A sermon for Advent 1
Isaiah 64:1-9, Psalm 80:1-7, 16-18, 1 Corinthians 1:3-9, Mark 13:24-37
We all know Advent is the time we get ready for the coming of Jesus the coming Christmas. But which one? Are we celebrating the Christmas 2000 years or so years ago? or are we preparing for the coming of Jesus “… in those days…” Is Advent preparing to celebrate a momentous event of the past, or is Advent about preparing for a momentous event of the future?
Isaiah is looking forward, lamenting their behavior the prophet is expressing Israel’s desire for God to come down and show the divine face upon them. Psalm 80, expresses Israel’s full on panic attack, they know they’ve messed it up, and are pleading for God to come down and fix things. (Howell)
Our traditions also look to the past. Nativity scenes depict the glory of the first Christmas past. Even those of us who make the distinction between the 2nd chapter of Luke and the 2nd chapter of Matthew and have the Wise mean appear on Epiphany are looking to the past.
In Mark’s Gospel story Jesus is talking about the future, “after that suffering” “…when you see… you will know” “… you do not know when the master of the house will come …” Paul’s 1st letter to the Corinthians is also looking to the future as he tells them they “are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Cor. 1:7)
So some scripture looks to the past and some looks to the future. I recall many sermons about Advent which, much as the New Year, with its namesake the two faced Janus, looking to the past and future, look to both to the glorious birth of Jesus and to the glorious return of Jesus.
There is however, another view. Isaiah also says:
“… O LORD, you are our Father;
we are the clay,
and you are our potter;
we are all the work of your hand.” (Isaiah 64:9)
Clearly Isaiah is talking about the present; well his present. There’s also a sense of the immediacy in Jesus’ “keep awake!” that implies a present possibility. In this week’s commentary Bruce Epperly writes [Advent] is a time of waiting, not just for Jesus’ birth, but for the transformation of our lives and the world.
His conclusion begins “Advent is about active waiting …” (Epperly) both speak to Advent being a season whose focus is, at least in part, today. Karoline Lewis goes so far as to suggest that we live Advent as though God’s presence is assumed, and that that reality therefore changes the meaning of our present. (Lewis) Timothy Warren believes Jesus’ “Be aware” implies being alert and cognizant of what is happening in our surroundings, (Warren) Mark Powell rejects ignoring Jesus’ future return since it cannot be known believing “we should think about it all the time!” (Powell)
So ~ what would an Advent that emphasizes the present look like? I cannot imagine there would be any liturgical changes; purple would still be purple; blue would still be blue. I do not believe there would be any scriptural changes. I do believe there would be a shift in emphasis. And I mean shift, not change, because there are bits and pieces within our culture that exemplify a focus on God’s/Jesus’/and the Spirit’s continuing presence in our midst.
The first I’ll mention is David Brooks’ column The Ambition Explosion. Brooks is addressing contradictions of capitalism and culture.
The real contradiction of capitalism is that it arouses enormous ambition, but it doesn’t help you define where you should focus it. It doesn’t define an end to which you should devote your life. It nurtures the illusion that career and economic success can lead to fulfillment, which is the central illusion of our time.
Capitalism on its own breeds people who are vaguely aware that they are not living the spiritually richest life, who are ill equipped to know how they might do so, who don’t have the time to do so, and who, when they go off to find fulfillment, end up devoting themselves to scattershot causes and light religions.
To survive, capitalism needs to be embedded in a moral culture that sits in tension with it, and provides a scale of values based on moral and not monetary grounds. (Emphasis mine) (Brooks)
Brook is correct. Much of economic debacle of the last ten years is grounded on actions that place profit above all other values. As Isaiah says: “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth.”
The final examples of using Advent to see God’s presence in our midst come from ~ Ferguson Missouri.
On Monday night as protesters gathered, a security fence is knocked over. Lt. Lohr stands between the police and protestors saying “Please don’t push the barricade down this isn’t going to help anything …” He and a protestor put the fence back up. Tuesday night, he meets protestors to talk about their presence on South Florissant. After their discussion Lt. Lohr agrees for them to use two lanes of the four lane street.
Late Wednesday night A Joshua Williams, a teenage protester whose face had been hidden behind a ski mask lowered his headgear, approaches [the] police commander and gives him a hug. Lohr says “Good to see you, man,” … “How’ve you been? How’s your mom doing? I saw her out here earlier.” Lt. Jerry Lohr, a commander of the St. Louis County Police was overseeing security at the Police Station. He never wears riot gear, even when he wades into a group of protesters to answer questions, resolve disputes or listen to a stream of insults. Protesters at the gates ask for him by name, so they can make complaints, about the use of tear gas or of officers being too aggressive in arresting a woman.
Lohr told Times reporters
Allowing people to talk on a one-on-one level does a lot as far as building bridges, … They may not agree with what I’m doing, but now they at least know my name and my face. I’m human again. They realize that I’m a person. I’m not just a uniform. “We have to bridge this gap, … It’s not going to happen overnight. This is going to be a long-term relationship, a long-term commitment, that both sides are going to have to make. (Fernandez and McDonald)
All social constructs like an economic system, such as capitalism, need to be rooted in moral grounds. So does the social construct of authority. I don’t know Lt. Lohr, but I believe his behavior is rooted in the moral ground that everyone, citizens, business people, police, frightened parents, angry protesters, and provocateurs everyone, is a beloved of God and must be treated with the respect this truth evokes. Lohr’s behavior is exemplary of Jesus admonition to be aware because you do not know when he will return.
Finally I want to share with you part of Benjamin Watson’s Facebook post about Ferguson. Watson is a black NFL player, who decided to write about his very mixed thoughts on learning about the Grand Jury’s decision not to indict Officer Wilson. I’ll not read it all, though I’ll provide a copy, it’s, by far, the best piece I’ve seen. Watson writes about:
anger, frustration, fear, embarrassment, sadness, sympathy, being offended, confused, introspective, hopeless …
[being] HOPEFUL, because I know that while we still have race issues in America, we enjoy a much different normal than those of our parents and grandparents. I see it in my personal relationships with teammates, friends and mentors. And it’s a beautiful thing.
[being] ENCOURAGED, because ultimately the problem is not a SKIN problem, it is a SIN problem. SIN is the reason we rebel against authority. SIN is the reason we abuse our authority. SIN is the reason we are racist, prejudiced and lie to cover for our own. SIN is the reason we riot, loot and burn. BUT I’M ENCOURAGED because God has provided a solution for sin through his son Jesus and with it, a transformed heart and mind. One that’s capable of looking past the outward and seeing what’s truly important in every human being. The cure for the Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice and Eric Garner tragedies is not education or exposure. It’s the Gospel. So, finally, I’M ENCOURAGED because the Gospel gives mankind hope.” (Watson)
… the Gospel ~ gives mankind hope.
That’s the Advent focus.
Brooks, David. “The Ambition Explosion.” New York Times 27 11 2014. web.
Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurois Lectionary. 30 11 2014. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly>.
Fernandez, Manny and Brent McDonald. “In Ferguson, Officer Defused Eruptions as.” New York Times 27 11 2014.
Howell, James. Commentary on Psalm 80:17,. 30 11 2014.
Lewis, Karoline. Dear Working Preacher. 19 10 2014. <workingpreacher.org>.
Powell, Mark Allen. Commentary on Mark 13:2437. 30 11 2014.
Warren, Rev. Timothy G. Sermons that Work. 30 11 2014.
Watson, Benjamin. Facebook. n.d. 27 11 2014. <http://tinyurl.com/oo9szxv>.