Dec. 1, 2019 – sermon

Posted by on Sun, Dec 1, 2019 in Advent, Sermons

The First Sunday of Advent (Year A)

December 1, 2019

Have we finished the turkey and the leftover pumpkin pie yet? In the days leading up to Thanksgiving and days since then we’ve reflected on how much we are thankful for, and yet simply giving thanks is not the end point for Christians. Aren’t we moved when often we are more blessed by giving than receiving? We may be thankful for basic needs fulfilled, for health, for relationships we treasure, and thankful for our faith, and yet that’s not where it ends, or it’s just like coupon day at God’s Black Friday giveaway. Our response to such blessings is measured in more than being thankful, it is measured by doing something. Our souls seek to give in response, but too often people stop at that first part, just feeling thankful and blessed – without troubling oneself with active response to God’s blessings. In Advent we are joyous and grateful to God for the gift of God’s Son, so how do we respond? Think about Heidi’s baptism last Sunday, and we all said, “We will!” when asked if we support her in their life in Christ. To be present and pray this is a great blessing – but not the end of it. The response needs also include providing that child with good church school, inviting children into beautiful lively liturgy, music, art, kindling their spirits in the light of Christian life again and again. A blessing is more than just itself, it is an invitation to become more and to give more back. Even in this season of making Christmas wish-lists, followers of Christ do the counter-cultural thing of knowing it is in giving that we receive.

Since Advent is the season of preparation, we need to stop and ask what it is we prepare for. It’s not the event itself, since we know what that is—and it’ll come whether we prepare or not. We prepare ourselves to respond to the gift God gives us in Christ Jesus, and to prepare ourselves to carry out what God calls us to as recipients of the gift of Christ in our lives. The scriptures today point that way for us, beginning with Isaiah. We hear the prophesy of the time for peace among nations, and the steps are laid out; After exalting and raising the “Mountain of the Lord’s House” there will be a pilgrimage to the holy mountain, not for military gain or sight-seeing, but as a purposeful journey to a holy place. The pilgrims will go singing, calling out for God’s instruction, that the word of Yahweh be known, and after all this, Yahweh will “judge between nations” and they will turn their hard-earned implements from being weapons of war into tools for farming food, a sure sign of lasting peace. We seek this pattern too; faithfully go to God’s house, with intention, seeking to hear God’s Word and learn God’s ways. We recognize that we are not above God and do in fact need God to help and guide us, to transform us from being all about taking and having, to people who are more generative and giving, more nurturing of each other and of peace. Isaiah does indeed point us on the way into Advent!

Shifting to the gospel reading now – though it won’t sound like it so bear with me. Friday night Michael and I went to see a movie and then took a walk around looking at the decorations in downtown Bellevue. We were there in time for the little parade they do on Bellevue Way, with costumed drummers and dancers and imitation snow that sifts gently down from the eaves above. It was lovely, (as long as you don’t try to catch them on your tongue – they appear to be made of some sort of airy soap bits). While we waited, a man came striding through the crowd waving a sign on a stick and calling us to repent and be saved. The man called out as he went, that all of us who were not washed in the blood of the lamb we were right now on our way to hell and would be left behind when He came! What could feel more bizarrely disconnected from the festive scene at hand? It was like conjuring up John the Baptist, or re-enacting today’s apocalyptic warnings from Jesus in Matthew’s gospel! His passion was genuine, and he’d chosen that time and place, yet it was so out of sync with the setting that no one listened. I wonder, might people coming here from outside the church might experience similar confusion? There are Advent carols today but not Christmas ones yet. There are fresh greens and the blue of royalty or maybe some purple, but no Christmas red and green or gold. Our nativity scene holds only an animal or two; as yet no Mary, Joseph, shepherds or magi, and no angel. (Although the keen eyed among you will have noticed those Magi stealthily making their way around the nave following the star, having left Herod already). Here we are in a season about anticipating the Christ Child but our readings are about end times. How perplexing this must seem! Those Black Friday Christmas sales might be over ‘out there’ but for us Christmas has not yet begun – not even close!

