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Advent - Hope filled preparation

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class=MsoNormal>May the words of my mouth and the mediations of all our hearts, be acceptable in your sight – Our strength and our redeemer – Amen 

Brothers and Sisters in Christ – Happy New Year!

            This is the first Sunday in Advent – as our wreath lighting symbolizes

                        Advent is the beginning of the year

This past Thursday for our neighbours just south of us was American Thanksgiving

Where our Thanksgiving is more closely linked to the Harvest season and our attention and focus can be thanks for all the fruits of the earth

The American equivalent was first held to celebrate Thanks after a brutal first winter by the Pilgrims of the Plymouth colony in 1619

Shortly there after in 1621 it turned into a celebration of thanks associated with Harvest season

And then in the middle of American civil war, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national Thanksgiving Day, to be celebrated on the final Thursday in November 1863 – Lincoln wrote:

I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings[1]

           

Today, with a great deal of our focus and concerns being on the economy the news stories quickly switched the very next day to what has become known as “Black Friday”

            The first day of the Christmas shopping season

For some it is seen as the first day of the year in which retailers moved from being ‘in the red’ to making a profit and ‘being in the black’

Advent – the beginning of the preparations for the coming of Christ is often lost in the commercial preparations for Christmas

We might admit that the frenetic decorating and shopping and card-giving that consumes these next four weeks can easily become part of what sidetracks us.

It is into this cultural setting that we are met with the single most dramatic news the world has ever heard

            It is the message that God came in the midst of us

                        And Advent is a time of preparing ourselves for that incredible news

The gospel reading from Matthew for the 1st Sunday in Advent highlights this with a shocking message for us to hear

It is not a gentle message of a babe in the manger, peaceful and tranquil, but in fact a shocking message of a shocking occurrence

God coming in the midst of us

I challenge you for a moment to think about that fact

God – the creator of all – God Almighty comes… to us…

There is a scene in C. S. Lewis' The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe where the children, learning that Aslan is not a man but a lion are not only startled but down right alarmed.

"Is he – quite safe?" Susan asks. "I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion."

"That you will, dearie, and no mistake," replies Mrs. Beaver,

"if there's anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they're either braver than most or else silly."

"Then he isn't safe?" Lucy asks.

To which Mr. Beaver responds, "Safe? Don't you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't safe. But he's good. He's the King, I tell you."

For us, 2000 years later, we need 4 weeks of Advent to properly understand just how dramatic the news is that God came to us.

The shock continues with Matthew today whereby we are faced with the teachings of Jesus that are leading up, and just a couple of chapters prior to the Cross.

Jesus’ apocalyptic teachings are centered on preparation – and these preparations are for the end of time

It is a call for active waiting – for watchfulness

The call for watchfulness comes in three parts with different images and emphases

First coming as a flood (all encompassing destruction)

Then watchfulness in the face of a kidnapper with suddenness and finality,

And the last is described as a thief with exhortation to live always prepared that this might happen at any time

All are sharp, intrusive, disturbing images with which to begin Advent.

But they are effective in instructing us in alertness, in making preparation for uncertainties.

Watch, stay awake; the Lord is coming[2]

This passage and all of Scripture is clear: Christ will come again, as the creed declares, "to judge the quick and the dead."

And so this passage bids us not just to wait, but to keep awake, and to watch, and to be prepared.

Don’t be diverted by whether this ‘end of times’ passage from Jesus is first coming or second coming

Rather understanding clearly that which all scripture affirms….

Our God is the one who comes to the world.

Today we are reminded in the midst of our lives that there is a bigger picture, God's faithfulness which gives hope to the world and to us.

            Today with our passage from Isaiah we are given a much grander understanding

In days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it. 3Many peoples shall come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. 4He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. 5O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord! (Isaiah 2:2-5)

It is easy, on first reading to simply discount Isaiah’s prophecy

            To view the world with a cynical understanding

We have been disappointed so many times before, by failed peace talks, by division within our own culture, by fractured relationships within our own lives.

We know first hand the destruction that conflict inflicts, even if we have never lifted an actual sword

And yet, as we believe that God inspired Isaiah and gave him this vision

We are drawn to appreciate that this is the desire of God’s heart for His created order

Isaiah sees in this, the same creative capacity to transform the machinery of warfare into a technology whose sole purpose is to sustain the life of families in God's good land.

Consumerism visions of the good life may seem to prevail in our culture at this time of year, but Isaiah’s prophecy will stand up to any of them.

This picture of unity…. of justice… of shared openness to the divine way… and of peace…  speak to some of our deepest hopes. …

[Consider] how the many pictures of happy families and yuletide gatherings might actually speak to something real:

Like the desire for harmony across many divisions?

