Log in

No account? Create an account

Previous Entry | Next Entry

Sermon: Waiting, Preparation, Anticipation

Sermon preached at Immanuel Church-on-the-Hill in Alexandria, VA November 30, 2014.

1st Sunday of Advent; Year B (RCL): Isaiah 64:1-9; Psalm 80:1-7, 16-18; 1 Corinthians 1:3-9; Mark 13:24-37


         Restore us, O Lord God of Hosts;

show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved.

         When I was younger and Advent began, I could feel my excitement about Christmas build daily. Maybe it was because of the ads on TV or seeing all the decorations appear, but I constantly wondered: Would I get what I wanted? Now I wonder – “What if you got all you wanted, all you ever wanted, and if wasn’t enough? What then?

People gathered to await the word to come. They all came with hearts they had prepared. Some expected one thing; others tried to imagine something differently. As they waited to hear, the day gave way to dusk, and then night, and they finally were cloaked by darkness. Many stood together anticipating the announcement.  

         Waiting, preparation, anticipation.

         Today we begin a new liturgical church year with Advent. The season of Advent is characterized by expectant waiting, hopeful anticipation, and cheerful preparation. But sadly, our country is torn again by the strife of racial inequality. The grand jury decision in Ferguson, MO addressing the shooting death of a black teenager by a white police officer has re-ignited cultural tensions along with cries for justice. Black lives matter. Just as much as any other life matters.

         We need not debate specifics of the case or the decision made. I am troubled by the death of this young man who, made in the image of our Creator, was a precious child of God. This incident and his death exposes some ugly human conventions and deep-rooted attitudes in this land. It could have been Anytown USA, but this time it was Ferguson, MO, where prejudice, discrimination, division, brokenness, and a significant lack of trust played out, first on a bloody street in broad daylight, and eventually through long, dark nights with images of riot, fire, and destruction.

         Waiting, preparation, anticipation. It is a new church year and Advent is here.      

This season of preparation is to ready the way of the Lord. In our world. In ourselves. Advent, which means “coming” in Latin, is a time to remember who God is and who we are meant to be. For four short weeks, we again wait and prepare for the Word Incarnate coming into the world showing how God bends down, yoking the Creator’s great work back into the Kingdom of Heaven.

         Today’s readings may not be what you expected to hear today with Christmas fast approaching. The prophet Isaiah opens with the urgent plea, “O that you would tear the heavens and come down... We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth.” The psalmist’s appeal in Psalm to “stir up your strength and come help us. Restore us, O God of hosts, show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved.” Some of that may sound familiar from the Advent prayers. Both are crying out for an apparently distant, angry God to show up, to save, and to restore. And in the Gospel, when we hear Jesus describing the coming of the Son of Man with stars falling from heaven -- it sounds grave and horrible, unlike anything we would even ever hope for. But when we really do account for the suffering of the people God loves, and the injustices of this world, we, like the Israelites, all share the hope that God will tear open the heavens and come.

         In Isaiah, we hear the lament of a people who have had their hopes shattered.    Israel has been in Babylonian exile. The visions of a rebuilt Jerusalem and a renewed people of God, spoken of in earlier Chapters have not been realized. Instead, the people know ruin, conflict, and famine. Their lament calls God to account – to be the God who brought deliverance in the past.

         Mark shows Jesus encouraging his followers to look forward to the day when he returns in power and glory to end all suffering.    

         All four gospels repeatedly refer to the Jewish apocalyptic figure called the Son of Man, a mysterious human-like judge, who as part of the cosmic upset at the end of time, will appear in the sky to represent God to the people and the people to God. The term does not speak to Jesus being the human son of Mary. All of today’s readings describe the end of the world with the arrival of the Son of Man in both frightening and comforting language. As Mark says it, the sun will be darkened, yet summer buds promise new life.

         There are many biblical references to the fig tree. An image in ancient myth and literature for male fertility, the fig tree provided both food and shade for Israelites and even clothing in the story of the fall in the Garden. Thus in Chapter 13 of Mark, the fig tree is a positive image signaling the presence of God. What is now in bud will see its fruition.

Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians emphasizes the promises. As Christians in Corinth await the Second Advent, the return of Christ, St. Paul reminds them how the Lord has already enriched them through spiritual gifts and will continue to strengthen them until the coming day of the Lord.

         The reading from Isaiah ends on that uplifting expectation: God is like a potter, shaping us who are made of clay. Isaiah’s words remind our Creator – We are your people!

We know now that not only did God create the universe but God also forms us daily in the grace given us in Christ Jesus. We all still seek God to address the injustices of our lives. We seek forgiveness and restoration. We call out to be renewed. We seek to be remade.        

         Jesus tells us we will be gathered from the four winds, that God will assemble us from the ends of the earth. The author of Mark imagines earth as a flat-cornered plain, edged with mountains. The evangelist, only three decades after the ministry of Jesus, anticipates that the elect will come from all corners of the earth.

         During this Advent, we are now collectively called to reflect upon the state of ourselves, in Ferguson, also in Alexandria, and here at Immanuel. We again seek God and to be God’s people.

         Advent is not a time of hopeless, helpless waiting. It is active, alert waiting. We are exhorted to keep awake and to be watchful. We are challenged to be present, now, to live in this moment. We are called to wait, to prepare and to anticipate these moments. Now. For God is always present, in spite of any time of preparation and waiting and anticipation. God is here. God is near.

                     One aspect of the Church’s call to us in this world is to invite a countercultural existence for the sake of being the change it wishes to see in the world. Recall the many parables of Jesus that we have heard recently! We are to look, see and respond where mission and ministry are needed. We must be open to new things with faith and hope. We are commanded to serve the “least of these” with the best of ourselves; we are to use that which God gives us to share with others.

         Yesterday I spent some extra time reading almost everything in the editorial pages of the Washington Post. I read the columns, letters, and articles that spoke about Ferguson, MO or related to it. And I found that many, if not all, while speaking from different sides of the situation with varying opinions, seem to have valid points to make. And I wondered: How do we bring this all together, calmly, rationally, and effectively, to walk the road toward constructive change and justice for all? I wish I knew. For right now, I have only questions. But I do continue to pray: Lord, please help us all.

         We can expect God to stay in God’s place, and that we remain where we are, but that will not help fix the injustices of the world. As we wait for the coming consummation of hope, someone must remain awake, alert, and actively prayerful.

         My Momma said, “Don’t be wishing your life away!” Advent should not be wishing away the present in anticipation of the Christmas yet to come. Rather, Advent should be a time of living in the present, knowing that the Incarnation that is Christmas makes fully embodied presence possible.

         Let us live this Advent as though God’s presence is assumed, and trust that that reality therefore changes the meaning of our present.

         In closing, let me share a short prayer a Facebook friend posted yesterday in preparation for this First Advent:

I love Jesus, who said to us:

heaven and earth will pass away.

When heaven and earth have passed away,

my word will still remain.

What was your word, Jesus?

Love? Forgiveness? Affection?

All your words were

one word: Wakeup.[1]


[1] Proverbios y Cantares VII, ~ Antonio Machado, Translated by Robert Bly, in The Soul Is Here For Its Own Joy.