It’s the same year-after-year.
On this most sluggish of American weekends when it takes many three days to recover from one day of gluttony, this lazy weekend when some people sleep in for four days in a row – it is this Sunday that the church decides to defy the culture and catapult us into a new year – smacking us first with judgment and then with demand.
It is this weekend that the liturgical calendar tells us to “Wake Up!” Life as we know it will eventually end.
The world as we experience it will surely change.
The God we think we know is about to become for us a God we have never met.
Yes, my friends, today is the first Sunday of Advent – the season of moving toward a God who will overrun our predictable world and shake us up.
I feel ready enough for this Advent.
I am ready to hear the stories and learn the lessons which this season has to teach us – stories about how to wait, lessons about how to repent, teachings about how to endure in the middle of the night, when burdens weigh down and anxiety overcomes.
I am ready to figure out how to be a faithful Christian at times when Jesus seems far away and the world seems ready to fall apart.
Our Gospel text this morning comes from the section of Matthew’s Gospel that many people call Matthew’s little apocalypse. He wrote about the end times. The community in which he wrote was growing weary and lethargic of waiting on the return of Christ.
They had lost the vision of God’s rich and peaceable kingdom on earth. At the time of his writing, they had been waiting for about 80 years and not much had happened.
First Jesus reminds us of how the Old Testament people in Noah’s time did not take God’s call to be ready seriously. Like them, we too are relatively unconcerned about being ready for God’s coming, and we go on living in a business as usual manner, not being too concerned about the wickedness that is so rampant in our times. Many point to the increase of natural disasters, or the increasing exploitation of the poor and the natural world, the general disregard for the law and ethics, our lack of faith as well as trust of one another. The times we are in are not much different that of Noah’s time when the earth was flooded and there was a new beginning to the established order.
The second illustration that Jesus uses is that of two people working beside each other. When the Son of Man returns, one will be left and one will be taken, whether working in the fields or in the mill. The text’s final example is the unwary householder who should have made preparations to prevent a break-in.
I think the lectionary provides for us at this new year in the church cycle the opportunity for us to reflect on the preparations that we make for the coming of Jesus. Have we lived fully every day, making the most of what we’ve been given? Have we done the things that we should have done? Have we passed on to the youth the important truths about the Christian faith and given them the spiritual tools they need as they begin to wrestle with a demonic world?
Sisters and brothers in Christ, what I’m asking you to do is to ask the question of yourselves once again, “How do I place Christ in the center of my life?” Perhaps in order to answer this question, we need to reexamine what it means to be a Christian. We might want to restudy what baptism and receiving Holy Communion are all about. We might want to review what the Christian confessions and the creeds are all about. We might want to explore again what the ministry of all the baptized, the priesthood of all believers, is about as we pursue our daily vocations and callings. We do need to rediscover what it means to let go and let God.
Sisters and brothers, each of us lives in the shadow of the apocalypse – the dark reality of the end of our time and the end of the world’s time. That is the warning of Advent. But there is good news. There is also the promise of Advent – the promise that in the darkness, in the shadows, in the unpredictable anxiety of our unfinished lives, God is present. God is in control and God will come again. With each Advent candle we light, the shadows of darkness recede a little more and the promise return of the messiah comes ever so closer. With each candle we light, we are proclaiming that the light shines in the darkness and the darkness will never overcome the light.
The promise is that wherever there is darkness and dread in our lives, wherever there is darkness and dread in the world around us, God is present to help us endure. God is in charge, and hope is alive. And as long and as endless as the night seems, morning will come – in God’s good time and God’s good way.
How often as a pastor have I talked with people who assure me they’ve committee their life in trusting God to lead the way, yet can sleep at night because of worrying of the problems and trials of this life. As I listen, in the back of my mind I think to myself that if someone says this and still have worries and anxieties then they probably haven’t given all their problems to god. It’s so tough to trust God. It’s difficult to say to God: “Here are my problems, but I really don’t expect you to solve them, so I will continue to worry with you and in a way I can help you solve them, God.” Yet when we let go and trust God it is to recommit our lives to Jesus; to know that there are no problems that God cannot solve; to struggle every day to place Jesus at the center of our lives, where Christ rightfully belongs, so that he can direct our lives and our days.
And so we have a choice. We can wither away with anxiety. Or we can wait expectantly. We can bury our fears in our sleep. Or we can wake up and watch the horizon. We can crawl into caves of dread and despair. Or we can find our way into the hallowed halls of hope. We can give up and settle for little. Or we can work diligently for the salvation of the world – trusting that God will complete our work with wholeness and abundance.
My friends, this Advent season, we are called to embrace the darkness, to trust the Presence, to watch for the flickers of light, to wait for the sure coming of God in new ways. And – while we wait and while we watch – we are called hope, proclaiming that God is in charge and that one day the kingdom will fully come.
May it be so – for you and for me. Amen.