[Consider] How might nostalgia for Christmases past and the idolization of childhood wonder represent our desire to believe again in things that seem impossible to us as adults

Like peace on earth and goodwill for all?[3]

We, Christians are people of the promise realized but we are also people of the promise to come

            We live in the now and the not yet

When we Christians proclaim the gospel, the good news of God – the good news of Jesus Christ

            We can take great comfort in the fact that Jesus’ yoke is easy and His burden is light

                        That Jesus has achieved for us what we could not do on our own

                                    BUT we also live in the hope of the promise to come

A Christian, properly understood – is perpetually an Advent person

Until our Lord comes again for the final time

We are people of the promise fulfilled and the promise to come

As people that live in this dual space – we are both Resident in it, and Alien to it

As Luke Timothy Johnson has said "Faith does not know a different world from the one measured and calculated by science, but it knows the same world differently."

To illustrate this, I want to share with you a story:

In 1960, when she was 6 years old, her parents responded to a call from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and volunteered her to participate in the integration of the New Orleans School system.

She is known as the first African-American child to attend an all-white elementary school in the South. Her name was Ruby Bridges.

I was born in 1970, ten years after and therefore have no memory of this, maybe some of you remember… but this story caught my attention this week…

It went on for weeks and then months, as every morning the federal marshals would escort Ruby through the lines of angry parents hurling insults, racial slurs, violent words.

And then the same every afternoon when school let out, until finally virtually every white family had withdrawn their children from the school.

So Ruby went to school all by herself for the better part of the term.

The situation caught the attention of Robert Coles, Harvard child psychologist.

And so Coles went to New Orleans, interviewed and spent time with Ruby and with her parents.

He interviewed her teacher, asked how she thought Ruby could tolerate such continual adversity and abuse.

Listen to the interview with that teacher:

I was standing in the classroom looking out the window. I saw Ruby coming down the street with the federal marshals on both sides of her. The crowd was there shouting as usual.

A woman spat at Ruby, but missed. Ruby smiled at her.

A man shook his fist at her. Ruby smiled.

And then she walked up the steps, and she stopped and turned around and smiled one more time.

You know what she told one of those marshals? She told him she prays for those people, the ones in that mob. She prays for them every night before going to sleep."

The interview prompted Coles to speak directly to Ruby about her prayers.

"Yes," Ruby said, "I do pray for them."

Coles asked, "Why? Why would you pray for people who are so mean to you and say such bad things about you?"

"Because Mama said I should."

Coles pressed. Ruby said, "I go to church. I go to church every Sunday, and we're told to pray for people, even bad people. Mama says it's true.

My minister says the same thing. 'We don't have to worry,' he says. He came to our house, and he say, 'God is watching over us.' He says, 'If I forgive the people and smile at them and pray for them, God will keep a good eye on everything and he'll protect us.'"

Coles asked if she thought the minister was on the right track. "Oh, yes," Ruby said.

And then in a way of explanation, "I'm sure God knows what is happening. God's got a lot to worry about, but there's bad trouble here.

God can't help but notice. He may not do anything right now, but there will come a day, like they say in church, there will come a day.

You can count on it. That's what they say in church."[4]

As people that exist as both Resident in our culture and yet Alien to it

We are people of the promise fulfilled and the promise to come

            As young Ruby exemplified and so beautiful declared

We do not all face what 6 year old Ruby faced, so how are we to live our lives?

I think that easiest answer to that comes from our Lord’s prayer

            Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven

                        We are to live our lives as a heavenly rehearsal

                              If we believe the words of our Lord – the words that we say more than any others

If we are to have integrity as followers of Christ as Lord – we have a job to do

We have a role to play

It is not ours alone – but prayerfully walking with God

                                    As we stated and restated in our Baptism service today

                                                “I will… with God help”

As advent people – pregnant with expectation – and partner with God

As we await, as Isaiah writes: “In days to come”        

Of Christmas…           Of yes, snow…           As year-round Advent people

                        Trusting in the promise yet to come, because we know of the promise fulfilled

Consider how you can respond – now – today 

To be God’s visible presence in this age

To show the world,     Your neighborhood,    Your workplace,

To your family and friends     To be witnesses of God’s forgiveness,

                             To be a witness of the promises

                                    To be a witness of drama that is God in the midst of us

                                         To be a witness of the truth of Christian Hope

                                                To be a witness of what it means to be an Advent People

Forgive, O God, for ever thinking of peace on earth only as a Christmas postscript. As the Savior's birth once startled an ancient world, so startle us with the reality of your presence in our midst. Break through, we pray, the hardened crust of cynicism and disbelief, and open before our trusting eyes the full splendor of your promise of joy and peace. O God, may your word become flesh anew in today's world, to dwell among us and your purposes ultimately prevail. Amen.


----

[1] "Proclamation of Thanksgiving (October 3, 1863)". Abraham Lincoln

[2] Preaching the New Common Lectionary – Year A, Advent, Christmas & Epiphany - page 21

[3] Feasting on the Word – Year A, volume 1 – page 4

[4] http://day1.org/1068-peace_is_more_than_a_christmas_wish - The Rev. Dr. P.C. Enniss

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