November 27, 2016
Happy New Year!
Here we are, on the first Sunday of Advent, beginning a new liturgical year as we prepare once again for our Christmas celebration. Christmas falls on a Sunday this year, giving us the longest possible Advent season. That doesn’t seem very remarkable, except that it has put our Sunday worship right on the tail-end of Thanksgiving. I believe it is significant, even important, that in our worship we are able to give thanks, and to let that be the prelude and celebration of our new year.
But we must also be frank about the other great American Thanksgiving tradition of frantic mobs spending money in a desperate materialistic rush to get a “good deal.”
Thanksgiving, Black Friday, New Year and Advent; a strange conglomeration of anniversaries all pointed towards Christmas. What can it all possibly mean?
Our readings today don’t begin with Christmas themes. Despite what the decorations in the shopping malls look like, Christians don’t celebrate Christmas for a few weeks yet. Instead this is a time set aside for preparation. Advent literally means “coming,” and we have set aside this time to focus on Christ’s coming: when He came 2000 years ago, and when He will come again.
Within that context our reading’s prophetic focus begins to make sense. Isaiah’s brief passage is the well known “city on a hill” theme: that God’s temple will rise up, and all the world look to it in worship and for guidance. There is constant contrast in Isaiah between the future promise and the present squalor, and this passage contains a personal favorite: that when that day come we will beat our swords into plowshares. That is to say the era of violence and martial power will have ended for good, and now there is only to work the land in more honest labor for food, and without fear.
But this time is not yet, so what are we to do?
Paul and Jesus offer similar warnings and exhortations in our passages from the Gospel of Matthew and Paul’s letter to the Romans. “The Day” is rapidly approaching and we must be ready.
I think it is important to note that in all scripture and theology this gospel passage notes Christ’s only ignorance: the day of His triumphal Second Coming. It is interesting to explore what this deliberate ignorance could mean for us.
I know my ‘date.’ That is to say, barring significant changes, I know the day I will get out of prison – a Tuesday in August 12 years from now. What does that mean? How differently might I live if I might go home on any day between now and then? Would I live better? worse?
Some old-law men in here still have parole, and literally might go home at any time. Every year they have a hearing, and get an answer. Either they go home, or it’s ‘try again next year.’
One friend, after every hearing, stops shaving, cutting his hair, or buying food at the commissary until he gets his answer. He wants to be ready to walk out the door at the drop of a hat. Others, long used to being turned down, just keep doing what they do and expect nothing to change. Is one way better?
Paul says to be “clothed in Christ.” There is a whole sermon in what it means to see Christ as a garment to be put on (I highly recommend Rev. Dr.Lauren Winner’s “Wearing God” on unusual descriptions of God in scripture.) But the focus is to be diligent in all we do, to be about the Master’s work, and to be so faithful that anyone looking at us simply see the work of Christ. Christ enfolding us, Christ surrounding us, Christ decorating us, and Christ shaping all we do and are.
Because keeping watch doesn’t mean abdicating our responsibilities. Being faithful means we have work to do, and that work continues every day. Christ will return, and I pray we are found faithful.
So we give thanks. Hopefully we can remember that this weekend isn’t about shopping, but about blessings. We begin a new year full of hope, asking for Christ to be born anew in this broken world, and born anew in our broken hearts; because the Second Coming is coming, and there is work to do.
Keep the faith.