St. Mark's Episcopal Church

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Advent 1 2010 Sermon
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Rev. Lorraine Dierick

A fable about two caterpillars, Yellow and Stripe, by Trina Paulus

It all begins when Stripe first hatches from an egg.  He begins his life, as caterpillars do, by eating the leaf on which he was born.  Surely there is more to life than just eating leaves, thinks Stripe. There must be a way to get up into the sky. He searches about and finds himself at the base of a pillar made up of caterpillars.  They're all struggling to get up into the sky, too.  This is where he meets Yellow who wants to get up into the sky but feels badly that to get there you must climb over all the other caterpillars who are also trying to reach the very top of the pillar.

The two of them eventually decide to stop climbing so they go back down the caterpillar pillar.  They live together for awhile but Stripe's curiosity gets the better of him and he decides he must get to the top of the pillar.  Stripe says goodbye to Yellow.  With fierce determination he finally reaches the top of the huge caterpillar pillar.  He looks around.  Is this all there is at the top?  He has not made it into the sky, he only sees other caterpillars struggling to reach the top of their pillars.

Yellow, however, has followed her instincts, continuing to eat leaves, then spins a cocoon. In the darkness she waits, then at the right time emerges from the cocoon, transformed into a beautiful butterfly and flies effortlessly into the sky.  She has discovered the answer to "more of life" and realizes who caterpillars really are.  The disillusioned Stripe descends the pillar. Yellow shows him the empty cocoon and he sees what he must do.  Stripe makes a cocoon of his own and Yellow waits for him.

Today we begin the season of preparation to remember again the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Advent is an abrupt disruption in our ordinary time, a new year, a new time, a new life.  Everything begins again.  Advent offers us a time of waiting through the darkest days of the year.  In these four weeks before Christmas day we wait not in idleness but with purpose.

On my refrigerator has been a "to do" list to get ready for Thanksgiving, which has now been replaced with a "to do" list for Christmas.  I know that this time before December 25 could easily become swallowed up in the hustle and bustle of the season, decorating, shopping, baking, card sending, and such.  In addition to my daily devotions I will add to my list a time of quiet, to read, pray and sit in the presence of the Spirit.

I believe our true nature is to grow closer and closer to God, being in his presence and doing his will. Yellow, being the wise little creature she was, accepted her true nature.  She instinctively waited through the stillness of the cocoon in order to be transformed into the beauty and freedom of flying. Imagine bursting forth from the confinement of the cocoon and flying into the light.

In the second reading, Paul writes to the young Christian community in Rome reminding them of appropriate Christian behavior.  They are to live as expectant people, he tells them to stay awake, live honorably, put on the armor of light, put on the Lord Jesus Christ and treat others with respect and dignity.  Those words remind us too, to pay attention to the way we interact with others.  We can take stock of what really matters and let go of things that don't.

We are free to create our own plan for Advent but long ago in the year 380, in Spain the church established what is thought to be the first rule or canon for this season.  Beginning on December 17 through the feast of Epiphany, January 6, everyone was expected to attend church daily and worshipers were not allowed to show up with bare feet.  Daily worship services are not offered here but we surely could open the church every day if anyone requested that.  But that restriction against bare feet shouldn't be a hardship for anyone.

St. Paul gives us direction for specific Christian conduct and Isaiah gives us a vision of hope. This Isaiah passage is lovely, inviting us into the presence of God.  "Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord."  And then an image of unity is set before us where all people and nations will come together.  The Lord will judge and arbitrate for many, peace will be known throughout the land, war will be no more.  "Come let us walk in the light of the Lord."

Hold in your mind that beautiful vision as we look again at Matthew which is not so appealing.  There is no way to soften or avoid the tone of judgment in this scripture.  "Like a thief in the night", it says.  "The Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.  No one knows the day or the hour, only the Father knows." Those gathered around were reminded of the destruction from the great flood in Noah's time.  Then another warning as folks will be going about their daily tasks tending to their fields, grinding meal for their evening dinner, some will be taken and others left.  This is only a small Biblical section from a lengthy discourse titled, "Warnings about the end."  In the previous chapter Jesus rips into the scribes and Pharisees most of the paragraphs beginning "Alas for you, Scribes, Pharisees and hypocrites."

Verse after verse give dire warnings for neglecting the demands of the law, that is, justice, mercy and good faith, followed by accusations of greed, hypocrisy and self indulgence. Compared to these fiery passages our Gospel message today is mild indeed.

Judgment is one characteristic of our God.  From the Nicene Creed we say, "He will come again to judge the living and the dead."  Remember, the flip side of judgment is justice.  The dominant theme of God's judgment is how well we are in accord with God's will for the way we treat one another, especially those who are most vulnerable.  In these passages we are not being judged by how pious, we may be, how we pray, how often we attend worship, how great is our tithe.

Justice happens when we live with love and mercy for the world around us.  The measure of God's judgment of us is dependent upon the measure of justice we seek for our brothers and sisters.

And so, these weeks of Advent beckon us to slow down enough to remember we not only prepare for Christmas, more importantly we prepare for Christ coming again.

Barbara Brown Taylor writes, “Every morning when you wake up decide to live the life God has given you to live right now.  Refuse to live yesterday over and over.  Resist the temptation to save your best self for tomorrow.  Live a caught up life not a put off life so that wherever you are you are ready for God. “

Ours may be the generation that sees him ride in on clouds or we may meet him as each of us closes his eyes for the last time.  Either way, our lives are in God's hands.  AMEN

  
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