Sermon First Sunday of Advent, Year C
Happy New Year!
Today the Church begins its new year.
The Christian year begins not with the poinsettias of Christmas,
but rather with Advent.
These four weeks we explore the 2nd coming of Jesus—
our scripture readings include apocalytic ideas and images.
We begin the year in the darkness and cold of the approaching winter
because it is here, in the shadows, that the God of grace will arrive.
Waiting, longing, and preparing for that arrival,
we light candles these next four weeks,
candles that represent hope, peace, joy, and love
as we begin the prayerful awaiting for our Lord on December 25th.
Advent is my favorite season of the Church year.
The church is dressed in purple, the color of royalty, because Christ our King is coming; purple also signifies for us a time of penitence and expectation.
As we prepare for the baby Jesus, we are simultaneously aware of our shortcomings—just how can we welcome God into our lives?… and we’re anxiously hopeful, anticipating the Peace that Christ brings us.
This is Advent in a nutshell—longing, penitence, and hope.
Of course, all of this happens while there are only 26 days and counting left of shopping before Christmas.
When I was a kid, my brothers and sister and I spent a good bit of time during the weeks of Advent pouring over the Sears and Roebuck catalog – Christmas toy edition. That catalog, the size of a medium size phone book, was amazing!
Looking through the pages each year, I dreamt of Barbie doll campers,
springy moon bounce shoes, and basketball hoops.
It made total sense to me that Advent was all about anticipation!
We longed for December 25th to arrive.
As kids we also spent a good bit of time during Advent making Christmas gifts for our parents.
We didn’t have any money to speak of,
so we thought of things to give them that we could make.
My poor mom graciously smiled and thanked me for each of the 4 or 5 shoe box organizers I made for her over the years to put curlers, and tweezers, and makeup in.
My dad received kindly all the handmade photo frames
and do-it-yourself back scratchers.
The other day when I was looking for something to hang on the wall in the guest room downstairs, I found a cross stitched poem I made and had framed for my dad.
When he died, my mom gave it back to me, saying this one was a keeper.
I had cross-stitched a quote from one of Dad’s favorite authors, E.B. White.
You may know this famous writer as the author of Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little,
two brilliant award-winning children’s stories.
E.B. White was also a regular contributor the The New Yorker magazine,
as an essayist and poet.
What I cross stitched for my dad, though, was not a quote from a poem or a story.
E.B. White was well known to be an amazing correspondent –
he wrote the most wonderful letters to his readers, his friends, and to his family members.
In 1973, when I was 10 years old, one random unhappy, distressed man
wrote a letter to White confessing that he’d lost all his faith in humanity.
I don’t know what happened to this man to make his outlook on life so bleak,
but White’s reply so firm and kind must have lifted this man’s heart.
When I read White’s reply letter, I thought of my father.
My dad’s hopefulness was just as strong and infectious as White’s.
The letter said this:
Dear sir, As long as there is one upright man, as long as there is one compassionate woman, the contagion may spread and the scene is not desolate. Hope is the thing that is left to us, in a bad time. I shall get up Sunday morning and wind the clock, as a contribution to order and steadfastness.
Sailors have an expression about the weather: they say, the weather is a great bluffer.
I guess the same is true of our human society—things can look dark,
then a break shows in the clouds, and all is changed, sometimes rather suddenly.
It is quite obvious that the human race has made a queer mess of life on this planet.
But as a people we probably harbor seeds of goodness that have lain for a long time waiting to sprout when the conditions are right. Man’s curiosity, his relentlessness,
his inventiveness, his ingenuity have led him into deep trouble.
We can only hope that these same traits will enable him to claw his way out.
Hang on to your hat. Hang on to your hope. And wind the clock,
for tomorrow is another day.
Sincerely, E. B. White
So this is what I stitched for my dad:
“As long as there is one upright man, as long as there is one compassionate woman the contagion may spread and the scene is not desolate….Hang on to your hat, hang on to your hope and wind the clock, for tomorrow is another day.”
These are words of hope that White wrote,
and while they speak not of God’s faithfulness,
I have no doubt they would make Jeremiah smile widely:
Like Jeremiah, he writes: Hope is the thing that is left to us in a bad time.
The prophet Jeremiah was tasked with speaking to God’s people
after Babylonian forces destroyed Judah and its magnificent city, Jerusalem.
Families were split apart; people were carried off into slavery.
Jeremiah says to them ‘listen, our God will never abandon you,
now lean into the hope of God’s promise, that God
“… will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David;
and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.”
Jeremiah speaks of God’s fulfillment of his promise
as happening even in the midst of trouble.
We read Jeremiah in Advent because he helps us to remember
what longing feels like, especially the longing of God.
In our comfortable lives, we need to hear Jeremiah long for the day
when Babylon cannot boast of its ill-gotten gain;
As the faithful shaped by these words, we also long for a time
when the poor are not hungry at the end of the month,
when those without homes have a decent place to rest their heads,
when our world sees the righteous future that God dreams for all of us.
We read Jeremiah so that we may come to understand God’s longing for righteousness.
Jesus in our gospel reading today, has three instructions for us:
Look again at the reading in your bulletin…. He says first,
“Stand Up, Raise your heads”—see the chaos around you—
“People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world,
for the powers of the heavens will be shaken…then you will see the Son of Man coming.
Jesus is using these words to give hope to his followers—
your redemption, your claiming, your salvation is near.
Then he tells them, “Look at the fig tree”
as naturally as it sprouts leaves when spring comes,
these crazy times should also tell you that the kingdom of God is near.
the Kingdom of God is about great reversal, turning powers upside down.
Jesus is that righteous branch Jeremiah spoke of, sprung up from David’s line,
and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.
Finally, Jesus tells them “Be on guard and alert,
not weighed down by your own selfishness or drunkenness or worry:
these things trap us into despair and fear.
You are to stand up and be ready for the presence of God, as faithful followers.
Our hopeful actions speak loudly to the world.
Here is Jeremiah preaching and prophesying while he is in prison.
Do you think it was easy for him to speak of hope?
No, but he does, and while there behind bars, he bought a field—preparing for the future.
It is not always easy for us either, for a whole host of reasons,
in this lingering time of pandemic,
and worries about how our children will inherit this planet?
It is easy to be anguished about how much is wrong in this world,
but Jesus tells us don’t hide your head in the sand, don’t be afraid
in fact–Stand up, raise your heads and see the chaos—
if we close our ears and eyes to all that is wrong,
we would never dream of all the possibilities we have.
Advent asks us to live with eyes open, to dream of what might be…
God’s coming into this world means that God chooses to be known—
and this should have an effect upon our daily decisions.
Hang on to your hat.
Hang on to your hope, and wind the clock, for the Prince of Peace is coming.
Thanks be to God.