First Sunday of Advent, Nov 27 2022
These are the notes of my sermon for the First Sunday of Advent at St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church.
Good morning, St. Timothy’s family, friends and everyone gathered for worship. As we embark on the Advent Season once again, and delve into our scriptures, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to you, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
Today is the first Sunday of four in the Advent Season, a journey we undertake each year of waiting and preparing for the arrival of Jesus. Of course, that happened already, according to the witness of our scriptures, he arrived about two thousand years ago. But each year in our cyclical liturgical calendar we retell and relive the stories. The First Sunday of Advent is a new year’s day of sorts when our calendars begin again with the period of waiting and preparing for Christ’s birth.
In the Sundays of Advent, year after year, we find opportunities to talk about many different themes: waiting and preparing, welcoming, arrival, incarnation and more. We’ll go over the story of when Christ was born, and we usually hear about the main characters of that story: Mary and Joseph, John the Baptizer and his parents, Elizabeth and Zechariah, and more. You may or may not know that our readings rotate in a three year cycle, and this Advent begins Year A, rolling back to the beginning of our cycle. I mention it only because this year’s Gospel readings for Advent spend a lot of time with Jesus and his cousin John, and the ideas of waiting and preparing.
This week we hear from Jesus much later in his ministry addressing questions he is often asked about the future. Our Gospel reading for today is Matthew 24:36-44. The idea of gaining an advantage by a timely heads up is nothing new… the disciples of Jesus had questions about the future and would ask how to know when things were about to get crazy for them, or momentous changes might happen. The answer Jesus gives is rather simple: 1) you can’t know when things are going to happen, and 2) you should act like they’re happening. ~ It’s a very active way of waiting.
Truly, “waiting” in the way Jesus teaches his friends to wait, is not a passive sitting back and watching things unfold. Instead it’s an active way of living life in view of what we believe or hope for, whether we’re seeing it unfold in the moment or not. I was laughing to myself this week because I couldn’t help but think of the way we speak today in some circles saying “Yeah, sorry, not sorry.” If you’ve heard that before, it’s a facetious way of saying sorry without meaning it… Jesus is sort of saying, “Yeah wait, but don’t wait.”
He is going to go on in Matthew’s Gospel to tell parables about how to wait… and it’s all about being prepared, staying awake and watching. It’s almost as though he hears the question, “When will something happen?” as the question, “When do I need to start paying attention to life?” And the answer is now. Don’t close your eyes, don’t drift off to sleep, don’t think you can ignore life and what matters most and somehow jump up and make everything meaningful and right later on, it may be too late… live your life now, in view of God’s future fulfilled promises.
We just mentioned that Jesus told parables about being prepared, active waiting…
- He tells the parable of faithful and unfaithful servants, contrasting the faithful way and unfaithful ways they cared for the household when left in charge.
- He tells the parable of the bridal party, contrasting those who made themselves ready for the wait stockpiling lots of lamp oil, with those who didn’t prepare.
- He tells the parable of three servants given three amounts of money and the various ways they were faithful or fearful in caring for and investing the money.
- And finally he tells that very familiar story of the final judgment when God blesses those whose faith was active, feeding the hungry, satisfying the thirsty, welcoming the stranger, clothing the naked, and visiting the sick and the imprisoned.
Jesus says “keep awake” and tells four stories about trusting in God to handle the timing while we get busy with our faith now. Jesus is calling us to lives of action and faith in this day, here and now. No need to wait while we wait. No need to be inactive while we wait for promises made.
We say it in some of our Eucharistic prayers, proclaiming the mystery of our faith… say it with me “Christ has died. Christ has risen. Christ will come again.” We can trust God with the timing of all that, for nowhere is our faithful watching and staying awake going to be misplaced. We can live lives now in view of when God fulfills what may remain to be seen and done.
That’s the beauty of a liturgical calendar that cycles year after year. We have this reminder coming to us again and again in the hustle and bustle of life, keeping us pointed in the right direction. Changing from green to purple on the altar is not the reason for the season of Advent… it’s just part of the reminder that we shouldn’t be asleep. We don’t have to wait while we’re waiting.
So, how will we answer the call to stay awake and keep our faith alive and active? How will we live now in view of what God will do in fulfilled promises? How do we stay awake? Really, how do you? Caffeine! Go for walk! Turn on the light! How do we make ourselves ready and keep ourselves ready, for whatever comes our way and whatever God’s timing looks like for our lives?
How do we stockpile our oil like the bridesmaids who were prepared for a long night waiting? The easy answers are a bit like the proverbial low hanging fruit… we dig deeper into our prayer, into our study and into our service. But what concrete steps lay ahead for us?
- The Advent study beginning this week could be a great place to start. The link and the book it’s based on will be in the newsletter.
- Perhaps it’s a community of support and faithful partnership like the Brother of St. Andrew, Daughters of the King, or even something like my Anglican Dominicans.
- Maybe it’s reinvesting in communities of ministry here at St. Timothy’s like ECW, MoST or even service on the vestry.
