1ST SUNDAY IN ADVENT – B
ST. ANDREW'S: 11-29-20
I discovered backpacking as a teenager. I also discovered that I could hike faster than my older trail companions. This came in handy when they needed people to go ahead to scout out springs or set up camp or go ahead of the group because we were running late to our pick up point. (Remember there were no cell phones back then). So I got pretty good, even with a heavy pack, at moving fast, following blazes, seeing what was in the distance. Then it happened. My back and my ankle were giving me trouble and I settled in with the group, hiking behind the eldest member of our group who organized most of our trips and hiked very much by the philosophy of slow and steady wins the race. I did not like her pace. But she rarely had to take breaks. And hiking at a different pace, albeit forced, with a different perspective, I noticed, along the same stretch of New Jersey headed toward Delaware Water Gap that I had hiked before, beavers in the water, fawns in the brush, wildflowers along the trail. It was amazing. And it caused me to wonder – what had I missed before? There would be others in my life who would help me to slow down too. Because to really be immersed in wonder and awe and beauty and power, I needed to slow down, watch, wait, stay alert, pay attention.
Maybe the season of Advent is like that too. So often we see Christmas as a destination to rush towards, carrying our to do list which we pursue frantically. And it has often been the church's job to be the annoying countercultural voice who waits to celebrate, waits to sing Christmas carols, preaches the season of Advent as a time to slow down, reflect, ponder one's relationship with God and one another, I have preached those sermons, and people largely humored me as they rushed off to decorating, parties, and Christmas shopping. I have preached those sermons and then I myself rushed off to decorating, parties, and Christmas shopping. No time to slow down, watch, wait, pay attention, read, pray, spend quality time with family and friends. And often the journey is just as important as the destination. So maybe, this year, with less open, less travel, we can journey differently. We can experience more. We can notice more. About ourselves, our family, our friends, the natural world around us even as the color of fall has turned to a simpler more barren landscape but no less brilliant sky. Can we pay attention?
In this morning's Gospel lesson, I would say that Jesus does a pretty good job of getting the disciples' attention. He certainly got my attention! And yet despite how Jesus' words sound to us, he wasn't trying to get their attention with doom and gloom to scare them. Rather it was to reassure them and give them hope that no matter what happened, God would be with them. If that makes no sense to you, then perhaps some context would be helpful. The Gospel of Mark was written around the time of the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. Nero was ordering the killing of Christians and Christians were fighting among themselves. Many thought that the end of the world was coming and for some the world, as they knew it, had already ended. The saw the end of the world coming but what they needed to see was how Jesus was coming. They needed to stay alert and pay attention to what was going on around them. And so do we.
According to Episcopal priest, professor, and writer Barbara Brown Taylor, there are three different ways that people wait for the second coming of Christ.
The first way is to look for the literal end of the world. Many people have tried to figure out when the end of the world would come by dissecting the book of Revelation and reading the signs and / or by mathematical calculations. People have made millions of dollars with books explaining when and how the end of the world will come, only to have their readers be reminded later that as Jesus says, "No one knows the day or the hour except the Father."
The second way is to let our awareness of the end times heighten our commitment to the present. In other words, let's make the best of the lives God has given us and help to serve those in need. Let us love our neighbors as ourselves and give them glimpses of the coming kingdom.
The third way to wait for Christ's return is to see that there is not just one end to the world just as there is not just one coming of Christ. When Solomon's Temple was destroyed, the Jews thought that their world had ended. When Jesus died, the disciples thought that their world had ended. When the Temple and Jerusalem fell once more and Nero began his killing spree, they thought the world had ended. With World Wars and the Holocaust, people thought the world was ending. Really the world can end at any time with a declaration of war, the death of a child, a bleak diagnosis. Lots of things can end our world as we know it.
Yet this season of Advent reminds us that God keeps coming into our midst each and every day and giving us the strength and hope that we need to press on against all odds, in those places where hope can seem hard to find. We are called to open our eyes and ears and hearts. To pay attention – not only to God's kingdom that is coming but to the places where God's kingdom is already present, revealed here and now. In Word and Sacrament, prayer and song, family and friends, food and celebration and love. We live in the divine drama between the now and the not yet, proclaiming Christ's coming in history, mystery, and majesty, remembering how God came to us in the past as a baby in a manger, a Savior on the cross, and a risen Lord out of the tomb, noticing the ways God speaks to us here and now, and looking forward to how God will come to us in the future to make all things new.
Let us pray – God of new beginnings, meet us wherever we are on our journey, open our eyes, our ears, and our hearts, and use us in ways we cannot imagine just yet to be a blessing to others and a sign of your coming kingdom. Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.