Advent I Sermon December 3, 2017
Isaiah 64:1-9, Psalm 80:1-7, 16-18, 1 Corinthians 1:3-9, Mark 13:24-37
CLICK HERE to listen to the recorded sermon.
Today, we begin the season of Advent. The Four Sundays before Christmas allow us to prepare for the feast where we celebrate God come into this world, as a human being. God took the first step—doing the most amazing thing—God entered into our world—into this world at a time fully as troubled as our own—in the most vulnerable of all possible ways: as an infant, born to young parents of no power or influence, with little enough security for themselves: “in great humility…” no grand tutors or teachers, no background, position or wealth.
It was that very humility, that vulnerability that Jesus had as his armor of light. For God is not about power, but about love; not about protecting what we have, but about generosity. The armor of light is not about always being right, it is about always having God’s mercy, about being a human being along with other human beings—knowing that they need mercy and that we receive mercy together.
In this season we anticipate and long for the coming of Christ. We anticipate Christ’s coming every year as we observe Advent. And we wait, and we long for him, and we await his coming as a baby. We experience this beauty and light in our worship. In our times together in this expectant and festive season, we proclaim the meeting of humanity with God and God with humanity in many ways. We sing of the meeting in our hymns and carols; we experience the meeting in gift-giving; we embody the meeting by serving others in the name of the Holy Child born for us anew.
I was delighted to experience my first Christmas parade in the wider community this past Friday evening. There was much joy as we served cookies and hot chocolate to parade goers, young and old. There was much to warm our hearts and our souls.
As we go through this time of prayer and prepare for Christmas, our music, our worship, our liturgy, our hot chocolate and cookies – what they’re about – at least what I hope they’re about is a deep desire to be in relationship with a wondrous, beckoning God.
Advent is about the day when all humanity shall see and be accountable to God. The images in our lessons are not light or superficial – in fact, they can be downright scary. “After that suffering, the sun shall be darkened, and the moon will not give its light and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers will be shaken.”
The followers of Jesus wanted to know when the end of the world would come, when time would be no more. Yet, I think their wanting to know wasn’t necessarily out of some gloomy, death-seeking fatalism, but because they anticipated that the end of the world would bring God’s judgment and mercy, and usher in the reign of God’s peace.
But as we hear in this text, Jesus steadfastly resists giving any kind of timetable for that hoped-for end. Which, I think, may be why the lectionary has directed us to this text on the first Sunday of Advent. After all, Advent is about waiting and hoping for something we could not precisely predict, but which we know God eventually brought about in the birth of Christ.
So, what particulars does Jesus offer his disciples about the end of the world? Well, if you notice, he offers none of the fearsome specifics some modern authors and preachers have provided us. Instead, Jesus simply offers us a few assurances. First, he says, “…about that day or hour, no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” (Mark 13:32 NRSV) Or, to put it another way, Jesus says the future is definitely not ours to know.
Who really knows what tomorrow will bring? Perhaps something beyond our wildest dreams. We don’t know. And yet, far from being a discouraging aspect of life, our inability to know the future can—perhaps should—be an encouragement to us.
We don’t know where the sweep of history is pushing, nor when it will reach its endpoint. Only God knows the future. Therefore, Jesus says, making his second point about the end of the world, “Keep alert.” “Keep awake,” (Mark 13:33, 35 NRSV). “Keep awake. Keep alert.”
We live in a time and in a world where it is all too easy to listen to our fears, to let them take shape in groups that we can blame or be angry at. It’s easy to listen to confident and glib people tell us why we should be scared, and who we should blame. In our time, we are well acquainted with the works of darkness.
We’ve seen those forces of darkness at work – at home and around the world.
We cannot abide the actions and voices of extremists, whether they act out of an identity of white supremacy, or out of extremist Christianity, Islam or Judaism.
God calls us to love our neighbors and to seek justice for all communities and peoples. We must seek to share the values of tolerance and solidarity, and call on our officials to do the same. Hatred and bigotry must never be allowed to win.
These are things I believe we need to keep awake and alert for.
Remember, Jesus reminds us that only God knows the future. But, I also hear him saying, if we just “stay true to the love of God and the mercy of God, our future is assured.”
Our Advent hope is a hope that as followers of Christ, we need adopt a worldview that presumes the eventuality of God’s full realm, a realm of peace, a realm of forgiveness, a realm of redemption. Our focus is to help God with God’s unrelenting desire for the world to become that realm of love, that realm of peace and that realm of justice. That is the reason we go into the wider community to make that love known. That is why we serve hot chocolate and cookies.
I encourage you to cast away those works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Our hope is in trusting in the living God—putting on the armor of God’s love, God’s mercy, God’s tenderness for God’s people. Where there is hope in the heart of a person, there is the presence of God. Where there is God, there is love. Where there is love, all shall be well.
“I give thanks to my God always for you because of the Grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus…–so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord…God is faithful.”
God is faithful. So, too, are the people of Beckford Parish.
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