1 Advent Year B
Psalm 80:1-7, 16-18
1 Corinthians 1:3-9
Happy New Year. We started a new lectionary cycle today, Year B. During Year B, we are working with the Gospel of Mark which, interestingly, does not include any stories about the birth of Jesus.
This year we will work our way through Mark's gospel, engage the stories of David's family, and spend considerable time in the epistles letter to the Ephesians, Hebrews and James.
Year B is perhaps the most insistent of the three lectionary cycles on the ‘culmination’ or “end of all things”, beginning today with the scripture in Mark known as the “Little Apocalypse”. The so -called Little Apocalypse, is rooted in a sermon by Jesus found in Mathew: 24-25, with parallels in today’s Gospel, as well as Luke:21, foretelling the imminence of collective tribulation before the coming of the Son of Man who will sit upon the throne of his glory, separating the sheep from the goats.
We observe Advent as a time of preparing and waiting for the coming Lord. We deck the halls, sing Joy to the world, beckon, Oh Come, Oh Come Emmanual.
Father Bryce McProud, who I knew in my twenties while attending St. Matthew’s in Eugene, Oregon, was one of the most influential spiritual teachers in my life. I credit him often when I consider the formation of my Christian ideology and journey. I remember him saying in a sermon one Sunday in Advent, that we are waiting for something that has already happened. Christ has come, Christ has risen, and now we wait for the Lord to return. As we say, “prepare the way of the Lord”, we are speaking as John the Baptist meant it, as well as making a symbolic announcement about waiting for the birth of a baby who will transform the world, changing everything.
So, this is how I put it all together. Christ has already transformed the world; we are already transformed. We have already made the choice to follow the Word. We have already been redeemed by His blood and saved by the resurrection. The kingdom has come. God won. The enemy has already been defeated.
But how can this be? Look around. This world is a twisted trainwreck of war, poverty, injustice, abuse and fear. How can this be the Kingdom? Evil seems alive and well and often evil appears to oversee human choices and intentions. Father Bryce would say, “this is the behavior of the sore loser. The one who can’t admit defeat, acting out in desperate rage.”
In our collect today we pray to God to help us to “cast away darkness.” We cast away darkness like the garbage it is. Garbage has no power, no dominion when we are armored in light. We could all share our thoughts and opinions about who is darkness and who is light, but we don’t need to. We know deep in our hearts what it means to be armored in light, walking on this mortal path.
Isaiah is pleading with God to return straightaway to reclaim humanity. “Tear open the heavens and come down.”
To paraphrase, put on a show of power.
Make the mountains quake and set the lakes on fire.
Make the darkness that dwells in the hearts of humanity see you and be forced to identify you by name.
Make the leaders of nations tremble in fear, for they will know why they should be nervous.
And then Isaiah appears to be calmed. He says, (again I paraphrase) it has been so long since we have seen or heard you, only those who wait for you can perceive your presence. But being alert is not an easy task. People get distracted while waiting. Those who wait try imperfectly to do right, they try to do things according to the ways of God, but Oh My Goodness, there is so much falling, so much messing up.
And with that, Isaiah gets personal when he laments, “Will we make such a mess of things that you will dismiss us, reject us and eventually forget us entirely when we slip, lose our balance and get caught up and lost to the wind?”
And then came Jesus.
As Paul writes to the Corinthians after Christ’s ascension, “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Grace! Grace! The answer to darkness. The armor of light.
God’s Grace came to us through Jesus Christ, enriching us to be light in an often-dark world and gifting us with the tools, talents, awareness and even motivation to be the ones who will prepare a way for the second coming of Christ. As Fr. Bryce said, “we are joyfully celebrating the waiting of the one who is already here with us.”
That does not mean the work is done. We are called to strengthen each other. We do that through worship, fellowship, outreach and in whatever ways we can, using our own spiritual gifts in the service of others in Christ’s name.
Today we say with power and confidence: Christ will come again.
Today’s Gospel accords Jesus saying this about His return, “In those days, after the suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.”
And God will send angels to seek out and find all those caught up and lost in the wind from every direction, and all who receive the Spirit of God will be redeemed.
Wouldn’t this be a good time for the Messiah to Come?
The world seems terribly lost to many. But this is no evidence of Christ’s return. No one knows. And those who claim to know are whistling in the dark.
Today’s Gospel calls us to wake up, be watchful and pay attention. Learn from the fig tree. Notice when the summer is close. Jesus teaches that God has left us here to take care of the place and its inhabitants; to keep it clean, well run nurtured and fed.
Let us pray.
Help us and forgive us, Holy Spirt, when we mess things up. When we hurt others and hurt ourselves, lead us to a better way. Give us the wisdom to know that we probably can’t fix our big mistakes all by ourselves.
This Advent, as we acknowledge humanity’s long wait for the baby who will save our souls, help us also to earnestly and forthrightly wait for Christ’s return. Guide us to find strength in Christian fellowship. And, just as importantly, stir in us new ways we can use our spiritual gifts in the service of all your people.
Help us to not worry or get lost in anger about the world’s problems, because too much fear and stress keeps us from being focused on the truth that you have already won. Remind us of this whenever we pray, that we are called to wait for you with joy and hope.
And, Father, as we do our best to be awake and care for your Kingdom, please help us to reduce the nonsense and suffering the world is experiencing right now.
Watch over us and we watch in wait for you.