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Sermon preached at Immanuel Church-on-the-Hill in Alexandria, VA on November 27, 2016.
I Advent, Year A (RCL): Isaiah 2:1-5; Psalm 122; Romans 13:11-14; Matthew 24:36-44

May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of all our hearts,
be always acceptable, O Lord, our Strength and our Redeemer. Amen.       

          Charles Dickens’novella, A Christmas Carol, is a well known story that makes its rounds every year about this time.  Its theme is an eternal truth: the importance that time has on us and how our perception of it helps us live our lives most authentically.  Dickens’ story, which you probably know, uses Ghosts of Christmas Past, Christmas Present, and Christmas Future, to show a man how he turned into a mean, miserly person.  Each ghost helps him understand just how unhappy he is and how miserable his life is.  The story is so popular - it plays every Christmas in the Nation's Capital at Ford’s Theater, and that there are at least 45 adaptations, featuring among others, Mickey Mouse, the Muppets, Bugs Bunny, the Smurfs, and of course my wife Chrissie's favorite, Mister Magoo, that have been made based on it – because the man, Ebenezer Scrooge, wakes up from his nightmares and chooses to do something about his own life and thereby makes his world a better place because of it.
Today is the First Sunday of Advent, the first Sunday of the new church year, a great opportunity to think about time for all of us.  The word "Advent," from the Latin 'adventus,' means "coming."  So in Advent, we celebrate the various comings of Jesus, the Word incarnate and God on earth.  I invite you now to consider with me how this Season of Advent, just like Dickens’ story, can operate in three tenses, all at once: Past, Future, and Present.        
To begin with, in Advent, we await the birth of the Christ child as we recall a past event, a birth that happened over 2000 years ago; it is a celebration that will happen -- that is already is beginning to happen -- right now.
         And this past event has great significance to our present time.  In Advent we once again await the birth of Christ into our lives, our families, our church, and the world.  We await this Christmas, that holy evening, just 28 days away, where bathed in candlelight, we will say: "Yes Lord! Thank You Lord" and rejoice in his presence, his having come among us as a babe, a child, a man, a human like us, to love, to teach, and to heal us. 
        And as we wait, we savor those things that remind us of all the good Christmases that have past.  We relish them and make them part of this Christmas, with music and carols, special dinner dishes and treats, candle lit worship, visits and phone calls, prayers and readings, cards and notes, and those wonderful smells of the season.
In Advent, we await a past event and indeed we prepare our lives for it.  And the preparation we do now enriches our lives and makes this is a special time.       
        But in Advent, we also await the future, a special future: we await the unveiling of the reign of God, something continually being revealed, but yet to be fully realized.
        We await a time that the prophet Isaiah, and Jesus, and St. Paul all describe as a time of judgment: a time when accounts are settled, not always comfortably, but most rightly; a time when two will be in the field, one will be taken and one will be left; and a time when at long last, all swords are beaten into plowshares and all spears are fashioned into pruning hooks, so that peace, everlasting peace, may finally come.  
        We await a time of judgment and a time of salvation, the time of Christ's return, the time when the whole world is of God's Kingdom, the time when all who have passed through judgment are as one: one in joy, and in faith, and in hope, and in love; the time when sin, suffering, pain, and death are no more.
        Come, says Isaiah as he proclaims the word of judgment and of salvation in today's reading, "Come - let us walk in the light of the Lord!"  Perhaps you hear, as I do, that "come" is a word about what to do now: today, as we await tomorrow.  "Come, let us walk in the light of the Lord" says Isaiah.  "Stay awake, be alert", says Jesus.  "Put on the armor of light." says Paul.  "Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires."  That is the third tense of Advent. The present tense.  The active tense.  
        Advent is not just about preparing for Christ's coming as a child from the past.  Nor is Advent just about preparing for Christ's coming as the righteous king in the future.  Advent is also, finally, perhaps even primarily, about preparing for Christ's coming in our lives right now.  Preparing for his light to be around us and shine forth from within us today.  Preparing that his spirit will dwell in our hearts and our minds, right now, this minute; for his living presence to be seen in all that we say and do and all that we see and hear.
