Old Testament Isaiah 2:1-5
Psalm Psalm 122
Epistle Romans 13:11-14
Gospel Matthew 24:36-44
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, ... that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Today marks the beginning of a new Church year with the first Sunday of Advent. Advent is a liminal time, an in-between time, a time of watching, waiting, and anticipation. Advent is also an active time. If the penitential season of Lent is a time for the Spring cleaning of our souls, throwing out the rubbish that distracts us from God, and preparing room, then Advent is our time to prepare for an anticipated guest ... company is coming!
This is a time of preparation, a time of choosing, and preparing to choose again. Will we choose a world of God among us in a newly born child? Or, will we choose a world where there is no birth, no life, and no challenge. It is easier to live in the world as if there is no need to be watchful and poised for action. It is easier to sit back and wait, satisfied that we are ready. It is comfortable to feel secure that the way we have always done it is meet and right and good and enough.
We are about to embark on the greatest story ever told! We are challenged to enter Advent, not as a means to an end, simply biding our time until the birth of Jesus, but as a process through which we will be transformed, ready to receive Christ into our hearts anew. To live in this in-between times is, above all, to trust that God has begun, and will continue, to transform us more and more into the stature of Christ. We begin our journey from darkness into light with anticipation and expectancy.
Paul calls us to watch and wait with urgency, and action. The NRSV translation titles this reading "An Urgent Appeal." "You know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep." (Rom 13:11) Paul reminds us of the specifically Christian perspective of submitting to civil authority, but always focusing on God. This is particularly challenging when we know all the powers and principalities are promoting some un-Christian values and a skewed sense of justice. We must submit to civil authority, but Paul suggests that we can be part of transforming it. Paul uses the metaphor of putting on clothes and armor to encourage us to a moral change, from evil deeds to doing good. We are to put on armor to protect us from the influence of the world. We are to put on Christ to transform the world into God's vision. We are to put on our Christian identity in such a way that our behavior reflects Christ to the world. In the first centuries, Christians lived in a real sense of anticipation for the presence of Christ. This seems to have diminished. We are called in Advent to reclaim our anticipation for God, and to prepare ourselves, and the world, to invite Christ in.
The gospel reading demonstrates the necessity for watchfulness. Jesus teaches through scripture by reminding us of the story of Noah and the flood. The emphasis is on the unexpectedness of the flood, which caught the people unprepared. Hollywood and Sunday School narratives confuse Noah with John the Baptist. Extra-biblical stories depict Noah running through the village crying out for people to repent. Noah did none of this. He was simply one man, focused on God, going about his boat building, doing his best to be obedient to God’s call. Jesus suggests all the unrighteous people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage. These are normal activities, which don't seem particularly bad. Perhaps their unrighteousness was that they forgot about God. They had slipped into apathy, going about their business with no focus on God. All of those who perished in the flood were not praising and worshipping and thankful to God. Their lack of righteousness was not in evil deeds, but lack of right relationship. Noah did not run around crying for repentance and trying save people. Noah was in right relationship, focused on and obedient to God, and in so doing, he was prepared.
Jesus speaks of a different kind of preparedness, to be more prepared than the examples he gives, for we do not know when the Lord is coming. Only God knows the mind of God ... if we could comprehend it, God wouldn't be God.
As we begin this journey from darkness to light, imagine a room pitch black. There is no light, so there is no sight. We hear familiar voices around us, our fellow pilgrims feeling their way through the darkness. We huddle together as we encounter one another, wondering what will happen next. But contrary to childhood terrors and stories of scary things in the dark, we have no fear. We treat every moment and encounter with expectancy, rejoicing in what God is up to, knowing that through God’s grace, God wants us to share in God’s life and God’s joy. We rely on God, and God's revelation to the world through Jesus Christ. We rely on God's presence as we discern who God would have us be, and what God would have us do. We rely on God's promise that if we open our lives to God, God will enter. We rely on God's gift of peace to become real among us. We rely on God's justice and mercy to reign. We rely on God's strength as we climb God's mountain. At the mountain of God we will encounter and meet God ... not only by God's words but also by God’s activity around us. We will hear not only with our ears but with our hearts. We will see Christ revealed in our lives, and the opportunities to respond.
Suddenly, a dazzling light enters the room. It is terrifically bright. It takes our breath away, and will take our eyes time to adjust. We see again, anew. We rely on the light of God to pierce the darkness. We may still encounter shadows, but shadows are only present because of the light, thus Christ is present there also. We are transformed and strengthened through this experience. The way forward is to walk in the light of the Lord. We are in the presence of mystery, and invited to bear witness to the greater transformation in the days to come.
This Advent, we are challenged to prepare our souls by remaining watchful and anticipating the Light of Christ among us. It is time to get up, prepare, and be ready. It is time to slough off our old life. It is time to wake up and live into the reality of the new age dawning. A new world is being born. It is time for every woman and man to realize new life. We belong radically to this new world, rather than the old. Advent invites us to reconsider the character of human existence. We begin the story again, and put on our armor and clothe ourselves with Christ to reflect God's revelation to humanity. We look ahead to a new year, attending to traditions, liturgy, music, pastoral care, Christian education, and all our faithful work in the community, to assure the world that we are God's people, and that the history in which we live is God's story, moving from God to God. Get ready ... be prepared ... Light is piercing the darkness! AMEN.