Saturday, November 26, 2011

Advent IB: Sermon: What are we waiting for?

Advent IB
 (Is. 64:1-9, Ps. 80, I Cor. 1:3-9, Mk 13: 24-37)

We come to this weekend still stuffed with Thanksgiving turkey, filled with the presence of friends and family or suffering from travel lag. We may even be battered by Black Friday insanity. But rather than bask in that feeling of well-being, the Church heaps upon us a whole new liturgical year. We begin today the season of Advent—one of those ‘purple’ seasons not with visions of baby Jesus, but of the apocalypse—the Second Coming. Our readings plead that God may come down with that terrible power to straighten out this sinful world.

Advent is filled with expectation, waiting, hope, vigilance and anticipation. This year we change Gospels. We will be hearing the words of Mark and John this year and how those gospel writers understand how Jesus touched the people they knew. And today’s gospel reading is an important text—Jesus tells his disciples this piece of apocalyptic literature as he and his disciples sit before the Temple in Jerusalem shortly before his crucifixion. The apostles are basically bumpkins from the sticks and they are marveling at the grandness of the Temple buildings and the bustle of the city. And Jesus is telling them that these buildings will fall: the temple will be razed to the ground --that the preeminence of God is not in the building. The grandeur of God can only be seen in the relationship that the people of Israel has with the Holy One. The greatness of God was only to be seen in their devotion and their alertness to their part of the Covenant.

For at least 700 years the people of Israel had waited for God to come and be their king. But God had not come down to remove evil from the earth. Instead God had sent his Son to teach humanity how to live lives worthy of the covenant Abraham had made with the people.  But this covenanted people had not cared for the poor, lived justly and walked humbly with their God. The people of God were waiting for God to come down and fix everything.

So today on this First Advent Sunday, in keeping with what Fr. Jim asked last week when he asked “Why are you still here?”---asking us after all the schism and all the fuss in our diocese.   I am going to ask another question. WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?  What does this season of Advent mean?

• Are you, too, waiting for God to come down and make the world right? For over 4 thousand years humanity has waited for God to come down and fix it. And for some reason, I don’t think it is going to happen that way. 

• Are you waiting for us to blow ourselves up just to prove the Scripture right? Then the Christian Zionists are right and we should try to bring about Armageddon. But I don't think that is the answer either.

• Are you waiting for the Rapture to take us out of this miserable world? Do we subscribe to the idea of ‘No Episcopalian left behind?’

These are some of the expectations that Christianity holds for this time of waiting. And I would suggest that we are going to get what we expect—what we envision for the future for us personally, congregationally, diocesan-wise, Church and Communion-wide and even for the whole of the world.

A few years ago when Newt Gingrich was at the center of government, I heard an interview when he said “ he truly believed humanity was evil and that it was only grace that made for good in the world.” Now this is a theology that comes out of the Reformation that is part Lutheran and part Calvinism but it was also deeply held by medieval catholicism.  Anglicanism has always held that creation and thus humanity is intrinsically good. Yes, there was the separation from God that is allegorized for us in the Fall in Genesis, but on the whole we believe that God created the world as good and humanity as good. It is us—we mere mortals who have messed things up.

I recently saw one of those ‘God billboards’, you know, the black ones that have white letters? This one said, “Do I have to come down there?---God”. And that is how we often think of the end times—at least in this part of the Bible belt. We drop into our childhood transactions and think God is going to come and punish us like a parent because we have messed up.

But that is not what I hear when I read Scripture. I hear of a God who wants to be in relationship with humanity. I hear that God wants to be in conversation so that we can know the goodness of God’s Creation—the Army picked up that “Be all you can be” slogan. But I really think that is what God invites us to—to be that compassionate, truthful, loving, kind and peaceful people that God covenanted with Abraham to be. We were created in God’s image and we are invited to be a part of God’s goodness by our baptism.

Our Advent is a time of preparation. It is a time of visioning and calling ourselves into relationship with the Holy One so that God’s goodness will take root in us—will continue to grow and transform us into that holy people that God wants us to be. This is not about individual salvation, for it is hard to be saved if our neighbor is not also saved. This isn’t about waiting for God to come down and save us. It is about using the tremendous gifts that the Holy One of Israel has given us—using our talents collectively for the salvation of the world. That is what 'incarnation' means. 

Jesus came to "show us the Father", to teach us how to live with one another—how to live in communion with one another to serve one another with generosity, faith and commitment. The waiting that is Advent is not a passive waiting for judgment. It is a call to action; a call to transformation not just for ourselves, but for us collectively as a nation, a Church, a species. We are called to change the world—we are called to let humanity know that we are good and that in relationship with God we can become better each moment if we are willing to respond to that call. Will it ever be perfect? No.  We are not to become gods. We are to become godlike—full of compassion and mercy, just, and steadfast not only individually but as a community—a holy people welcoming all to know the invitation of God to live in harmony in this world.

We, like Jesus, are to incarnate God’s life to the world. We are to live through this new church year hearing and living out Jesus’ life so that others might know that the God-incarnate is not only possible, but absolutely necessary if we are going to protect the gift of Creation that we have been given. We need not worry about judgment—we must only worry that we have not responded to God’s question of us: “WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?”

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