        In this sense, that Advent memory and the Advent hope are joined together: together our past experience and our future expectations about the reign of God and about the Christ, the Messiah, are realized now, not simply because of our preparation for it; but because of the divine truth about God's past and God's present and God's future: the truth that God has been with us, and will yet be with us, and even now is with us.
       Advent, as a season of the church year, helps us to be prepared; it reminds us to keep our ears, eyes and our hearts open, open for the in-breaking of the saving presence and power of God Almighty.
      These are indeed times like those times of Noah.  Ordinary times when those devoted to one another are given in marriage to wed, when children play games and go to school, and adults go to work or to the market every day.
      These are ordinary times with our wars and our moments of conflict; ordinary times with our good and our evil; ordinary times with our love and our hate; ordinary times when it is easy to forget the extraordinary and to forget to be ready for it.  For all time, but especially for this time, this ordinary time, this time right now, the question is: Is your home in order?  Is it ready?  Does it even now embrace our Savior?  If we look ahead to the Collect for the Fourth Sunday of Advent, we hear: "Purify our conscience, Almighty God, by your daily visitation, that your Son Jesus Christ, at his coming, may find in us a mansion prepared for himself."
      Look around you.  I think you know and I think the church understands how to embrace the coming of the Christ Child.  How to ready for this celebration.  How to decorate that which is outside, and how to decorate, how to hallow, that which is inside.  And I think as I listen to you pray at your homes and here in this sanctuary that you know how to read the signs of the times; to pray for God's kingdom to come and for his will to be done on earth as it is in heaven.
      I share your longing for peace as we hear news from around the globe about terrorist bombings, or warfare; people being displaced from homes, persecuted for their faith, driven from their homes; as we think of children who go hungry, and as we see earthquakes and floods that afflict our world.  I think I know what you hope, for we all hope for it; we all hope for the time of eternal blessing, we hope for us, and we hope for the world that Christ the Messiah will return in power and great glory.
       But what about now?  What about the God who is here now?  The Christ who is here now?  Is our house ready for him?  Are we making him welcome and comfortable?  Do we let him live with us and own us completely?  Are we able to invite him into every nook and cranny of our homes, or are there beds we hope he will not look under, and rooms we hope he will not enter?
       You know that room, that room where we hide our anger and resentment at someone; that space we disappear into when it seems that doing the right thing might cost us more time, more comfort, or more money than we care to think about; that area where we separate out people, one from the other; that courtyard where we make judgments about others and what they need and what they deserve.
      Do we need our own ghosts of the past, present and future to visit us and inspire us?  Or can we take what this season of Advent offers without the nightmares?       
      Advent speaks to us about God coming to us, about Christ coming to us, about light shining into the darkness, spears being turned into pruning hooks, about judgment coming upon the earth, and salvation to the people of God.
Advent speaks for yesterday, and tomorrow, and most of all, for today.  We commemorate the coming of the Christ Child at Bethlehem, his Second Coming as the Messiah at the end of the world, and his coming to us in the time of our baptism and through the receiving of his sacraments at this table through Holy Eucharist. The Church urges us to open our hearts and minds to receive him with faith, hope, and love.
      The prophet Isaiah, St. Paul, and Jesus have given us good words and advice in our readings today.  These are true words and sound direction from God.  Not just for the coming of the Kingdom over all the world, but for the coming of Christ in our lives today. I also hope you didn’t miss the repeated message to WAKE UP!   So I challenge us, you and me, all of us, to do just that.  WAKE UP!!  Let’s clean our houses and prepare our mansions.  Open the doors to those secret places and purify your conscience.  Cast out the ghosts that may try to inhabit your lives.  Be inspired by Ebenezer Scrooge, wake up and let your world be changed by who you are.  Let the Lord who knocks, come in, and dine with you for those daily visitations.  Let him ready you for the fullness of his promises, day by day. 
      Now.  Now.  Now.