December 3, 2017

2017 Dec3

Advent 1 - Year A

A sermon preached by The Rev. Ian M. Delinger

 

O God, as we look toward the day when we see You face to face, let us remember Your ways and works, calling us out of the darkness to walk in the light the coming of Your Son to us, Your children.

 

Jesus in today’s Gospel is basically: No more Mr. Nice Guy! His depiction of the Second Coming is dramatic and angry. It’s not the Jesus we like to think of, and it’s not the Jesus in our minds as we look toward Christmas! He’s a babe in swaddling clothes in a manger, surrounded by cattle and the very sheep and goats…that He threatened to separate last week, casting the goats into everlasting damnation! Hmm…may this IS the Jesus we know!

 

A couple of years ago, a meme went around the internet. It was a drawing of Jesus in the style of the iconic red-and-black poster of Che Guevara, the Argentine Marxist revolutionary of the 1960s. Many of you will remember that poster. The caption of the poster of Jesus read: “Meek & Mild? As if!” Both last week and this week give us a picture of the Jesus who demands two things from us: Our unfailing commitment of faith in God, and our attentiveness to His Return.

 

Drawing from Isaiah, being “like one who is unclean, and all my righteous deeds like a filthy cloth” is not how I want to spend the run-up to Christmas! But Christmas, the celebration of Christ’s Birth, is not really what Advent is about.

 

Yes, liturgically, Advent is the
season of expectation and
preparation for the celebration
of the coming (adventus) of
Christ at the Incarnation. But,
Advent in its spiritual sense, or in
our spiritual practice and
journey, is looking ahead to
Christ’s final Advent (or Coming)
as judge at the end of time. So,
these readings not only direct us
towards Christ’s Birth, they
challenge us to acknowledge and
contemplate the theme of divine
judgment, our judgment.

 

Sometimes we use themes to guide us through Advent. There are several traditional 4-part themes, none of which are related.

 

  1. The Four Last Things: Death, Judgement, Heaven and Hell. 16C priest Philip Neri wrote, “Beginners in religion ought to exercise themselves principally in meditation on the Four Last Things.” Now 500 years after his birth, I would suggest that our numbers would dwindle even faster if our approach was to have those new to the church principally meditate on Death, Judgement, Heaven and Hell.
  2. The colors of the candles: the 3 purple and the 1 pink. The lighting of candles on an Advent wreath was imported into Britain from northern Europe in the 19C. Because Advent was originally a penitential season, the liturgical color is purple. Since medieval times the Third Sunday of Advent was observed with a splash of color to lighten the somber atmosphere for just one Sunday. It is referred to as Gaudete Sunday. This year, we actually have the reading to which the name refers: 1 Thessalonians 5:16 begins “Rejoice always,” and “Gaudete” is Latin for “Rejoice”. The other reference is Philippians 4:4, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice,” which will be the Epistle on Gaudete Sunday next year.
  3. The 3rd theme set of that is common for Advent are Biblical characters of The Patriarchs of the Old Testament, The Prophets, John the Baptist and The Virgin Mary. These can be extracted from the Lectionary readings, as well.

 

But as I said at the beginning, these themes are unrelated. It is particularly critical when deliberating the pink candle. It does not represent Mary, and lit on the 4th Sunday of Advent. If a candle were to be lit for Mary, it would be blue. And it doesn’t represent John the Baptist or Heaven. These themes have their own traditions, and each draw us into the various aspects of our faith which we should contemplate often.

 

Thematically, what is most evident and important in contemporary Christianity is the theme of anticipation. We are awaiting the Coming of Christ. Jesus explains to us that we must always be ready, because we know neither the day nor the hour. We are not good at waiting.

 

I am a teen of the 80s. Does anyone remember the term that arose about that generation? “Instant Gratification!” From the President all the way down to the TVs in our wood-paneled entertainment centers, we were told that we could have what we wanted right now! There is no going back, I can assure you. Those of you around my age, or who have kids my age know that, even in our maturity, instant gratification isn’t so much of a technical term as it is a way of life. And for those generations younger than me, instant gratification is not quick enough!

 

Today’s readings, and the Season of Advent, are drawing us into a mood of anticipation, of waiting for Christ’s Coming Again. The readings do not give us a pretty picture of the End of Time. Isaiah writes, “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth.” Thanks, Isaiah! That’s just how I want to feel for the next 4 weeks. NOT! In a different, more Episcopalian way, we are called to spend this time reflecting and repenting.

 

Paul’s Letter to the Corinthians points us toward that anticipation in a more constructive way. He points out that we have been given the grace and strength for both, this time of waiting, and for Christ’s Return. The struggle is that it has been 2,000yrs of waiting so far. All sorts of horrific events have occurred, both in Christ’s name and in spite of him. It makes it difficult for us to think that Christ is even considering a return.

 

But we could all be wrong.
Christ may well have returned.
Christ may well be among us
right now.

 

The plea of Isaiah and the stern warning from Jesus are both indications that we have not been in the proper state of preparedness to know whether or not God is present, and we have lacked that awareness throughout time.

 

So, in Advent, we are called to spend this time anticipating Christ’s Return and reaching that state of spiritual awareness that will enable us to know Christ’s presence among us. We plead upon God to “tear open the heavens and come down”, like YHWH did in the days of Moses. The challenge in all of this preparation and spiritual awareness is to keep awake.

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