God of new beginnings, meet us where we are on our journey, imperfect as we are, and use us in ways we cannot imagine to make a difference in the world for you, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
On this First Sunday in Advent, we are starting a new liturgical year. We have finished the long season of Pentecost and we are now beginning the four week season of Advent that leads up to Christmas. In the three year cycle of lectionary readings, we have finished Year C and are now starting Year A, which will include much of Matthew's gospel.
During Advent, we prepare ourselves for the coming of the Christ child. By organizing our liturgical year in this way, we are saying that BECAUSE of the birth of Jesus and his earthly life among us, we see the past, present and future differently.
But that is not the only focus of Advent. During this season we also prepare ourselves for the second coming of Christ. The readings in Advent warn us not to be complacent, to be alert and to prepare ourselves for Jesus to come again. Our gospel lesson from Matthew reminds us that we do not know the day or the hour when Christ will return. God alone knows and it doesn't do us any good to try to figure it out.
Today we have warning alerts for hurricanes, tornadoes, floods and wild fires. We have advisory alerts for traffic conditions and air quality, and Amber Alerts for missing children.
In todays gospel lesson, we have an Advent advisory alert. "Therefore, you must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour." But what does it mean to be ready for the Second Coming of Christ? How can we be constantly alert for an event that might not even happen in our life time? It's already been over 2000 years since Jesus first came and we are told that the second coming will be at an unexpected time. At least with a weather alert, we know when the storm is coming and we can be prepared.
But we do not have to live in fear and uncertainty about when Christ will come again. During the season of Advent, we light the candles to remind us that we don't face the darkness, the uncertainty, the fear alone. The light of the world has come and the darkness has not overcome it.....and never will.
Advent, among other things, is a season of hope. No matter what happens in this world, no matter what happens to us or our loved ones, God is with us. We live in the hope of the second coming, that Jesus will come again to call us all home, to be with God in eternal life. When we face the darkness, the fear, the anxiety of our world, we do not face it alone.
Jesus calls us to be awake and prepared for him to come again. We need to be ready and that is what the season of Advent is all about - preparing ourselves in heart and mind to be ready for Christ's return.
The Christian tradition recognizes that God has come, and will come, to be with us in three ways. The first is the birth of the Christ child, Jesus of Nazareth, who walked among us some 2000 years ago. The Second Coming of God is when Jesus returns at the end of time which is what we need to prepare ourselves for now. But in between the first and second coming is the present, the here and now. God is with us in our prayers. We are encouraged to see God in those around us - neighbors, friends, co-workers, those we like and those we don't like - all made in the image of God. We find God in those we serve, those we help along life's journey. We see God's presence in the beauty of nature that is all around us, if we open our eyes and look. We see God in everyday events, of people helping each other, of people living out the gospel wherever they live. God's presence surrounds us and fills us every moment of every day.
Advent is not a "count down to Christmas". It's not about how many shopping days we have left to find the perfect gift. It's not about the decorations and the baking and the parties. Advent is an intentional liturgical season of four weeks in which we are to slow down, spend quiet time with God, reflect on the love God has for us. And that is so against what our culture tells us, especially at this time of year. Our secular world doesn't invite us or encourage us to be quiet and still, and to be aware of the fullness of our lives, to be awake and aware of God's presence with us.
As Bishop Susan Goff put it in her message for Advent, "Being still and slowing down gives God room to move in our lives and reminds us what our preparations are really all about." She suggests that we "have a cup of tea or coffee with God every day." After you prepare your beverage, then close the door on everything else for 10 minutes. The time of day doesn't matter. "You can talk to God as you would to any friend with whom you share a cup. You can spill out your anger and hurt, as you would for a loved one whom you know deep down will love you no matter what. You can sit in complete silence as you would with someone who knows you so well that you don't have to say a word. Just sit. Just be." Just for 10 minutes with a cup of tea and God.
Advent is the time to prepare ourselves to receive the Christ child into our hearts. It's a time to prepare ourselves for the second coming of Christ, whenever that may be. It's a time to be awake to the presence of God, working in us and through us.
Advent calls us to live each day as though Christ was coming at any moment - not living in fear and anxiety but in peace and hope. Advent calls us to be aware of the needs of those around us, not only the poor and neglected people around us, but also our neighbors, our families, our children, our spouses - to alleviate the needs of others as much as we can and put the rest into the hands of God.
The love and hope of God will overcome the darkness that can often surround us and overwhelm us. We are never left to face our problems alone for God is always with us, surrounding us and lifting us up.
During this Advent season, may each of us be filled with the light of Christ. May the light overshadow the darkness, and reach others through our prayers and actions, so that they, too, may be filled with the light of Christ. Amen.
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