesus came into the world as an embodiment of God’s love for us and all creation. And Jesus will come again. We have that promise and we know that God always keeps his word. So we wait and prepare with joy for that time in which we will be drenched in God’s love even though we do not know the day or the hour when it will happen. We stay alert and keep awake by promoting God’s justice in this world. We wait and we watch with anticipation for the day of salvation.
Now waiting and watching with anticipation was something I did all the time as a child. Of course, I wasn’t watching for Jesus. I wasn’t even waiting for Christmas. Growing up the height of the cold war era, I, like my parents and everyone else in the country, waited and watched for the signs of impending destruction, devastation and death. During those years you did what you could to prepare for a nuclear attack. In schools, that meant going through air raid drills and hiding under desks. Bomb shelters were built in community centers. Food was stored and stacked up in what was considered to be a safe place around the house. And, in my home that meant in the basement, under the workbench by the coal bin. During the Cuban missile crisis, our fear of the arrival of bombs grew. With heighten anxiety, we waited, knowing not the day or the hour when it would happen. We waited with fear and foreboding watching for a mushroom cloud and the sound of civil defense sirens that would signal our need to find a safe hiding place.
This was a time of terror and not a time of hope. It was a time of waiting for the enemy to strike and not a time of welcoming the stranger into our midst. It was a time of sadness and not a time of great joy. This waiting and watching was very different from that which Jesus talks about in today’s gospel. For in him, we have no need to stockpile supplies and search for a safe place to hide. We may not know the day or the hour when Christ will come, but we know to whom we belong. And we, who trust in the Lord above all things have nothing to worry about. For the Lord will know his sheep and he will gather them to himself.
In the interim, the best we can do is to keep alert, by serving, and be watchful, by trusting in God. The best we can do is to anticipate with joy the events which will unfold…anticipate with joy as parents waiting for the birth of their first born child.
Suzanne and Jim were one such set of parents. They were thrilled with the prospect of having their first child. They prepared for the arrival by painting the baby’s bedroom, buying appropriate furniture, taking Lamaze classes and purchasing clothes, toys and all the paraphernalia first time parents seem to need. Once that was done, all they could do was wait.
The doctor had told them the baby was due around June 1st. So, when Suzanne had labor pains on the first of May, she called Jim and then the doctor, afraid to make the run to the hospital and then have nothing happen, but also afraid to be alone, trying to decide what to do.
Jim got home fast, but he also tried to calm Suzanne. After all, she wasn’t due for a month. It was her first baby, so labor usually would take longer, too. But, he didn’t want her to worry so he got her into the car and started for the hospital. Suddenly, something happened. The car was wet and Suzanne was sliding down onto the floor. Jim panicked, hit the accelerator and flew the rest of the way to the hospital. Two hours later, their son was born.
These expectant parents were taken by surprise for they neither knew the day nor the hour when the son would arrive. Yet, in anticipation and joy, they prepared and kept alert to the signs, knowing that the one for whom they prepared would indeed arrive.
This is the way in which we are to wait for the arrival of Jesus. We may not know the day or the hour in which the Son of God, the first born son of Mary, will come again, but we know that he will come as promised. So wait and watch and stay alert by doing what we can to keep ourselves busy preparing for his arrival. We do what we can by keeping our lives focused in the direction of our Lord and by doing what he wants us to do each day.
So, my friends, use this time of Advent both as a time to prepare for the celebration of the birth of Christ and as a time to wait actively for the coming of the Lord in his glory. And while you do so, may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.