December 1, 2013
First Sunday in Advent
Grace and Peace to you this morning. Grace and Peace.
So we begin our Advent season, beginning of the church year, not with the opening verses of one of the Gospels, nor one of the genealogies of Jesus, not even the talk between Mary and the Angel about what God has planned and if Mary will sign on; no we begin the Advent season most of the way through the Gospel of Matthew.
There is something deeply true about starting here, not because of what these verses say (we will get there) but because I do not know of a time when everything else stops and we can simply begin something new. Mostly we are in the midst of things, lots of things, all vying for our time and our energy, each one calling our name, seeking to be attended to.
Life does not line up neatly, events taking a number and waiting their turn, each crisis followed by enough recovery time. No, a new baby is born far from home and has open heart surgery one week later; his grandmother, helping granddad watch his older sister back home, has an appendix go bad and has emergency surgery; that same day the furnace goes out; a mentor passes away; finally the new baby comes home but needs special care; and one of the cats dies. So…how was your November?
I list these things neither to brag nor to ask for pity, but because each one of us has had times when too many things come all together, out of order, with no thought to our state of mental health or our levels of doneness. As if life had moments of trying to see just how much water our boats can take on before we founder or capsize. Whatever God has planned for this season, however God will break in, it will happen while we are in the midst of all the things we are in the midst of.
It is hardly news that we are, each of us and all of us together, in the midst of lots of stuff. (Technical theological term: “stuff.” Originally an agricultural term.) The good news is that whatever stuff we are in the midst of, God will break in, ready or not.
Backing up a few verses, Jesus warns about religious people who talk the talk but do not walk the walk. He warns of those who are in charge of the covenant, but instead of being about God who freed the slaves from Egypt and brought the exiles home, they make the love of God a burden. He accuses religious people of tithing mint and dill and ignoring the more important needs of justice and mercy.
I have no idea how much time and energy and bookkeeping it takes to measure out one tenth of the dill and one tenth of the mint. I am guessing it would keep people busy enough to not ask questions about why religion supports racism or bigotry or economic injustice or demeans women or destroys the environment or underwrites war or any of the other things that religious people tend to do when they look to picayune following of rules instead of the love and grace and forgiveness of God.
In many ways the nature of the calamity Jesus warns about here is not the point, because this passage is not about the details of destruction, about the wars and rumors of wars. It is about a call to faithfulness in the midst of these things: whether it be as large as war or as small as a personal grief. It is about faith in the God whose authority is over heaven and earth, who has promised a time when we will beat our swords into plowshares and our spears into pruning hooks, and neither shall we learn war any more.
Such a promise, such a kingdom, Jesus did not say was over the hill, or around the corner, or way off centuries later when people will get on TV and radio and declare the end times are coming. Such a kingdom, Jesus preached, is at hand. Present tense. Here. And now. Here and now back then. Here and now, today.
We get glimpses of this kingdom, moments, grace notes, when that which looks dreadful and deadly and scary and awful becomes transformed into something life-giving and hopeful, even joyous. We get moments when we have struggled to stay afloat, and someone comes along with a boat and we let go of our stubbornness and climb in. We get glimpses of when the impossible becomes possible, maybe because someone gave us a hand or maybe just a word.
Faithfulness, it seems, comes in two flavors. For those who feel overwhelmed, swamped, those who cannot find a way through no matter how hard they work or try or think, for us (since I am fairly sure we have all been there if we are not there right now) faithfulness is trusting in God and crying out for what we need.
The other flavor of faithfulness is for those who are weathering the storms of life, real or metaphorical, well. For us (since I hope we have each had moments like this) the flavor of faithfulness is to help out those around us, near or far, who are floundering, who are in danger of capsizing.
There will come a day, says the prophet. It is at hand, says Jesus. So whether we need a kingdom moment, or we have the opportunity to be a part of a kingdom moment for someone else, let us trust in the One who stands with us in the midst of all that we are in the midst of. Let us give thanks to the one who is breaking in, even if we would lock the door and try to keep life bottled up and safe. Let us serve the one who told us, “To serve me, serve those in need.”
And let us be ready for what God is doing, even here, even now.
O Come, O come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel That mourns in lowly exile here, until the Son of God appear. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee…
To thee. To you and to me.
Thanks be to God.