I have to admit: I am not ready for this being Advent. I mean, I am OK with a change in season and all, but I think the events of the world, the marking of the 44th anniversary of the assassination of Harvey Milk and George Moscone...especially after the shooting at Club Q in Colorado Springs... makes me long for more Luke, less Matthew.
Or maybe it's the election in Florida which has turned this state into a experimental lab in Hungarian-style politics that has me so down that I am really struggling with holding on to hope.
Perhaps that's why unconsciously I reached into the console in my car and put on the 25th Anniversary recording from Sweet Honey in the Rock to play in the car as I travel the back roads between Tallahassee and Valdosta...
"We are the ones we've been waiting..."
"I've been thinking about how to sing about greed..."
"If we want hope to survive in this world today. every day we've got to pray on, pray on..."
Texts: Isaiah 2:1-5; Ps.122; Rom. 13:11-14; Matt. 24:36-44
Happy New Year!
Yes, this is a new year. Not according to the Gregorian calendar, but in our church calendar.
The season of Advent…Advent from the Latin “Adventus” means “coming.”
This is the beginning of a new cycle in the life of the church. We’ll be hearing a lot more from the Gospel of Matthew over these next 12 months… which means we’ll be getting more teaching moments with Jesus…including his very extensive Sermon on the Mount.
We’ll also be getting a much more Jewish Jesus…as Matthew takes purposeful steps to draw parallels between the words of the prophets and the words of Jesus…establishing Jesus as a New Moses for his people.
And while this is the start of a new year… the readings this morning seemed to have missed that memo.
While the world is in that season of Black Fridays…and Cyber Monday sales…get your holly jollys at a low discount rate….the church is casting a long foreboding shadow over everything.
“Don’t give in to debauchery and drunkenness or gratification of the flesh.”
With such cheery messaging is it any wonder why the Church isn’t popular with the general population?!
Why in the world are we talking about the end of things when we just started a new year?
Why can’t we ever have a little fun around here?
Before we get too doom and gloomy…let me first say that while we take Scripture seriously… we need to be careful how we read it.
For example…in this Letter to the Romans… I realize that it might sound as if St. Paul is being the biggest killjoy in the world. But I don’t think he’s telling us we can’t have any fun.
When he talks about these many ways that he calls “the works of darkness” I hear in this a warning against all the ways in which we… to steal a phrase from popular culture… “go looking for love in all the wrong places.”
We humans are not the most patient of God’s creation. We often go looking for instant feel goods.
And we lose sight of Love…Love with a capital “L”… when we turn our attention toward possessing people or things as a means of finding pleasure.
A new piece of jewelry might give us temporary joy and happiness. But a ring can get lost. A bracelet will get put away and forgotten… and a favorite pair of earrings might fall out favor.
Worse is when we see another person as an object instead of a fellow child of God.
When we use people as a means to an end…satisfying some need in us to feel powerful or more loved or superior in any way…then we’re venturing into the realm of darkness.
We’re no longer following that basic commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves.
What Paul wants us to remember is that our true joy comes from connecting to that much deeper energy of God’s love.
A love he’ll describe to the church in Corinth as patient and kind…but always present and available to us.
A love whose one and only desire is for all of us to experience the freedom that comes from being loved unconditionally…and then passing that on to others.
And the best part about it? We don’t need to prove anything.
This isn’t like how things happen out in the world… where we must produce a photo ID to prove who we are and whether we’re worthy of God’s love and grace.
All we need to do is accept it…take it in…and say Thanks be to God.
Thanks be to God that we are beloved creatures… made for good… and out of God’s deepest desire to bring order to chaos... and a expand a universe where love wins… wars end… and swords are beaten into ploughshares and spears into pruning hooks.
Man, oh man, let there be light for such a world!
It sounds so good. So…when does all this happen?
If we pay attention to what Jesus says…the answer is “no one knows but God. So keep awake!”
We don’t even get a hint?
Once again… our impatient human selves are put to the test.
Throughout world history… there have been those who have tried to predict that on “X” date of “Y” year… Jesus Christ will return… and then a certain few of us will be raptured off to heaven. Every single one of those predictions has been wrong… and sometimes that has led to the sad and disastrous consequence of mass suicides by those who thought they were surely going to meet Jesus face to face.
For the original hearers of Matthew’s Gospel… there was an expectation that Jesus would return. Clues that scholars have picked up from the text would lead us to believe that this Gospel was written in the late First Century… about ten or so years after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. And there was a belief among those who had come to follow what was then called “The Way” that Jesus would be back… and would become the center of worship in place of the now-destroyed Temple.
In our impatience… there seems to be a desire to keep seeking someone or something else which will get us to that place called “Heaven.”
And in our rush to get there…I think we miss the real reality of Jesus’ message here in the Gospel.
When Jesus beckons us to “keep awake” he’s telling us to raise our consciousness.
To be awake means that we become more aware… and more tuned into the creation around us.
More cognizant of the needs of our community.
More caring of the people in our lives.
In other words…we are to live fully now!
Cut through the noise of the world and the smoke and mirrors of materialism and find the real joy of God’s unconditional love NOW.
The more awake we are… the better able we are to be that bright light of Christ for those seeking more love… more kindness… a more compassionate world.
With each week in Advent… the light on our Advent wreath will grow brighter. May we see in each of these candles the potential for our own lights to grow brighter as we anticipate the coming of Christ into the world.
In the name of God…F/S/HS.