St. John's, Centreville
December 2, 2018
1 Advent C
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, which began last May, and we are now beginning the four week season of Advent. In the three year cycle of lectionary readings, we have finished Year B and are now starting Year C, which will include much of Luke'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 life among us, we see the past, the present and the 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 complasent, to be alert, to be awake and to watch for Jesus to come again. Our gospel reading from Luke warns us that terrible things will happen before Christ comes again so be alert, take notice. But the gospel is NOT saying that because of these signs, we will know the day and the hour of Christ's return. God alone knows that and it doesn't do us any good to try to figure it out.
Plus, we are missing the point if we try to take the apocalyptic literature literally. What Jesus is telling us is that we always need to be ready - ready for our own death and ready for the end of the world, whenever that may be. We need to live as though our lives will end tomorrow. We need to live as though we will see Christ face to face at any moment.
We need to be alert and awake, not to interpret the signs that may be around us, but to recognize God's presence in our lives. How often are we aware of what is going on around us? How often are we aware of the beauty of nature, of the love that family and friends have for us, of the many ways that God's love works in us and through us? How can we be awake to God's love if we are not aware of what is going on around us?
A psychological study showed that Americans have less than a 40% awareness of what is happening around them. We are so preoccupied with our cell phones and other electronic devices, and distracted by our own daily concerns, that we miss most of what is happening around us. Distracted drivers and pedestrians are the cause of many accidents because we are not paying attention. If we are not awake and aware enough to know what is going on around us, how can we be awake and aware enough to recognize God's presence in our lives?
In spite of the reference to distress and fear, to wars and famines in the readings in Advent about the end times, Advent is, among other things, 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, when Jesus will come again to call us 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. God is with us every moment of every day, giving us the strength and courage we need to face the challenges of this life.
With the season of Advent comes hope and expectation. "Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away, "Jesus says. When Jesus comes again, the suffering will stop. Wars and hunger and poverty and injustice and sickness will cease. When Jesus comes again, we will be blessed beyond belief. And that is what people need to hold on to. That is what keeps those who endure incredible hardships going. That is how we make it from one day to the next. Jesus will come again and set everything right.
In the meantime, our job is to watch and be ready, to live as though Jesus will come at any moment. Will Jesus find us ready? According to author Barbara Brown Taylor,* there are three different ways that we can wait for the Second Coming of Christ.
The first way is to look for the literal end of the world. Many people have tried to figure out when the end of the world will come, by dissecting the Book of Revelation and trying to read the signs, or by mathematical calculations. Many have made millions of dollars by writing books explaining when the end of the world will come. But Jesus tells us that no one knows the day or the hour except the Father.
The second way is to let our awareness of the end times heighten our commitment to the present. In other words, let's make the best of the lives that God has given us and help and serve those in need. Let us be examples of the lives that Christ wants his followers to lead, by loving our neighbors as ourselves.
A third way to wait for Christ's return is to see that there is not just one end to the world, just as there is not just one coming of Christ. When Jesus died, the disciples thought that the world was ending. When Jerusalem fell and Nero began his killing spree, people thought the world was ending. With the Holocaust, people thought the world was ending. With World War One and World War Two, it looked like the world was ending. The world can end at any time with a declaration of war, with the death of a child, with a bleak diagnosis. Lots of things can end our world as we know it.
But into our everyday lives, Advent comes with its startling reminder that God has already come among us, and God is in the midst of our day to day reality. In Christ, God's kingdom has drawn near and made itself known among us. We are called to wake up and take notice.
Advent reminds us not only that God's kingdom is coming but that God's kingdom is already here, right here, right now.
We live in the midst of the divine drama that is "already" but "not yet". It is already in the sense that God sent Jesus into the world to be born of a woman, an event we celebrate at Christmas. It is "not yet" in the sense that the final judgement awaits us. "Already" Jesus has established the means through which we are drawn into a relationship with God. But we do "not yet" live in complete communion with God.
And so we begin another liturgical year of living with our Lord, remembering how God came to us in the past in the person of Jesus Christ, looking forward to how God will come to us in the future, and celebrating how God comes to us every day of our lives. Amen.
"Gospel Medicine" by Barbara Brown Taylor, page 136