Sunday, November 27, 2016 –The First Sunday of Advent
Psalm 122: 2-9 Romans 13:11-14 Matthew 24:36-44
“Get ready” the text from Isaiah says. Get ready for that moment when the nations will come streaming to the House of the Lord. “Get ready” the text from Matthew’s Gospel says – get ready for God’s coming at an unexpected hour. You can’t possibly expect it, but be ready.
In our lives we have done a lot of getting ready – there was all the preparation for Thanksgiving, whether you were hosting or traveling, cooking or cleaning (or both).
There are all the ads telling us we should have been ready for Christmas ages ago, what’s wrong with us? “Get ready,” already!! There’s the weather reminding us this past week that winter is upon us, get ready. (Boots, tires, shovels, salt… winterized and ready?) And the darkness, earlier every evening (if 4:20 is evening), are you ready? With candles, flashlights, plenty of batteries, gas for the generator, wood for the fire, just in case the power goes out, “get ready.”
That’s a lot of “get ready” being thrown our way – and I’m not sure I’m up for it. Not this year – when the darkness seems so much darker. While we are not all in agreement over the election, we are all experiencing this new territory together – for this a new place for our nation, a place of uncertainty, as the unexpected has happened and everyone watches unsure of what to expect. It feels unsteady – adding a layer of nervous tension to the fear already gripping the nation. In a strange and deeply sad way, we have circled around and now stand on common ground. The rhetoric of the campaign trail manipulated and fueled the fears of a portion of the population, and the current reality in which we find ourselves has the remaining population pretty terrified – so here we are; all together in one place. Though arriving by different doorways, we are together in a place of fear and uncertainty. Common ground, if distressing, dangerous ground. This is not our normal starting point for Advent. We aren’t ready to “get ready” yet. In all honesty – we aren’t sure we want to get ready for Advent. We aren’t sure we have it in us. I know, I understand. We need a moment. But here’s the problem, the world is desperately in need of us.
Did you hear this story? It made the national news this week. 17 year old Jamal Hinton got a group text on Tuesday, letting him know what time thanksgiving was being served at Grandma’s. But he was pretty sure it wasn’t from his grandma, because she doesn’t text, and he didn’t recognize the names of the other people in the message. He replied, mentioning that this was probably a wrong number. The grandma, Wanda Dench, sent a selfie, (she is white, and blonde), and Jamal replied with one of his own, (he is a young black man). As he said, not his grandma! But … he added, “Can I still have a plate, tho?” And Wanda texted back immediately, “Of course, that’s what grandmas do, we feed everyone.” Their exchange got posted to the internet and went viral, turns out the world needed to hear that strangers could be kind to one another, in our country at this time. And they have now met, even had a plate together on Thanksgiving (though with TV cameras watching.) People needed to watch this moment, we needed to see good news.
So you can see why I think the world needs us to be Advent People. We can do it, if we are brave; we can become Advent People, but we have to be willing to let go of our fear. I realize that’s a lot to ask, but things are far too dark and dangerous for us to isolate ourselves in our fear, or it’s outward manifestations of anger or escapism. And truthfully, our fear isn’t helpful to us or to anyone else. The world needs us to do better than that.
We can let go of our fear – because we know better. We know these are not the first dark and difficult times the people of God have faced. Which is part of what we bring to the world, our perspective as a people who walk in the footsteps of those who have gone before. People who have been steeped in these texts, and who know the promises of God. We know more, the deeper reality of our lives, this is not all there is. We are people of faith, we are people living in the time between what is, and what will be.
The people of God have been here before – it has been difficult before. The text from Isaiah addresses a broken and disparate people, telling them of God’s promised salvation. Isaiah’s vision asks them to see through God’s eyes a future that is more than they can imagine given the dismal present in which they find themselves. The prophet says, look past this to God’s future. And have faith in God’s promises.
In the time of Jesus, the people of Israel are occupied by the greatest force on earth, the Roman empire. And yet, Jesus assures them, this is not all there is, nor all that will be. In our text this morning, Jesus is talking to the disciples about the second coming of the Son of Man, about what will happen in theirs and our future, in God’s time. Be ready for what God is going to do for God’s people. All that is coming will be other than this – for the ways of God are not the ways of this world. Get ready – for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.
The readiness Jesus is talking about isn’t so much a carefully scripted evacuation plan as a posture of being ready; a disposition of faith-filled readiness for what is next, for something radically different than this.
Be ready, Jesus says, be Advent People: model living as people in this between time. Live our life abundant in the here and now, as those with faith. Live without fear – be faithful, fully present in this life, while participating in the coming of the kingdom, in small ways and in great: living witnesses to the promises of God. The world needs us to be Advent People now more than ever – to bring the light, hope, joy and love of Christ into the world, with faith and confidence.
What does it look like to be “Advent Ready?” While fear has others turning inward, Advent People turn outward: to face the world; to pay attention for signs and wonders; to see what
God is doing in the world, and how we might participate; to see the needs of others and how we might respond; to be those who facilitate the coming of the Kingdom.
As Advent People we move out fearlessly into the world as people of faith, because there are people in need of our help, our protection, our reassurance, our compassion. There are people in need of our mature and faithful witness to the ways of God, which are the ways of peace. As we exemplify God’s ways and walk in God’s paths, and beat swords in ploughshares and spears in pruning-hooks, so nation shall not lift up sword against nation, and we shall not learn war any more.
In these dark and dangerous times, our witness is needed to provide hope and light to others. We will have to be bold in our being Advent People. Step out of our Anglican/Episcopal tactfulness, our New England ‘live and let live’ reticence. We are going to have to step out of our comfort zone and become active Advent People.
We will need to address the outward symptoms: by actively confronting the hate-filled speech, and offering safety to those who are threatened. We will need to address the underlying issues and disparities that spawn so much of the fear. And continue to support those in need of support: those who are newly arrived to our shores, and those who have been entrenched here for generations of poverty, assisting both without prejudice or judgment.
The world needs us to be brave enough to be Advent People, catalysts for God’s light in the darkness, and agents of God’s promises to a broken world.
Being Advent People means we are people of faith, people who believe in the promises of God, in what will be but is not yet, people who live in the here and now, believing in what is possible, no matter how dark it appears in the moment.
This Advent, we anticipate all that God will yet do, as we walk with faith toward the promises of God. Even in the midst of all that we can’t control or even predict. People of faith who know that all that has ever been difficult and hard in this world, the darkness of this life is overwhelmed by the light of Christ coming into the world. Always.
Believe it. With all your heart and soul and mind and strength; and walk into this Advent faithfully with courage. In the words of our prophet, Isaiah: “Come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!” Because the world needs some faithful Advent People, like us.