We began Advent today singing our longing for Emanuel to come among us, we sing to prepare our hearts once again, knowing four weeks will never be long enough. Our prayers are of borrowed words from Isaiah, Paul, and Jesus; calling us to be “Awake!” Because “the day is soon coming” when we will see God face to face, a prayer which says we know God calls us “out of darkness to walk in the light.” Does that message seem out of sync with the festive world of early Christmas all around us? Matthew’s gospel hears Jesus say that we know it’s coming, but won’t know when, so, “you must be ready, for the Son of Man to come at an unexpected hour.” Jesus isn’t saying that Christmas comes at an unexpected hour (we’ve conveniently set it on December 25); the coming which Jesus speaks of here is closer to the ominous portends the peculiar man at Bellevue Square was speaking of, closer to what Paul was naming when he called followers to lay aside the works of darkness and put on the light, because “the night is far gone and the day is near.”

We all prepare both inside of the church and inside those shops, and yet we prepare for something radically different in those two worlds. Here we prepare for the coming of Christ being grounded in faith, and what our belief in his promise of salvation means to us. There it might be preparing to fill Christmas gift lists, take pictures with ‘Santa’ or see all the new things people long for this year. Can we stand in both at once? I believe we can enter a mall as a person of faith, thankful for the love of Christ, and responding to that love as we go, and not be swept up in a world which thinks it’s only about buying more and seeing Santa. We can look for the coming Christ child in those around us, giving thanks when we see him, and try to reveal him ourselves even as we stand in line to check out or wander the parking lot looking for the car. What if that unexpected hour is upon us today? Have we been people of faith, have we sought and served Christ in all we meet?

“So, what do you want for Christmas?” we ask each other, meaning of course wrap-able gifts or things that can be had with a gift card. Those are fine too, but what do we really want? Is there anyone among us who wouldn’t happily refuse all gifts in exchange for peace in the world? For an end to hunger, poverty, homelessness? Our souls cry out for something greater, we have a longing for that which is not materialistic or disposable — we want what is transcendent – we long for what is real in its power to transform, not seemingly real because we can wrap it up with a bow. We start one action at a time, one person at a time, one step at a time. Paul names the contrasts here as between sleep and waking, night and day, darkness and light, this age and the next. And we know we live in both worlds; one foot in the here and now, and the other foot with the eternal God. So how do we make that work? Look at what we truly anticipate in Advent; the incarnation of God’s love! When God literally puts feet in this world, while still being the incarnation of the divine world. Our perfect example.

Tonight, many will light the first candle of Advent wreaths at home, or open window number 1 on an Advent Calendar. As we count the anticipated days, let’s lean into how blessed we are this Advent season, rather than how stressed we are by the number of shopping days left. Let’s offer prayers of thanksgiving and follow them by responding to our gratitude with action. Take a look at your newsletter from St. Michael’s for some ways you might do this. Turn off the news or talk radio and sing something joyful. (No one can hear you in the car!) Allow time for some quietude and center yourself in God, apart from all that other bustle – just for a few minutes here and there throughout the day. Listen in your heart to what really matters and give thanks for it—and then consider how you might respond to God in active thankfulness, letting go of the other stuff as best you can. It doesn’t need to be perfect, just take small steps.

Yesterday morning a number of us created our seven-foot Advent wreath above your heads and set about hanging the Advent colors. (They’ll be the ones with blisters from the clippers!)  People gave gifts of their time and effort out of gratitude for what they receive and in the joyful spirit of giving—and that work was great fun! For us Advent began a day early as we anticipated you coming in today; seeing, smelling, hearing this first glimpse. We will keep receiving the gift of Advent watching it grow brighter each week as Sunday by Sunday we light another Advent candle leading us forth, leading us to act and to make ever greater room for Christ to dwell among us. Amen.

© 2019 The Rev. Katherine Sedwick. All rights reserved.

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