Below is my sermon from December 3, 2017, the First Sunday of Advent. This Sunday I was part of a pulpit swap with our partner congregation, Mediator Lutheran Church, and this is what I preached there. It focuses on the Gospel reading from Mark 13. Let me know what you think!
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
First, let me just take a moment to say how good it is to be here with you. This partnership has been one of the blessings of my ministry at St. Paul’s, and I am so glad that we are working to deepen our relationship, to be able to support each other in our mission to share the Good News of Jesus in our neighborhoods. I am thankful for this opportunity to be here with you this morning on the first Sunday of a new church year, the first Sunday of Advent.
And some of you may be wondering, why the heck on the first Sunday of Advent, a time of preparation for Christmas, do we read this story of apocalypse from the Gospel of Mark? What does this possibly have to do, with Advent, or with Christmas?
The word advent simply means “coming” or “arrival.” We begin our Christian year, not just preparing for the arrival of a baby in a manger, but for Christ’s second coming. And how different those preparations are! There is such a difference between waiting for Christmas and waiting for Christ.
Obviously, we know Christmas will arrive and we know what it will be like when it does. We know the script, we know our parts in it, and all we need to do is follow it. But waiting for Christ to come—or to come again—requires something a little bit more of us, because we never know when he will appear.
“Keep awake,” Jesus says, two or three times in our gospel today. Keep awake. And I want to tell Jesus, I am wide awake! With all that there is to get ready for the holidays, both inside and outside of the church, nobody needs to tell us to “keep awake.” Personally, I sometimes feel like this is the time I should be telling people to slow down. This time of year, it seems like everyone is full of revved-up, overcaffeinated busy-ness.
But the season of Advent makes us be clear about one important fact: while the world’s busy-ness may seem to point toward Christmas, it is seldom pointed toward the coming Christ child. In Advent, we are indeed asleep to what matters, and so we must heed Jesus’ call and wake up.
The meaning of the word apocalypse is literally: to pull back a veil. To pull away the rose-colored glasses and see things the way they truly are. What do we need to see more clearly? What do we need to wake up to as a society? When I started to truly ponder that question, I realized this might just be my longest sermon ever.
But we need to wake up, as a society, as a country, to so many things. We need to wake up to the reality that while all people were created equal by God, not all people are viewed or treated equally in this country. That depends on your skin color, your gender, your education, where you live.
When women finally feel safe to come forward with decades of sexual harassment and abuse, we need to wake up and listen to them. Even if it makes us uncomfortable. When a generation of young people is dying because of opioids, we need to wake up and ask why?
We turn a blind eye toward relationship problems, because it isn’t nice to be alone at the holidays. We push familial strife under the rug and pretend everything is fine during Christmas dinner, but it doesn’t actually solve anything. We laugh at the antics of our drunk relative, but don’t ask ourselves whether they might need our help.
When we wake up to what is going on around us, in our own lives, when the veil is pulled back, when we take off the rose colored glasses, we might just be ready to cry out with the people of Isaiah, “Where are you God? When are you coming? Come now.”
Keep awake. Jesus tells us to be awake not just to our sin, not just to society’s sin, but we are to keep awake because we do not know when God will be entering into humanity. We need to keep awake, not just to the places that need God in this world and in our lives, but we need to keep awake for that shocking, surprising presence of God.
What will it be like when God shows up? “The sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.” When God shows up, things are going to change. Things are going to be disrupted and reconfigured. There is going to be a shake-up.
We know what it will be like when God shows up, because we know the story of God’s first advent in Christ Jesus. It was wholly unexpected. God came in the vulnerability of the manger and the cross, right into the brokenness of human sin. And was not the sun darkened on that day at Calvary? Was not the power in the heavens shaken as the temple curtain was torn down the middle? No longer was God to be kept separate; God was loose in the world.
God has already begun the work of waking up this world. The first advent of Jesus has established for us the ways we are to be in relationship with God. Jesus has given us the way to the Father and God’s grace assures us that we are never alone. Is God’s reign complete? No, certainly not.
But we know that God doesn’t stop with sin and evil and darkness. We know that God refuses to let those things be the end of the story. They will not be the end of our story, and they will not be the end of this world’s story. That is why Jesus came in the first place. Because God would not stop working to redeem God’s people until everything had been done. Until God’s own self entered our brokenness to bring us to wholeness.
And that is why Jesus continues to come in our lives. Continues to show up in ways as unexpected as that manger was all those years ago. Are we awake to them? Are we paying attention to the places and the ways that God is showing up in our lives? To the people that God is using to speak to us?
Keep awake. Because God is not done with you and God is not done with this world. God will continue to show up, continue to surprise us, and continue to draw us into relationship with each other and with God’s own self. Let us keep awake this Advent, and prepare, not just for Christmas, but for the coming of Christ into our world and into our hearts. Amen.