Sunday, November 30, 2014

Sermon: Nov 30 (Advent I)

Sermon given at the 8 AM service...

Come, O Holy One, as the morning light after a wakeful night!
Keep us mindful that at any moment you may ask of us an accounting of our lives;
help us to love you and love one another in all we do,
and so clothe us with your light that we may bring others to love you also,
through Jesus our Savior. Amen. (Rev. Jennifer Phillips)

Thanksgiving is over and I pray yours was wonderful. The Hubers had a delightful time in New Hampshire with family. Plus 14 inches of snow to boot! A great time was had by all.

On our trip, there was a traffic sign warning us of impending road work. It kept saying, Stay alert!

Driving on a freeway, you need to stay alert or else there may be dire consequences (I think of all the fatalities they report after the holiday weekend). As we enter this holy season of Advent, as the days turn darker, we journey together in hopeful of the Coming of our Savior, in the 1st Advent - Birth of Jesus and in the 2nd Advent - The return of Jesus at the end of our days.

So what does Jesus call us to do in Advent? Stay alert!
Jesus said in today’s Gospel, “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 storing up for a long winter's nap? Why is it now that you and I are to be awake?

In Advent, we are reminded that 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.

Our collect this morning prays that God will “give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light.” 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, bearing witness to his love and sharing the light with gratitude toward others.
Mary Chapin Carpenter is one of the most popular and enduring singer-songwriters in country and folk music. Over her 25-year career, Carpenter's 13 albums have sold millions of copies and garnered five Grammy Awards

But in 2007 it almost all came to an end. She had just finished touring and returned home to her Virginia farm when she suffered severe chest pains and terrible breathlessness. A scan revealed blood clots in her lungs. She was lucky that it was discovered in time - but Carpenter wasn't prepared for the pain, fear and depression that followed. She wrote this:

"Everything I had been looking forward to came to a screeching halt. I had to cancel my upcoming tour. I had to let my musicians and crew members go. The record company, the booking agency: I felt that I had let everyone down. But there was nothing to do but get out of the hospital, go home and get well. I tried hard to see my unexpected time off as a gift, but I would open a novel and couldn't concentrate. I would turn on the radio, then shut it off. Familiar clouds gathered above my head, and I couldn't make them go away with a pill or a movie or a walk. This unexpected time was becoming a curse . . . of the darkness that is depression.

"Sometimes, it's the smile of a stranger that helps. Sometimes it's a phone call from a long absent friend, checking on you. I found my lifeline at the grocery store. One morning, the young man who rang up my groceries and asked me if I wanted paper or plastic also told me to enjoy the rest of my day. I looked at him and I knew he meant it. It stopped me in my tracks. I went out and I sat in my car and cried. What I want more than ever is to appreciate that I have this day, and tomorrow and hopefully days beyond that. I am experiencing the learning curve of gratitude.

"I don't want to say 'have a nice day' like a robot. I don't want to get mad at the elderly driver in front of me. I don't want to go crazy when my Internet access is messed up. I don't want to be jealous of someone else's success. You could say that this litany of sins indicates that I don't want to be human. The learning curve of gratitude, however, is showing me exactly how human I am…Tonight I will cook dinner, tell my husband how much I love him, curl up with the dogs, watch the sun go down over the mountains and climb into bed. I will think about how uncomplicated it all is. I will wonder at how it took me my entire life to appreciate just one day." [From "The Learning Curve of Gratitude" by Mary Chapin Carpenter, from the series This I Believe, NPR, June 23, 2007.]
Throughout the Advent of our lives, we encounter the returning "master of the house": those unexpected changes and struggles, like illness, that shake us and unsettle us, reminding us how precious and limited time is and how grateful and humbled we should be for the lives we have. Advent challenges us to see our lives not as a disjointed set of experiences and circumstances but as a pilgrimage to the dwelling place of God - a journey in which every moment, every step is a new revelation of God's presence in our midst. Advent calls us to "be watchful" along the way and be attentive to the unmistakable signs of God's love and peace in our lives, to live life expectantly as a gift from God.

May we in this holy time of Advent, renew our lives by staying alert and keeping awake, living life as the gift it is, not knowing what our days will be, but remembering the gifts that God so freely gave to us 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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