Tuesday, December 2, 2014

First Sunday of Advent: Stay at your post, keep watch!

Preached at Bloomington Inclusive Mass on November 30, 2014. 

Isaiah 64:1-9
Psalm 80:2-19
I Corinthians 1:3-9
Mark 13:33-37

“Stay at your post! Keep watch!” These are the words that Jesus gives to us on this first Sunday of Advent. It might seem to us a little bizarre that Jesus would be speaking to us from the Gospels when we are supposedly waiting for his coming on Christmas morning. We might wonder to ourselves, why aren’t we hearing the lead up to the Christmas story? Where are Mary, Joseph and the angels? Where is the journey to Bethlehem and the donkey? These stories will arrive but not yet. Instead, the lectionary reading calls you and me to a state of acute awareness today.

Advent is an often-misunderstood season in the church year. For some, it is another Lent, calling us to fast and repent and see the error of our ways. For others it is simply a time for holiday parties and celebrations that expect the glorious event that occurs in four weeks. What few realize is that Advent is not simply a lead up to Christmas but a season each year where the church calls us to look towards the reign of God on earth in a complete and perfect fashion. It is why we hear the often quoted, yet never quite fulfilled, greeting of “peace on earth and goodwill toward men (and women).” Advent asks us to expect the impossible, to keep watch for the unexpected and to stay at our posts endeavoring for a peaceful earth that often seems implausible.

Our Advent reading today from Isaiah speaks of this hopeful future, a time when things will be made right between many peoples and the nations will settle their matters fairly. We are given the glimpse of an earth where our very weapons of mass destruction are turned into farm implements for war will cease to exist and there will be no need for protection from our brothers and sisters. These are undoubtedly wonderful images and yet most of us here probably find ourselves laughing at such notions. If you have watched the news in this past week, you can’t help but find yourself experiencing sorrow as you witness worldwide events of death, bigotry and hatred. The president of Turkey declared women to be unequal to men, claiming equality goes against nature, as he called for limited right for women. Over 16,000 confirmed cases of Ebola have now existed on this our mother Earth; meanwhile nations unscathed continue to ignore the plight of those nations who are ravaged by the disease. Finally, none of us, in this room, can ignore what has been happing in our own country as we watch our bothers and sisters in Ferguson, Missouri wail and lament in ways that most of us can never truly understand or will have to experience. Yes, hope seems more like the laughable delusions of a raving lunatic than a reality to be expected by people of faith. Yet, our reading calls us today to expect and keep watch, believing the impossible will one-day manifest itself before all the earth.

How can it be that we, faith-filled people, dare to claim these biblical promises in the context of a society where all seems hopeless? It is because our definition of hope is not the same as many share. Isaiah doesn’t reveal to us a hope that is nothing more than a “pie-in-the-sky” promise. Isaiah reveals to us a hope that demands our action! It tells us that we, humanity, will decide to climb the mountain to stability and tranquility, we will choose to learn the ways of God, we will turn our weapons into farm instruments and we, and we alone, will choose to no longer create war among the nations. We have hope this first Sunday of Advent, not because we expect a miracle to suddenly appear before our eyes, but because we have been called into cooperation with the ways of God and believe one day all the earth’s people will heed the message and invitation of peace and goodwill.

Advent is much more than a season of merry making and waiting for a baby to appear in a manager. Advent is more than nostalgic songs and baking in the kitchen. Advent is much more than waiting to say, “Merry Christmas!” Advent is the church calling you and I to stand at our post as Christ-followers, engaging ourselves in the work of peacemaking and justice. It is a season of Divine mandate that asks us to no longer sit idly by and accept the death and brokenness that surround us but to proactively demand reconciliation and wholeness. It is a season of finding the faith within ourselves - to truly believe that the promises of God are YES and AMEN and will arrive one day through our expectation and purposeful engagement.

The question is whether we are willing to stay at our posts and keep watch? Are we willing to participate in a spiritual and physical work that seeks to bring justice to all peoples and nations? Or are we like the people of faith Paul mentioned in our Epistle reading today? Do we only nurse on milk, grabbing ahold of tasks in life that only make us feel good and look important? Are we only willing to do what comes easy for others and ourselves? Advent calls us to get dirty, it calls us to be daring and it calls us to do the work no one else wants to do. We have beheld a glimpse of those who are willing to fight for true peace and reconciliation in Ferguson, Missouri this past week. We have witnessed those who refused to be silenced by bigotry and boldly proclaim that all people-kind are worthy of equal resect and dignity. Do we dare join them as we proactively await the advent of peace on earth?

Our advent calling gives no promise of when the miracle will be fully manifested. We do not know the day or the hour when peace will be embraced by all the earth. For that reason many lose heart and believe the lie that no difference can be made. Too often we sit by and watch the horror and say to ourselves, “Who am I to make any difference?” Well, you are a child of God and whether you were born in a manger 2,000 years ago or born in a hospital bed you have been given the call to bring peace on earth and goodwill toward all. You and I are beckoned this Advent to live in respect in Creation, to love and serve others and to seek justice and resist evil. Today, we have lit the candle of hope. Has this hope become aflame in your heart? Not the wishful hope of a lazy people who serve only themselves but the hope of a people who are willing to plow the ground and change the world one heart at a time, one city at a time and one nation at a time. Hope beckons us to engage all that it promised no matter how dark the world seems. After all, the great Bishop Desmond Tutu, a true hope engager and reconciler of our time, once said, “"Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.” Today, the light of this candle shines before you on the darkest days of the year promising that light, that hope, can never be extinguished as long as there are people willing to carry it forth to the nations. So I dare you - Go tell it on the mountain!


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