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Christ Church Episcopal

Hudson, New York

where all souls are cherished

Sermon: Advent 1 Year A* December 1, 2019 The Rev. Eileen Weglarz Isaiah 2:1-5; Psalm 122; Romans 13:11-14; Matthew 24:36-44

In Advent we enter that period of the Church Year when we await the birth of the Christ Child, as well as prepare for the Messiah who will come again in glory. One way to describe the Season of Advent is to say that Advent operates in three tenses all at once. We await the birth of Jesus, recalling and celebrating a past event that happened over 2000 years ago. At the same time we await a celebration that will happen in the future. And, we celebrate the reality of what both mean for us here and now.

Advent truly is a paradox in many ways. While we prepare our lives for a past event, we also await a future unveiling of the reign of God, which even now is continually being revealed to us, but is yet to be fully realized. We live in the “already, but not yet,” what theologians call a time of “eschatological tension.”

We await a time that Isaiah, and Jesus, and Paul describe as a time of judgment: a time when accounts are settled—not always comfortably—but always rightly. And, a time when at long last all swords are beaten into plowshares and all spears into pruning hooks; and peace, lasting peace, comes at last.

Given the political tension in our country and the world today it is difficult to imagine a time of lasting peace. And so, we also await a time of Christ’s return when the whole world is of God’s Kingdom; the time when all are as one—one in joy and in faith, in hope, and in love; and the time when sin, suffering, pain, and death are no more.

However, Advent is also and primarily about preparing for Christ’s coming into our lives right now. In this sense Advent memory and Advent hope are joined together. Together our past experience and our future expectations about the reign of God and about the Christ, the Messiah, are realized now.

And it’s not simply because of our preparation for it; but because of the divine truth about God’s past and God’s present and God’s future: the truth that God has been with us, and will yet be with us, and even now is with us.

Jesus’ words from the gospel of Matthew remind us that these are indeed times like the times of Noah. These are ordinary times in the sense, unfortunately, that we live with wars and rumors of war: ordinary times with poverty and disease, and floods and fires, with good, and with evil, with love and with hate. The ordinary times—when it is easy to forget the extraordinary.

We need to ask ourselves: Am I ready for Advent? Is my life in order? Are my relationships in order? Does it even now embrace the child who came, the savior who is among us, the coming ruling Messiah? Look around you. We know how to embrace the coming of the Christ Child: how to be ready for the celebration; how to decorate that which is outside, but do we know how to prepare that which is inside, in the present?

We long for the Kingdom of God. We long for peace as we hear the news from Syria, Afghanistan, North Korea, Iran, Turkey, about terrorist threats at home and abroad. We long for an end to world hunger, epidemics, earthquakes and floods that afflict the world. We all hope for the time of eternal blessing. We hope for us and we hope for the world for the Christ to return in power and in glory.

But isn’t that what the religious community was hoping for prior to Jesus’ coming to earth? Didn’t they want power and glory in the sense of making everything right for them? Didn’t they want Jesus to throw off Roman military domination? Is that what Jesus did?

No, Jesus came to break into the darkness of people’s hearts, to teach them how to live into the kingdom of God, loving each other, regardless of what was going on politically, internationally, or in the natural world. He came to bring hope and a new way of living and knowing, a new way of being children of God.

I heard a poem recently, but can’t remember the author. But two lines from it stick in my mind. They go something like this: “The trials of yesterday are my lessons for today. These lessons when learned are my promises for tomorrow.” I don’t know about you, but that thought gives me hope.

Hope is what lifts us beyond the mere business as usual as in the days of Noah. The people weren’t prepared for the Great Flood. They laughed and ridiculed Noah for paying attention to God’s instruction.

Reminds me of the cartoon that I hung up on the Humor part of the bulletin board in the Parish Hall. Mr. and Mrs. Unicorn are in bed. Mrs. Unicorn is reading a book and Mr. Unicorn is reading the newspaper, when he reads out loud, “Big storm is heading our way.” To which Mrs. Unicorn replies, well then it’s good we didn’t go on that cruise with your whack-job friend Noah!” (Maybe that’s why there are no unicorns? Just sayin’)

The people of Noah’s day followed their own agendas, not paying attention to the fact that God wanted to do something new, to make what was old into something new and pure and holy, and then give it hope.

Friends, we are Christ’s Body and have been called to help Jesus usher in the Kingdom of God. How can the King of Kings rule, when his Kingdom is in tatters, with people and countries fighting among ourselves? In what do we place our hope so that we can work with God for the future God intends?

Paul’s letter to the Romans tells us how to prepare: owe no one anything except the debt of loving one another. The one who loves fulfills the law. Do not disobey the commandments, but remember that all commandments and laws lead to the same place: Loving the Lord your God with all of your heart, soul, mind, and might, and your neighbor as yourself.

And we need to remember that the neighbor is not just the person who lives next door; the neighbor is also the person who sits near you in the pew, or sits at the desk next to you at work, the person in your own family, or perhaps someone who drives you crazy. Love does no wrong to a neighbor, and that’s why only love is able to fulfill the law. If you love as God would have you love, you won’t break God’s laws.

Paul goes on: “Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light, living honorably.” In other words, stop doing and saying in secret those things that bring about destruction for others and ourselves. Let the light of Jesus into the dark recesses of our hearts and minds so that he can heal us and fill us fresh and new with his life giving spirit.

God has given us the ability to work with God to recreate our earthly realities. In this we can hope and in this we can act with boldness. But it takes a spiritual nature, a transformed life that has allowed the Christ Child, the Coming Messiah, the Present Savior of the world, to rule and take possession of our earth-bound desires and ways of thinking and being–now.

Then the peace we hope for can come.

War isn’t a phenomenon that begins at international levels; war is a phenomenon that begins in individual human hearts and egos, playing itself out person against person, group against group, building exponentially until it plays itself out nation against nation.

To find peace, we need to let the Peace of God rule in our hearts in this present time, beginning now.

The story is told that the great Church reformer Martin Luther was once asked what he would do if he knew for certain the world was going to end tomorrow. Without hesitation he replied, “I would plant an apple tree this afternoon.”

He was no fatalistic naysayer. He didn’t live into the idea that we should eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we perish anyway. No…Luther was not given to speculation about the ENDING of the world. He focused rather on the END of the world as we know it, that is, the PURPOSE of the world, which God intends for the present time. Luther would plant an apple tree today, even though the world will be ending tomorrow, because he believed that what may happen in the future does not excuse one from what God requires of you here and now.*

Jesus says, “Keep awake! Be alert!” The time is now to open the doors to the secret places in your heart where the light has never shined, or maybe where it hasn’t shined in a long time, where there is pain and unresolved conflict, so that you can be healed. Let the Lord who knocks on your door come in and share his divine meal with you. Let him make you ready now, for the fullness of his promises, promises from yesterday, for today, and for tomorrow. Let him give you hope.

And then you will be ready to love your enemy and make peace with him or her, feed the hungry, and live in peace with your neighbor. And guess what, you will be at peace within your own heart and mind and soul.

That is how we prepare in and for Advent. After all, Jesus is coming and it could be today. In reality, it is today and every day. Amen.

  • Sermon & Sermon, The Rev. Richard Fairchild, Advent 1, Year A.
  • Synthesis: Advent 1, November 28, 2004.
  • Luther story from The Rev. Edwin D. Peterman, “The Sermon for the First Sunday in Advent,” November 29, 1998.
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