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“The Advent of What?”
Mark 13:24-37 (MSG)
South Presbyterian Church – November 30, 2014 – Advent 1
The Reverend Deborah Fae Swift
Today is gonna be short and sweet. We have a healing service to start off our Advent season and we also had the Advent candle lighting and I’m mindful of not overusing our time together … as pleasant as it is.
In a few weeks we will be celebrating the New Year as our calendars gets turned ahead to 2015. Can you believe it? Not too long ago we had Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year beginning the year 5775. Next February 19th we will celebrate the Chinese New Year … the year of the Sheep.
And today is the New Year for the Christian Church Calendar. The first day of Advent is the first day of the New Year because it is the time of preparation for the birth of the Emmanuel: God with us. So … Happy New Year! J
With New Year’s comes resolutions … things we want to do differently or at least be aware of and open to. And so it is with the CHURCH’s new year. So we’re going to take a couple of minutes and think together about what that might look like.
Advent is kind of a funny season … it’s entire function is to point FORWARD to something else: Christmas. It is the time of waiting … but we KNOW what we’re waiting for … it’s like being pregnant … you just have to wait it out.
I think that if Christmas were just Christmas without any waiting period leading up to it … it wouldn’t be HALF as meaningful. It would just be a stand alone day and would easily get absorbed into every OTHER stand alone day like Martin Luther King Day … Labor Day … Thanksgiving.
I think in some way our SOCIETY recognized that and for non-religious Christians … what we call Secular Christians or Cultural Christians … they have THEIR Advent, too … and it starts with Black Friday. It’s all about shopping and the number of days until Christmas. There’s a count down. It’s human nature to have a build up to something special … like the ramp up to a gala opening or something.
So my question for us today is really about Advent in light of Mark’s reading: What is this the Advent OF????? The Advent of WHAT???
In Mark’s terms, it’s like this: our life moves in SEASONS. When you see a fig tree, take a lesson from it. 28-31 “… From the moment we notice its buds form, the merest hint of green, we know summer’s just around the corner. And so it is with us. When we see all the things that Jesus taught us … when we start to notice them in ourselves, we know he is at the door. Don’t take this lightly. I’m not just saying this for some future generation, but for this one, too—these things WILL happen. Enlightenment WILL come. Sky and earth will wear out; my words won’t wear out. We are to keep watch for the SIGNS of the changing seasons in our own lives and in the life of the WORLD.
In other words, we are on the threshold … the Advent … of something NEW … something wonderful that will endure to the ends of time.
And then Mark goes on to say, “It’s like the person who takes a trip, leaving home and putting the servants in charge, each assigned a task, and commanding the gatekeeper to stand watch. Stay at your post, watching. You have no idea when the homeowner is returning, whether evening, midnight, cockcrow, or morning. You don’t want the owner showing up unannounced and finding that you are asleep on the job. I say it to you, and I’m saying it to all: Stay at your post. Keep watch for the signs of the owner’s return.
Again, in other words … we should be living in an age of preparation and expectation and keeping ever-vigilant … never giving up … never losing HOPE that the presence of Christ can become almost PALPABLE in the world today because the Holy Presence is making itself known.
Only God knows the exact hour and the exact day when we will each know that we are in the presence of the Holy … Only God. So we have to be ready to say YES and answer God’s call to service at EVERY MOMENT.
But that brings me back to the question … The Advent of What????? What is it that is about to happen? Is the world suddenly going to lay down all its weapons and embrace peace? Maybe. Though probably not.
Is the lion going to suddenly lie down with the lamb and not eat it? Maybe. Though probably not.
Are the heavens going to open up so we hear Angel Choirs singing “Adeste Fidelis?” Maybe. Though probably not.
It’s EASY for us to say the things that probably WON’T happen … but unless we are willing to leave ourselves open to things we can’t even imagine, we will never be fully ready for the in-breaking of God’s Spirit in new and exciting ways. We have to be willing to imagine the invisible because as soon as we do, God MAKES it visible.
One of my friends titled her sermon for today, “Wake up, for Christ’s sake.” And that sums it up. I wish I’d thought of the title … we don’t KNOW what God is going to do with us in this new church year. Only GOD knows. But we have to be awake and ready to respond whenever something occurs to us that Christ might be asking us to do because that’s how Jesus works … that’s how he CALLS us to do his work in the world.
Last year at this time … not a ONE of us was gathering in this room every Sunday morning to worship the living God. But NOW … it’s a regular part of our lives because we were paying attention and we all said, “Sure … we can try that.” “You want us to do what, God? All right … Okay … let’s go for it.”
Last year at this time we were on the THRESHOLD of this new and AMAZING redefinition of church even though we didn’t know it. But we stood READY just like the gatekeeper in Mark’s writing. THAT’s the Advent experience.
Advent isn’t a TIME … it’s a frame of mind.
It’s an ATTITUDE of expectation and openness as we await some kind of direction from God…
Advent is a VERB … it’s about BEING open … it’s about SAYING yes … it’s about BELIEVING and HOPING and creating a space inside of us for God to FILL US UP with the excitement and peace and love that we might not even be able to IMAGINE yet.
Our sermon title is a little misleading because the whole point is that we don’t know the answer yet. We CAN’T know what we are at the beginning of any more than we can know when the homeowner is returning home.
But what we CAN know is that we are to use this time to prepare ourselves to experience Christmas in a new way … experience the birth of something NEW and wonderful in our hearts … experience JESUS in a different fashion than we ever have before.
Maybe in the past what spoke to us was his title, “Prince of Peace.” Maybe this year it will be “Wonderful Counselor.” Maybe before we’ve always known him as “Son of God” but we’re on the threshold of embracing him as “Brother and Healer.” Maybe before Christmas was all about FAMILY but this time it’s going to be personal about a little BABY and us … the possibilities for what this season can mean are endless.
And so is God’s love that leads us to these possibilities.
What we have to do is stand ready … stay awake and alert … and say YES! Whatever it is that comes our way from God … say YES! Because that is EXACTLY what the people did who were waiting for the Messiah … and lo and behold … therein laid their hope … therein lies OUR hope …
It’s in Advent, the verb … Advent, the state of mind … Advent, the Promise … and how exciting it will be a year from now to look back and see just exactly what God was bring to pass for our little “merry band of believers” because, friends … God’s already got the details worked out. God’s just waiting around for everything to fall into place and then it’s going to be “go, go, go, go, go ….”
With God’s Grace … we’ll all be ready. Amen.