Sermon, 12/3/23. Advent: A Time of Consternation and a Time of Great Joy!

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1 Advent

Psalm 80:1–7,16–18; Isaiah 64:1–9; 1 Corinthians 1:3–9; Mark 13:24–37

Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. Mark 13:36

Should you remember nothing else of that which I share with you this morning, remember this: Advent is not about counting down the days until Christmas Eve, our celebration of Christmas in a beautifully adorned sanctuary, Christmas Day itself, and the exchange of gifts under a tree.  Rather, Advent, if St. Mark’s gospel is to be seriously, is about the here and now.  Right Now!  Advent challenges to us to consider how we use the time which is at our disposal, now.

I share a personal note.  Once a week, on rotation in our respective homes, the Butler clan gathers for Family Dinner.  That gathering is a time for listening, for sharing, both concerns and successes.  Smartphones, iphones, and other electronic devices are banned.  Everyone is assured of a time to speak. 

With my older daughter now returned from Hongkong for a family Christmas celebration, we are guaranteed to play the food game.  I am certain that you have probably played a version of that game.  Each of us was challenged as follows:  “If you were deserted on an island, not knowing when you would be rescued, and able to have only one food on the island, what food would that be?”  Pronouncements were made.  And then the challenges would begin, because someone would invariably say, “But wait, that is not what you said last year.”  More challenges, more denials, no food fights, just more laughter.  Great fun!

A variation of this game is played, when we ask the question: ‘If you knew that your time on earth was limited—and my intention this morning is not to be negative, but to look at the positive message of today’s gospel cloaked in a strange garment—how would you use it?  What do you wish you could have/would have/should have done in the past, and can now do?’  I assure you that spending more time in my office, whether in person or via Zoom, does not come close to being included in my list of the “thousand and one” things, which I would conjure up. 

Because we cannot recapture that which is past, and as the future has yet to be, my first thought would be to live in the moment, with those around me who have abided me for decades.  How could I convey to those companions on my journey my thanks?  Relying on the saying ‘six degrees of separation,’ I would be surrounded also by those peoples and cultures that are geographically removed from me, but with whom and to which I am bound by my humanity.  However, because of the limitations of my humanity, I would hope to draw nearer to those who are geographically near.  

That is the game, as it were, which Advent presents to us.  I suggest, for us liturgical Christians, Advent is not about preparing for the Feast of the Holy Nativity in the midst of commercialism, with its Black Friday sales and jingles.  Rather, for us liturgical Christians and for any Christian who hears Christ’s call to consider whose we are, Advent offers us in real time the opportunity to reflect on our human condition, a condition which far too often we tend to describe primarily in a negative light.  

Too often, we hear only from ordained ministers, as well as from public figures a gospel of Virtual Doomsday: wars and rumor of wars, irresolvable racial and social injustices, abuse of the creation, over which we are but stewards.  And in hearing this gospel of Virtual Doomsday, we are tempted to see only a state of helplessness, and to post our hope on for some final day of judgment.  We absolve ourselves of responsibility for the here and now.   However, may I suggest that each of the four gospels, in which the life of Jesus of Nazareth, God’s Messiah, is laid out for us, that that is not what living a Christian, faith-filled life is all about.

The allegory of today’s account from St. Mark’s record teaches us otherwise, if we but approach it with open eyes, minds, and hearts.  While the master is away, the servants have time to undertake so many things for the common good that will enhance their master’s reputation.  So you see, for me, Advent calls us to positive possibilities.  In this light, Advent is a reminder: While we are waiting for ‘the sun to go dark, for the moon not to give its light, for the stars to fall from heaven,’ we ought to be in a state of unceasing joy.  As people of faith, we enter this period of Advent, knowing that our Creator God has given this opportunity to apply our efforts to those things which our Creator God placed at our disposal from the foundation of the world.   

Whenever God interacts with us human—let me rephrase—whenever we acknowledge the presence of God among us in our daily interactions, we perceive that things often do not always follow the order, nor fall into the categories, to which we are accustomed, and in which we take our ease.  Advent allows us to accept a certainty: Change, if God is involved, will happen.  The contributors to the Bible, our Book of Records, understood this, and used images and concepts which were familiar to them: sun, moon, earthquakes, tsunamis as indicators of God’s involvement in their lives.  Whatever our sophistication may allow, it is clear that if God is to get our attention, something out of our routine, something as simple as assisting an anxious child who has lost eye contact with a parent in a shopping mall.

There is nothing wrong with Advent that a dose of a quiet reflection of what God is asking of us would not cure.  Imagine, if you would, having in your own mind’s eye the following NYC Times Square News ticker Tron: “Advent. Peace Alert. God at work among humans!”  As stewards of God’s creation, we have chance to prune the fig tree, so that it bears more and better fruit. 

We 21st century Christians stand at the door of Advent 2023.  We open that door with a greater scientific understanding of the earth that seems to some to make the first century’s worldview obsolete and irrelevant, and which, thus, tempts us to ignore the “Son of Man’s” presence in our lives.  However, there are still those who stand with us and other people of faith in the recognition that our Creator God continues to create and allows us to participate in that wonderful, awe-inspiring work.

Such an individual among us is Catherine Cameron who has captured so beautifully in poetic form Advent in the Christian life in our own time, that her poetry has been included in our Hymnal (#580), but not as an Advent carol, but as a prayer for the entirety of the Christian year and life:

God, who stretched the spangled heavens infinite in time and place,
flung the suns in burning radiance through the silent fields of space:
we, your children in your likeness, share inventive powers with you:
Great Creator, still creating, show us what we yet may do.

Proudly rise our modern cities, stately buildings, row on row;
Yet their windows, blank, unfeeling, stare on canyoned streets below;
Where the lonely drift unnoticed in the city’s ebb and flow,
Lost in purpose and to meaning, scarcely caring where they go.

We have ventured worlds undreamed of since the childhood of our race;
Known the ecstasy of winging through untraveled realms of space;
Probed the secrets of the atom, yielding unimagined power,
Facing us with life’s destruction or our most triumphant hour.

As each far horizon beckons, may it challenge us anew,
Children of creative purpose, serving others, honoring you.
May our dreams prove rich with promise, each endeavor well begun:
Great Creator, give us guidance till our goals and yours are one.