Instead of just saying, I want to pray more, perhaps I can work to build a habit of morning prayer, or evening prayer. There are countless ways to do it and many resources available to us. I should probably start by setting an alarm on my calendar.
Instead of just saying, I want to study more, we have to open our eyes and look at our schedules to make time for it. And we need to go find the resources to fill the need.
Instead of just saying I want to serve more, we need to open our ears to needs and our eyes to opportunities all around us.
And partner up! Grab a partner, or partners, to get into some good trouble with this stuff. Grab a partner for mutual accountability and for support as you build a plan and move forward, someone who can help you stay awake and stockpile the stuff you need for the best life.
- We wait faithfully for Christ and for God’s promises, but we don’t wait to start living faithfully in view of those promises.
- We wait for God, but we don’t wait to open our eyes to the world around us and to get busy in life, love and living.
- We wait for Christ, but we don’t think for a for a minute that’s it’s just nap time until things really get going.
The truth is that while we wait, God is going to be moving full steam ahead and beckoning us to join the fun! So with eyes wide open, let us wait like the wide awake! Amen, amen and amen.
Be blessed, Rev. Todd
Holy Saturday Waiting, Resting, Loving
This morning I noticed that our daffodils don’t realize it’s still Holy Saturday, they must think it’s already Easter morning! And it got me thinking about Holy Saturday, about waiting, and about the goodness of human beings.
I probably should have blogged about Good Friday yesterday, but it was a full day of work getting things prepared at Church in Bethesda for the evening pilgrimage, and we also ran the boys over to Baltimore for lunch at the nearest Sonic Drive-Through… mmmmm, a family favorite!
We did host the pilgrimage, and Jesus is still in the tomb in our sanctuary. The following is the passage we read at the tomb last night…
Now there was a man named Joseph, a member of the Council, a good and upright man, who had not consented to their decision and action. He came from the Judean town of Arimathea, and he himself was waiting for the kingdom of God. Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus’ body. Then he took it down, wrapped it in linen cloth and placed it in a tomb cut in the rock, one in which no one had yet been laid. It was Preparation Day, and the Sabbath was about to begin.
The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed Joseph and saw the tomb and how his body was laid in it. Then they went home and prepared spices and perfumes. But they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment.
I didn’t grow up with Good Friday or Holy Saturday. In fact we didn’t have a Holy Week at all and I remember preachers making a clear point to us that Easter was not a “religious” holiday for us, but only a “secular” fun day. After all, we celebrated the death, burial and resurrection every Sunday! We didn’t need these kinds of holidays. So there.
But more than anything else, I think we feared death. We feared an impression of defeat. We feared a hint of weakness to our cause. I don’t think we were brave enough or strong enough to talk of the death of Jesus without immediately moving right to the resurrection. The church of my youth rejected things like crucifixes, because “Jesus is no longer on the cross!”
Really, I can’t recall hearing a sermon on the death without an exhortation to look to the resurrection. Without a Holy Week tradition that included a Good Friday service, I was never told that “Jesus has been killed, now go home and pray and wait.” Today, I struggle every year to place his “body” in our makeshift tomb in the corner of the Sanctuary. Kneeling beside a weeping pilgrim last night I had trouble praying the usual prayers.
Good Friday is such a beautiful time to hit the pressure valve that has been wound so tight throughout the last year. Let it out, drop some defenses, be human. Jesus was human, human enough to die. The people standing at the cross were human, human enough to jeer and laugh, to weep and cry out, to be afraid, to be proud, and to be humbled. And Joseph was human enough to want Jesus’ body to be in a tomb, not disgracefully hanging in the open. The women were human enough to go home and prepare burial spices, working right up to the start of the Sabbath, then resting and waiting. Holy Saturday is a time to rest in that deflated, relaxed and waiting place.
Dang, have you ever thought how hard it was for those women to sit through Saturday looking at the spices they had prepared, imagining the body of their beloved languishing without the tender attention of their care? And yet God says, “Wait. Rest.”
Today, as I wait on Saturday for the coming morning, as I wait for the right time to get that “body” out of our Sanctuary and replace black cloth with bright white, as I rest from yesterday’s long day of work, I love that man and those women who cared for my Lord so long ago, so preciously.
I look around Starbucks where I’m writing, and I love the people I see all around me. They are diverse, loud and beautiful. They are precious. They are human like Jesus was human, human like the man and women were human, and human like I am human. Thank you, Lord, for reminding me, for making me stop and rest and wait and see.
Most days in my later life I have taken wearing a crucifix under my shirt, laying against my chest, or maybe carried in a pocket of my jeans or backpack. It’s usually near enough to touch and hold. Because Jesus is still on the cross? Of course not. Because he was human, and I am human, and I find some deep comfort and hope in that? You bet. I look at the pain, love, sacrifice and humanity of the crucifix and it helps me look with love on the people around me.
I’ve decided it’s ok for my daffodils to bloom and shine today. I look at these flowers and I think of the women watching their fragrant spices throughout the day. I will watch with them and wait with them. I will love them. And when the morning comes, I’ll go to the tomb to give what I can to Jesus.