Sunday, November 27, 2011

Sermon: 1st Advent (Nov. 27)

Most gracious Lord, by whose direction this time is appointed for renewing the memory of your infinite mercy to us in the incarnation of your Son Jesus; grant that we may live into this holy time, in the spirit of thanksgiving, and every day raise up our hearts to you in the grateful acknowledgment of what you have done for us. Help our souls receive your Son once again at the approaching solemnity of Christmas. And as Christ came into the world to do good to all, guide us, so we may be watchful at this time in avoiding everything that can be injurious to our neighbors, but in all things may follow the spirit of charity, bringing comfort and relief to all. Grant, O Lord that we may prepare to meet our redeemer. Amen. From John Goter, 17th Century (adapted)

Thanksgiving is over. Well, it was barely over when our national holiday of Black Friday began. There is nothing wrong with wanting to find a bargain (I clip coupons!) but to hear about such violence and such raw greed on the day after thanksgiving bothers me.

Into such darkness, our new year is born – our season of Advent, with our new blue set, in the darkest of days, hopeful of the Coming of our Savior, in the 1st Advent - Birth of Jesus and in the 2nd Advent - The return of Jesus.

Advent is our season that calls our spiritual lives to be awakened, to "cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light" as our collect calls us to do.

What are your works of darkness? Do you know them? Do you wrestle with them night and day? Is that what we saw on the news regarding “Black Friday”?

There is something about Advent that makes us suddenly mindful. Perhaps it is the clear night skies with the gaze of the moon and stars on us. Perhaps it is the windswept clarity of early winter, when the trees are swept bare, and there is no sign of the lushness of summer to hide our works of darkness from ourselves and from one another.

And what does Jesus call us to do in these days – “keep awake-- for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.” Why is that? Why keep awake when the rest of the animal kingdom is bedding down for the winter? Storing up for a long winter's nap? Why is it now that you and I are to be awake?

In Advent, salvation is nearer to us, nearer to us because we are preparing for the coming of the Christ child. We are preparing for the return of Christ. We are waking up to God with us.

So that is why. But how do we wake up when our bodies are telling us to hibernate with the best of them. The darkness beckons to us, lulls us into slumber, and for some of us, even into depression. How do we do we fight all of that and put on the armor of light?

Jesus said to his disciples, "In those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see `the Son of Man coming in clouds' with great power and glory.”

Jesus told us that he would come again, but he didn't give us a time, lay out a plan. He only told us to keep awake, be ready, he will come at an unexpected time, in a time of darkness and suffering, but when he comes there will be glory. We fight the darkness by keeping watch…

It is like a young wife and her infant daughter who can barely contain themselves as they wait. Any moment now her husband's unit will march into the arena after a year in Afghanistan. They've talked every day via Skype, so at least she knew he had made it through another day; he saw images on his laptop of their little Sarah who was born after he left - he has yet to hold his daughter.

The waiting began with the first word that his unit would be called up; the waiting took on new urgency as he made arrangements for the family's care during his absence. Waiting was part of the couple's everyday routine until they made their daily Skype connection - and if it was late or delayed, the waiting became unbearable. Their waiting became expectation as the day approached when he would come home.

Now, on this day they have been waiting for for an eternity, their eyes meet the moment he enters the arena. A few more minutes for the formal dismissal . . . wait, wait, wait. And the long wait melts when husband and father, wife and mother, and beautiful daughter are in each other's arms again. They go home, happily awaiting the next chapter of their life together as a family.
Such a story is what Advent’s waiting and hoping and expecting are all about. Such hopefulness is the light in the darkness.

So how do we become ready?

That wonderful 17th Century prayer I said at the beginning of this says it all: that as Christ came into the world to do good to all, that we too may thus prepare to meet him, that we may be watchful at this time above all others, in avoiding everything that can hurt our neighbors and in all things following the spirit of charity, bring comfort and relief to all, si that we may prepare to meet our redeemer.

If we are doing those things, if we are waiting with such anticipation, we will be ready when he comes again in his glory with the armor of light on us.

May we in this holy time of Advent, renew our lives by waking up and remembering the gift that God gave to us so long ago in the birth of his son, and who invites us into a joyous time of preparation to remember and rejoice at Christmas, and to prepare and wait for Christ's coming again among us. Amen.

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