St. Thomas’s Episcopal Parish
First Sunday in Advent – November 30, 2014/Year B
Isaiah 64:1-9; Psalm 80:1-7, 16-18 I Corinthians 1:3-9; Mark 13:24-37
The Reverend Paul W. Gennett, Jr.
May my words reveal the greater glory of God.
Advent is a peculiar season in our church year. It arrives just as we rise fresh from the tables of groaning of Thanksgiving Day, the gathering of family, friends, football, food, food, and more food! Then we push away from the table and stride through the magnetic shopping mayhem of Black Friday, finding those MUST BUY items at deep discounts that will surely make our holiday season joyful.
Advent brings a peculiar message for this time of the year. “Joyful, joyful” themes fill our malls, our media, and our minds. For the most part this is where we would rather be in our hearts, truth be told. Our culture entices us to start this earlier each year to fast forward through any “downer messages” we might hear. We gather to hear the Good News of God and Christ, but what we hear is prophet’s doom and destruction, Mark’s little apocalypse, and whoa, whoa, whoa instead of ho, ho, ho. The verse from the Star Spangled Banner took on new meaning for me of Advent’s message of preparation – “… the prophet’s red glare, their bombs bursting in air …”
Yet Advent invites us to receive the most honest and gracious gift God gives to us each year so as to hold off the tension of ho, ho, ho overload. Because for some, this time brings real vagaries of life unexpected and unannounced, like the death of a former colleague husband, a faithful priest who died suddenly on Monday. For my friend Linda, and their daughters Ashley and Andrea, life this holiday season looks much different now. For the family of Michael Brown, the citizens of Ferguson, Missouri, and all over our country and world, we are shredded by division, racism, and violence against one another. Life this holiday season looks much different now for us, but not so much for when Jesus was born. Not so much.
Advent invites us living our faith in the joys and sorrows, in richness and poorness, with the sick, the lost, and least of our world, all the while holding the hope of the child Jesus to be born in the promised coming again in great glory.
Advent invites us to look ahead … to look around … and to look out!
Our renewed Advent journey invites us, once again, to enter deeply into God’s love story for the world. Unlike the consumer Christmas that cranks full throttle somewhere around mid-October, our story does not start at the manger and the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ. We begin Advent at the end, those frightening and often annoying images of the apocalypse, and the end of all creation with the coming of Christ again to judge the quick and the dead. We really do not want to hear the prophet’s red glare, so we raise the volume of have a holly, jolly Christmas in our heads. Yet the truth of this vision of end times points us in faith to the hope that is born in the manger of Christmas.
Today’s Gospel is the conclusion of Mark’s little apocalypse. Jesus predicts the coming destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem, the coming “desolating sacrilege” and the need for all the faithful be alert. In other words look ahead … look around … and look out! We wait “on the tiptoe of expectation” as translated in the New English Bible. This is the longest single discourse in Mark’s Gospel.
Apocalyptic literature often appeared in times of persecution of the faithful, the writer expecting the current crises as a prelude to the final consummation of God’s kingdom come on earth. The words are harsh, raw, and real, providing hope for the faithful under the cover of doom and destruction. Anglican bishop and New Testament scholar N. T. Wright proposes that apocalyptic stories should be heard as pointing to an end of the existing social order rather than a final destruction of our space-time universe.
Jesus knew that his call, mission, and ministry was to proclaim the reign of God come to the world, and to show this truth through his life and ministry. Using images of the seasons of the year, Jesus calls us to an alertness to the things of our world and life WE CAN SEE, the things of which WE DO KNOW, with the urgency to hurry up by waiting – “But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heave, nor the son, but only God … Beware, keep alert … Therefore, keep awake … KEEP AWAKE.” This is the container that God holds the hope in Advent, in the child of Jesus to come among us and save us.
Advent living calls us TO LOOK AHEAD. As we prepare our hearts in remembrance of God coming to earth over two thousand years ago in the birth of Jesus, we are called by faith to live and proclaim his coming again “… in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.” The invitation of Advent is to live our lives, each and every day, as THE Advent preparation for this moment of God’s time.
Advent living calls us TO LOOK AROUND. While groups of people huddled in caves over history waiting for the coming of Christ, this is not the point of Advent preparation as I experience it. The faithful of God have much work to do in our world, right here and right now. We are called to live our Christian faith in our neighborhoods, our community, our work place, and our world. We are called to practice incarnation and resurrection living these ways daily, loving God and loving our neighbor as ourselves. Martin Luther believed that even as he sought to live his life with the possibility of Christ coming tomorrow, he would still plant an apple tree today.
Advent living calls us TO LOOK OUT. Jesus reminds us that there will be those who claim to know the will of God. Jesus calls us to be “wise as serpents and innocent as doves” which is not the image I would choose, but I get the point. If you have come close to a snake sunning in your garden, it quickly comes to alert and on the defensive as you come near.
The Reverend Will Willimon, chaplain at the Duke University chapel, writes, “The Presence goes unnoted as we thumb through the evening paper. Someday God may break into this world, we say. But for the time being, it is best to work, eat, make love, pay taxes, fill out government forms, and mind our business. ... But sometimes ... something steals silently across the canvas of our dull lives, unnoticed, unheralded, unexpected. The One whom we await becomes present. And we, anticipating the trumpet blast of angelic messengers or the rending of heavens, sometimes miss God’s advent before our very eyes.”
What are we doing, inadvertently or deliberately, to avoid that upsetting and challenging awareness? Are we willing to watch and wait, even in our own painful impatience, for
what God will do? Are we open to what the silence and stillness of this Advent receptivity might require within our own hearts and lives this year? Will we take seriously and do the moral inward look to emerge renewed to our living faith now? The fire of the prophet does not burn to destroy alone, but like the refiners fire, they burn away what covers our beautiful soul.
Advent invites us to look ahead … to look around … and to look out to really hear the prophet’s red glare!