Advent 1 Year A 2019
Kevin Gore, St. Andrew’s Mountain Home
We are now passed Thanksgiving, which means in the eyes of modern American culture, it is now socially acceptable to begin the deluge of Christmas decorating, 24 hour holiday music radio, novelty sweaters, lights, and even inflatable lawn decorations. I’m not disparaging any of that, though I personally like to keep Advent a little more separate from Christmas. I also think it’s important to recognize that while we are rushing into the holiday season, as we gather here this morning, our readings might be a little jarring, especially for folks who are coming back to church as we near the holidays. One could be expecting baby Jesus in a manager and here we are talking about the end of the world.
But there is a reason we begin Advent with readings that echo those we heard just two weeks ago from the Gospel of Luke that have such apocalyptic imagery. And no, it’s not because of Black Friday’s annual sale fights. We start Advent at the darkest but most hopeful point in the narrative of God’s people. It reflects to us both a time before Christ’s birth, when the world was praying for the messiah to come, and now, after Christ’s ascension when the world is watching and waiting for his return.
In Advent tradition each of the four Sundays are ascribed a word that sums up the theme of the readings. This first week is ‘Hope’. Hope is part of the Christian narrative and underpins our living in this in-between time waiting the return of our King of Kings. The Gospel reading today talks about living in a time where we do not and cannot know when that return is. It could be today, tomorrow, or another two thousand years from now. No matter how many people write books about their own secret formulas for calculating the end of the world, Jesus makes it very clear that we don’t get to be privy to that information.
So how then are we supposed to exist in this middle space? Jesus says, ‘keep awake’ and be ready for that unexpected hour. We are given this world, and told that just like in the time of Noah we could be swept away at any time. But St. Paul also reminds us that this doesn’t mean we spend it all sitting on our hands and waiting for the end. Being reminded of Noah is to tell the listener that people got on with their business, even though God’s judgment was out there, on the cusp of overflowing onto their reality. It’s about getting on with life and living out the commands of Christ while awaiting his return.
That’s the point of hope. Advent is for expectant waiting, hopeful anticipation and we use the nativity of Christ as a backdrop to teach and understand how that feels as we apply it to the Kingdom to come. We are reminded that either ignoring the end to come or constantly worrying about it will lead us astray from Christ’s path. David Bartlett writes, “Those Christians who are agnostic about the last things are tempted to fall into a state of perpetual apathy. Those Christians who are focused on last things are tempted to fall into a state of perpetual anxiety. Our passage encourages faith rather than apathy and hope rather than anxiety.”
I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t like being caught off guard, but I also know that it is an important part of life. We don’t get to plan out every moment, and frankly if we did I’m pretty sure we’d mess it up over and over again. Often the best moments, connections, joys come out of the places we are least expecting or not watching. What if, instead of worrying about being caught off guard, or worse, simply not caring anymore that Christ’s return is imminent, we look at our lives and take stock of ourselves. What is it that we fear most about an uncertain future? What drives us to apathy instead? Are we living out the life that our Saviour, the one who’s name we call ourselves by, commanded us to live?
That isn’t just an Advent admonition either. This is a part of living out our discipleship all year round. We follow the path of the messiah who preached of forgiveness, of love, of reconciliation, and all of that takes a whole lot of heart. We cannot be dulled to the compassion and love that are required of us because we spend all our time overwhelmed with the stresses of life. On the other side of the coin, we also cannot spend all our time immersed in pleasure and escape. Neither of these routes offers us a way that makes room for the heart to be present, aware, and ready to behold a vision of the Kingdom of God.
The season of Advent is one of preparing for the arrival of Christ again. It’s a time to take stock, to make ready our souls for God’s final judgment to arrive, and to keep the flame of hope kindled in our hearts. We stand in the midst of the final stretch of God’s narrative. A time between Christ’s incarnation and his return. Author John Burgess says, “To live between the times is, above all, to trust and hope that God has begun, and will continue, to transform us more and more into the stature of Christ, in whom all of God’s mercy and loving-kindness becomes manifest. Advent calls us into a continuing history of relationship with Christ who meets us whichever way we turn, whether toward the past, present, or the future.”
So, among all the hustle and bustle that will accompany the next 24 days, through the din of constant repeats of Christmas music, watching and rewatching all your favorite Christmas movies like It’s a Wonderful Life and Die Hard, the shopping and wrapping and decorating and baking, remember also that this is supposed to be a time of waiting. Advent is a time for us to build up the anticipation of Christ’s incarnation, to spend time in prayer, to seek patience with everyone who gets so wound up about the holidays. We’ll have time to celebrate Christmas when it comes, I promise. For now, let’s begin our journey to the manger with the word for the first Sunday of Advent: Hope.