Sunday, November 28, 2010

Advent I: Waiting...

Many thanks (as usual) to Kate Huey, and a special thanks to my friend Jim Morgan, (@jimmorgan10)for help in writing this sermon.

Isaiah 2:1-5
The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.
In days to come the mountain of the Lord's house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it. Many peoples shall come and say, "Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths." For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the LORD!

Romans 13:11-14
Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.

Matthew 24:36-44
"But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour."

This is the Word of the Lord.

I’m not real good at waiting. I try to be, I know that being patient is a virtue, and that I need to be a good example for folks and all, but I really hate waiting. There are lines to wait in at the post office, lines to wait in at the supermarket, there’s the long wait in the waiting room when you go to the doctor, and when you’re finally called in, it’s only so you can sit on butcher paper and wait in the examining room. For a society obsessed with fast food, instant answers, and get-rich-quick schemes, we seem to do an awful lot of waiting, don’t we?

In our Gospel reading today, Jesus has just gotten through telling his disciples that the Temple would be utterly destroyed, and the disciples, naturally, had one question: “when?” Jesus responds by telling them of the coming persecution – that’s the persecution that the whole Church endured almost nonstop for its first three centuries of existence, and the persecution that goes on today in many parts of the world – and he tells them how he will return. Not when, but how.

Because, you see, the disciples were waiting, too. They, like their parents, and their parents before them, and their ancestors going back for centuries, had been under the bootheel of one conquering empire after another. They had been promised a Messiah, someone who would establish a new kind of empire, a Kingdom of God.
They had thrown their lot in with this itinerant Rabbi from the backwoods of Judea, this man who could heal the lame, cleanse the leper, and even raise the dead. He talked a lot about the Kingdom, taught them to pray for the Kingdom to come… they were waiting on this amazing man to overthrow the Roman oppressors and establish his kingdom, by force if necessary. All of this talk of wars and earthquakes and the Abomination of Desolation standing in the Temple, and the description of the Temple utterly ruined, well, it sounds like something is finally happening!

But not yet, Jesus says.

Journey down a few more decades, to the first people who read Matthew’s Gospel – men and women either living under the gathering clouds of destruction, as Titus Flavius Vespasianus led the Roman legions to lay siege of Jerusalem, or mourning the memories of the utterly destroyed city they had left behind, never to see again. These men and women, these early Christians, were hated and persecuted on all sides – by the Jewish people, because of their faith in Christ, and by the Romans, for refusing to worship the Roman gods. Groaning under the weight of oppression, they wondered when, too.

Not yet.

The meaning of the word “Advent” is “coming,” and it’s a time when we recognize that the same Jesus who we remember as coming to us as a baby, born in a barn and cradled in a feeding trough, will come again. The same Jesus who rose from the dead and ascended to heaven will return, will come back, will bring us into that final glorious place of relationship and eternal worship.

But not yet.

We’re waiting, too.

But this waiting is not the inert, listless, waiting-in-line variety. This waiting is an active kind of waiting. As Advent bursts upon us, we recognize that we may well see Jesus appear in the clouds, but we are far more likely to see Jesus appear just around the corner, suddenly, like a hungry person, or a neighbor ill-clothed, or someone sick or in prison. We know that the way we react to this more common, more likely appearance of Jesus will dictate how Jesus sees us in the end.

That’s an interesting phrase, isn’t it? “The end.” You know, when you get right down to it, we aren’t really waiting for “the end,” are we? Our hope is better characterized as expecting the Beginning of the World, not the end. We are waiting for the freeing of… the completion of… creation, not its destruction!

There’s another way to refer to “active waiting,” you know. Another way to view the not-yet waiting we all do, not only at Advent but every day of our lives in Christ. It’s a journey.

I have a friend who lives in West Texas, a fellow named Jim Morgan. He has a voice and an accent almost exactly like Sam Elliott. He’s a wonderful storyteller, taking Bible stories and giving them a cowboy setting. I could listen to that guy talk and tell stories for hours!

He’s coming off a four-week-long case of writer’s block, which is one of the worst feelings a writer of any kind can have. He says, “I ruminated on the sermon writing block… and have come to the belief that the silence was God trying to show me something. Ironically it was a line from the Disney movie Cars that opened the door for me.

“Sally Carrera, the ‘girl car’ in the movie, was explaining the old days to Lightning McQueen. She explained to him how the new interstate highway didn’t follow the land but cut through it. In the old days, she said, ‘Cars didn’t drive to make good time, they drove to have a good time.’

“We all know this line. We hear it said in many different ways. Usually I hear it as ‘it’s not the destination that’s important, it’s the journey.’”

Jim continues, “God doesn’t offer us pat answers. God offers us a journey. He offers a journey where we learn more of him with each passing day. A lot like your relationship with your spouse. You learn little by little, day by day. So what was God telling me with the writer’s block? Living in grace and peace is much harder to do than talking about grace and peace. It’s part of the journey.”

We journey in the not-yet, in the waiting. As we long for a new heaven and a new earth on this first day of the church year, I like Barbara Brown Taylor’s words about seeking to live our lives right here, right now, in ways that are pleasing to God as we learn to trust in God's goodness: "Every morning when you wake up, decide to live the life God has given you to live right now. Refuse to live yesterday over and over again. Resist the temptation to save your best self for tomorrow. Live a caught-up life, not a put-off life, so that wherever you are….you are ready for God….Ours may be the generation that finally sees him ride in on the clouds, or we may meet him the same way generations before us have – one by one by one, as each of us closes our eyes for the last time. Either way, our lives are in God's hands.”

For the active-waiting journey through the not-yet, for Advent, for new beginnings every day, and for the hope of the New Beginning when Christ does return, we give thanks to God.

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