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Stay Awake--Stay Alert--and Wait!
Today marks the beginning of the season of Advent, a time of preparation, a time of going toward the coming again of the Messiah, a time of great anticipation. But exactly what is it that we anticipate? What are we getting ready for? What do we expect to happen? Do we anticipate the end of the world, as some religious cults always do at this time of the year?
Are we preparing our hearts and spirits to receive again the coming of the Christ child into the world? Or are we preparing for yet another month-long shopping spree that some have called "economic first-degree murder" -- willfully and with malice aforethought murdering our bank accounts? Or maybe we're getting ready for the seven to ten pounds the average the American will gain during the season (Lord please let me be an underachiever this year!)? Or are we preparing for the suicidal traffic jams at all the large malls, or the general atmosphere of large lines of shoppers who actually get into heated blows just to get what they want to buy. Are we getting ready for the depression, the anxiety and even the rage that accompanies the secular holiday season? If we allow ourselves to get caught up in the consumer Christmas--and I firmly believe that we in America celebrate two separate events on December 25th--we can easily find that instead of preparing to sing "O Holy Night" we will find ourselves living out one holy nightmare.
For the many who faithfully observe the "consumer" Christmas, Advent is the inevitable prelude to disappointment. For the majority of these folks, Christmas somehow hardly ever measures up to their fantasies. Even for those who manage to have some of their Christmas wishes fulfilled, the season is over so quickly that the need to make New Year's resolutions to lose those added pounds, or to be more patient with all those shoppers who somehow managed to ruffle your feathers while shopping or standing in line.
But the Advent we celebrate in the church, the one that has nothing at all to do with the number of shopping days left until Christmas, is altogether different. The hanging of the greens, the placement of the poinsettias, the lighting of the first Advent candle--all these invite us to dream dreams of a better world, to allow expectant visions that have nothing to do with sugar-plum fairies to dance in our heads. Advent invites us to fill the cup of today with a full measure of tomorrow. Both the passage from Isaiah and words from the Gospel of Matthew express the Christian hope for a different, brighter future.
When the prophet Isaiah thought about the advent of God, he envisioned a world unified in worship of God and committed to peace. Isaiah dreamed of a time when the nations and people of the world would join together and go up the mountain to the house of God, that God may teach us his ways, and that we may walk in his paths. lsaiah's vision--war was a thing of the past and the nations of the earth lived together in peace.
What sort of images come to your mind when you think about Advent? Maybe you remember the journey to Bethlehem, the nativity, or the adoration of the Christ Child. Or, is it a brightly-lit Christmas tree with all the trimmings. Poinsettias placed in the sanctuary in memory of loved ones that are no longer here with us, is a way of asking God to keep watch over them.
Christmas will come whether we get ready for it or not. You need to hear that again: "Christmas will come whether we get ready or not." Christ will come whether we're ready or not. How many times have we heard folks say things like, "It can't be Advent already. I haven't even made out my shopping list yet"? "Christmas can't come yet! I haven't even brought the decorations out.” Why do we assume that Christmas can only come if WE make all the proper preparations? (I'm sure guilty of that)
In the Gospel reading for today from Matthew, the disciples are talking to Jesus about the Second Coming. They want to know when that's going to happen, so they can be ready for it. When Jesus comes again, he tells his disciples, it's going to be that life will be going on as usual, with people doing what they normally do, buying and selling, working and playing, just doing ordinary things. And suddenly, without warning, the Lord will return. When that happens, some will be ready, and some will not. Some will remember Jesus' saying to be ready for the coming of the Kingdom, but some will not remember, and other things will have become more important to them. Those folks who have forgotten or disbelieved will be greatly disappointed on that day.
Advent reminds us that God often breaks into our lives unexpectedly. We cannot know the time or the day of our next encounter with the holy. Neither can we predict whether that meeting will be a joyful experience of forgiveness and peace, or a call to repentance and
responsibility. One way or another, we must be awake and ready.
The Advent candle has been lit and the feeling of Christmas is upon us, but are we ready for Christmas yet? I don't think so. I think that's why there are FOUR Sundays in Advent. Amen