November 29, 2015
First Sunday of Advent
Grace and Peace to you this morning. Grace and Peace.
When I was a kid, my family almost always seemed to have a Christmas cactus in the house. For those of you not familiar with it, a Christmas cactus has flat spiky branches that are not very pretty. And then around this time of year, when there are so very few blooms in the world, it opens up these beautiful, bright, pink or red blossoms.
As a kid, I knew about the plant, and I saw it all the time, but I did not think much about it. Are you kidding? My mind was focused on ending school for Christmas break, and making a wish list, and all of those other things that a reasonably self-absorbed kid will focus on. It was always there in the background, part of the scenery, but I paid it no more attention than I did the tablecloth.
But life changes over the years, doesn’t it? Every time I think I have a handle on life, something changes.
In the past few weeks, we have seen attacks that have once again brought us closer to full-fledged warfare in the Middle East. Attacks on a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, which kill a police officer who is also a part-time pastor. One more news story about an unarmed black man who is killed by police, and a white man who shoots at police, killing both civilians and police officers being taken into custody unharmed, and yet there are people who are confused by the movement #blacklivesmatter.
Or maybe we have been wise enough to turn off the news for a while so that our blood pressure can return to healthy levels, and the phone rings. Someone we love has just received a diagnosis. Someone we care about has been in an accident. Or yet another funeral.
We understand the part of our reading this morning that talks about fainting from fear and foreboding. We understand distress among the nations. We understand being confused.
But that is not the point of this passage. This passage is about the Christmas cactus. It is not an inviting plant at other times of the year. The branches are not particularly attractive. The spikes say, “stay away.” But then, when the world is at its coldest and its darkest, here come blooms of great beauty.
Look at the fig tree and all the trees;
as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near.
So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near.
Or, this time of year,
Look at the Christmas trees, and all the garland and wreaths. As soon as they appear, you know that the mad dash towards Christmas is about to take place, and know that exhaustion is near.
But our passage is not about rushing and dashing and exhaustion. [It reads]
Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly.
The word that will not pass away is the love of God that we know best in Jesus Christ, a love that is stronger than hatred, stronger than death, stronger than all that we face. And
• even though the world will try to weigh us down, and
• even though we will be tempted to self-medicate to get away from it, and
• even though our hearts will be heavy with all the cares that we carry,
• even with all of this, there will blossom and bloom
– a love of great beauty,
– a hope of great brightness,
– a healing of glorious grace,
– a joy that the world did not give and so the world cannot take it away.
And until God breaks through with this love, we will light candles, and sing songs of God’s goodness, and we will gather together for prayer and praise. For Advent is a time of preparation.
And in God’s time, our hearts will blossom and bloom with a love in the midst of the world’s hatred, with a light in the midst of the world’s darkness, with a word of hope that will not pass away.
And we will know that it is Jesus.
Thanks be to God. Amen.