Tuesday, November 29, 2016

November 27 Sermon (Advent I)

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, 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. Besides this, we ask your grace, O God, that we may make a due use of this holy time, for preparing our souls to receive Christ our Lord coming into the world at the approaching solemnity of Christmas. Amen. - From John Goter, 17th Century (adapted)

Moose… Stay alert.

That was our welcome to Vermont.

A bright yellow sign, warning of what may lay ahead, Moose… Stay alert. I think it’s perfect sign for Advent.

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. There is something about Advent that makes us suddenly alert. 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.

St. Paul wants us to wake up, as we heard “Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers.” 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. 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 depression. How do we do we fight all of that? How do we put on that armor of Light?

Jesus said, “Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into...

She was miserable: stuck in a job she hated, no one special in her life. While her friends were busy celebrating weddings and having adorable children and prospering in careers they loved, she was alone, mired in self-pity. But her perspective changed in an instant.

She just had lunch with her mother. Her poor mom listened to her daughter's litany of unhappiness and tried to offer what support she could. Then she returned to her small apartment. While in the kitchen, she heard a noise in the hall - and suddenly remembered that she had forgotten to lock the door behind her. She got up and looked down the hall. At the top of the stairs a masked man was pointing a handgun at her. She had never experienced such fear in her life.

He demanded her cash. But she explained that she didn't have any, that she relied on her debit card. Again he demanded money, and again she said she had none. She offered to go with him to an ATM. "You can take my computer," she pleaded. All she could do now was wait for the stranger to determine how this would play out.

And in that moment of waiting, she felt her whole life - the beauty, the love, the darkest moments. She remembers: "The one regret, the unfinished business I had with this life of mine. My mother would always think of our conversation and believe that her only child had died a miserable person, unfulfilled and greatly at odds with life. That is what brought tears to my eyes. I realized what a beautiful life I had actually lived; I just hadn't always appreciated it . . . I'm sorry, Mom, I thought."

A second later, the intruder turned and ran.

"A meaningless act of violence" her family and friends said when they heard about what happened. But she disagrees: "Every day, I have the option to decide: Is my story going to be about anger, fear and unhappiness? Or can my story be about peace, forgiveness and walking a new path of gratitude and compassion? . . . It is only by God's grace that I am able to locate those virtues at all but they are there, bubbling along like an underground stream beneath the stony ground of my heart." [From "Under the gun: New life after a home invasion" by Brittany Conkle, America, December 7-14, 2015.]

Her confrontation with the intruder is an Advent awakening for this young woman. In the midst of her fear, she realizes the preciousness of her life, that life is a gift that God gives her - and all of us - in order that she might discover God in the love of others and come to realize the goodness of this world in anticipation of the next. Advent calls us to "watch," to pay attention to such signs of God's unmistakable presence in all that is loving, in all that is beautiful, in all that is life-giving and nurturing.

Jesus said, "Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”

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 stay alert, be ready, he will come at an unexpected time. Like the expectation of a birth of a child, it is that waiting with anticipation not knowing the exact time. As well as being a theologian, Paula Gooder is also a mom. She weaves those two perspectives together in her book The Meaning Is in the Waiting:

"As I waited for the birth of my baby, I discovered that waiting can be a nurturing time, valuable in its own right. Until then, I had assumed that waiting could only be passive, that it involved sitting around, drumming my fingers, completely powerless to do anything until the moment of waiting passed and I could be active again. How wrong I was. The waiting of pregnancy is about as active an occupation as one can hope to engage in . . .

"One of the other things I learned during pregnancy was that learning to savor the time of waiting allows us also to appreciate the event when it comes. The loss of an ability to wait often brings with it the inability to be fully and joyfully present now. Instead, we are constantly looking backward to better times we used to know and forward to better times that may be coming. The more we do this, the more we miss the present . . .

"It [also] becomes hard to appreciate the future moment even when it does come . . . We live forever in the future, so that, when the future becomes the present, we are ill-equipped to deal with it and have lost the ability to be fully present, right now.

"One of the many reasons we wait in Advent is to hone our skills of being joyfully and fully present now. After a month of doing this, Christmas Day can gain a depth and meaning that would otherwise fly past in a whirl of presents and mince pies."

The season of Advent calls us to such "pregnant waiting": to appreciate, value and cherish; to be present and attentive to family and friends; waiting opens up our vision and spirits to realize the love of God in our midst. This Advent season calls us to embrace the wisdom to be realized in "pregnant" waiting: to slow down, stay alert and see the goodness of God around us that we rush by too quickly to see, to behold Christ in every moment of compassion, forgiveness and joy we experience in the everyday Advent of our lives. Amen.

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