Saturday, November 26, 2011

Are You Waiting in Joyful Hope?

November 27, 2011
Mark 13:33-37

Jesus said to his disciples:
"Be watchful! Be alert!
You do not know when the time will come.
It is like a man traveling abroad.
He leaves home and places his servants in charge,
each with his own work,
and orders the gatekeeper to be on the watch.
Watch, therefore;
you do not know when the Lord of the house is coming,
whether in the evening, or at midnight,
or at cockcrow, or in the morning.
May he not come suddenly and find you sleeping.

What I say to you, I say to all: 'Watch!'"

We begin a new church year this Sunday with the First Sunday of Advent.
We mark the passing of time by celebrating special occasions such as birthdays and anniversaries. Some days are more special for us than other days. Wedding days are special days and wedding anniversaries are special days. In one sense those special days are the same as every other day because the sun rises and sets in the same way and everybody else goes about their business in the normal way, but for the happy couple such a day is a special day, a day to be celebrated, a day for which to be thankful and grateful.
Today is a special day, and not just a day, but the beginning of a special season, Advent. During Advent we focus on waiting, waiting for the Second Coming of Jesus, and during the week before Christmas our waiting changes to waiting for our celebration of the birth of Jesus. Anytime we wait we do so because we expect something to happen; we wait for a bus or train because we expect it to arrive. When we are wait for a bus or train we cannot see it coming but hope it will come. During Advent we are waiting for the Second Coming of Jesus because the Second Coming of Jesus will bring all God’s plans for the world to completion. As we wait in hope for the Second Coming of Jesus we know he is with us in so many ways especially in the sacraments. So during Advent we are conscious of the fact that God is present with us while we wait for the fulfillment of God’s plans.

The words of Jesus in the Gospel today express the mood of this early part of the Advent season,

“Be on your guard, stay awake, because you never know when the time will come.” (Mark 13:33)

We ended the Church year last Sunday with that apocalyptic vision where Jesus returns and we are judged. Judgment for the Hebrew was not like for an American. While we mostly think of justice as good being rewarded and evil being punished, for the Hebrew person, justice meant that the world would be put in the right order, as God had created it before the Fall.
Today, then, in the Gospel of Mark, we pick up that theme. But instead of focusing on the end, we now focus on the waiting – that time of waiting – when we can best prepare for whatever the end will be – whether it be the end of our lives, the second coming, or the remembrance of Christ’s birthday.
We are reminded that we do not know the day or the time when this will be. And that is frustrating! Look how many people seem to try to discover that time – and walk around with signs that say the end of the world will be on such and such a date. Especially in this year of 2012 just arriving. Christ tells us not to worry about that. Live in the present with an eye to the future. If we drove our cars only looking at the rearview mirror to see what was coming in the immediate future, we would crash into something! We cannot know when the end will happen. No-one knows the future. And so, what do we do in the interim – we watch, we wait, we acquire patience, we prepare by reviewing all of the teachings of Jesus about how to inherit the kingdom, and we practice. That is really what Advent is all about. It is not about fear – it is about HOPE.
We are called to watch, to be attentive to the presence of God. The returning, which is a major theme today, is not just the return of Jesus but the returning of ourselves to God. We need to spend time examining our lives in preparation for the celebration of Christ’s first coming, and in anticipation of his second coming. We must learn to be patient – and we Americans are not a patient people! The birth of Christ into this world and into our hearts is well worth the wait. Even though we know that this birth has already happened, we also know that in a surprising way, it hasn’t happened at all: we are still mean to our neighbors, we still hide the truth from those who love us, we envy and lust over things that are not ours, and there are horrible evils all around us in this emerging twenty-first century. We need the birth of Christ in our hearts and into the world. We need patience.
Advent, then, is an expression of our faith in the possibility of a better world. We don’t have to be at each other’s throats. We can ‘do right’ in the areas of race relations, family obligations, and personal responsibilities. We can ‘do good’ to the poor, the elderly, the homeless, and to all our brothers and sisters at home and abroad. We can become blameless, beacons of social justice, examples of faith and love, peacemakers.
The message of Advent is to be on the watch! We base this constant watch not on fear but on hope in God’s promise of eternal life. The promise of Christmas is a joyful anticipation that The Lord will shower his gifts, and our land will yield its fruit.

Peace and love,
Rev. Sue Provost

"This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. " (1 John 4:9-10)

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