I know you were thinking while I read the scripture this morning, “Where have I heard this before?” In the great movie Ghostbusters, Dan Aykrod quotes verses 24-25 to explain the buildup ghost activity in the New York City area. Reading this passage does bring some doom and gloom to a season that is supposed to be full of cheer and joy. Why does the lectionary start off the Advent season talking about the End Times and Jesus’ second coming? Or to continue using Churchy words, why do we focus on Jesus’ second Advent on the first Sunday of the season that we are preparing to celebrate his first Advent?
In this sermon series, Outside the Box, we will be concentrating on a focus word each week. We will be focusing on the idea of expectations this week. As I was writing this sermon I was in the waiting room of Flow Automotive in Winston-Salem. My car needed a new water pump and since they would fix it for free I spent 4 hours in that room waiting on it to be fixed. This turns out to be great inspiration for this first Sunday of Advent because Jesus’ message today is about waiting. That is the joy we receive today, we get to wait.
Most of us hate waiting. I am always amazed when I am in Walmart that the “speedy checkout” lines always have three or four people in it. The other lines either have one or none. It is the idea that this line will get you out of the store faster is so attractive to people that they will stand in line longer. We get impatient waiting for traffic lights to change, for commercials to be over with, and even for people to stop preaching so they can get to lunch. We spend so much time annoyed and agitated with the idea of waiting that we forget there can be joy in it. There can be purpose in it and it can be fulfilling. William Congreve says, “Uncertainty and expectation are the joys of life.” Would you agree?
Jesus tells us to be alert, to stay awake, or to watch out five times in the last six verses of the text. Usually if Jesus repeats himself that means we need to listen very carefully. We need to sit up and pay attention when repetition comes out of his mouth. Let’s sit up a little straighter, let’s turn our ears on and let’s be on alert.
We start off the Advent season at the end. We begin at the end of the story. It is like starting a book by reading the last paragraph first. We do so for a couple of reasons. For one thing by looking forward to the time when Jesus will come again, we place ourselves in the mindset of those who were waiting on Jesus to come the first time. For those who lived in a year ending with BC, they were constantly waiting for the Messiah to come. For every country that occupied the Jewish people they looked to God to send the Messiah who would save them from the people who were oppressing them. As the first century Jews grumbled their way to their home town for the census they wondered when God would save them from these troublesome Romans. They waited in great anticipation and most of them missed it. We start off the season of Advent, the season of preparing ourselves for Christmas, by reminding ourselves that we are waiting for Christ to come again. We are told to stay alert, to watch out, in order not to miss out.
In order to stay alert we need to be actively waiting which is the other reason for this text this first Sunday of Advent. There is a huge difference between passively waiting and actively waiting. A hunter passively waits for the season to start. There is nothing he can do to speed up the arrival of bow or rifle seasons, all he can do is sit back and wait. Yet once the season starts and he sits in his stand he is actively waiting for the deer to cross his blind. A fisherman cannot hurry spring, so he passively waits for it to arrive. Yet while on his boat in the lake he actively waits for the fish to bite. The tension on his line is tight and his senses are focused to feel the slightest tickle from a fish. Then when the deer crosses into the clearing or the fish takes the bait, the hunter and fisherman strike and claim their prey.
Actively waiting is also like standing on the side of the street waiting for a parade. If you were standing there waiting for a bus you may not be thinking about anything. You aren’t really excited to get on board and take your familiar route, but when you are waiting on a parade, things change. You started to wonder and anticipate what the floats might look like. You may be on constant lookout for when your child will be appearing or your friends. There is a sense of anticipation and of expectations.
When we think of the things we wait for, many of us can relate to the expectations of a new mother. Mary was expecting her first child but it came at a time when a pregnancy out of wedlock was even more taboo than it is now. If it was not for the love that Joseph had for her and some angels confirming the divine conception of the child in her womb, she would have been left high and dry to have and raise that child on her own. Think of what went through your mind when you heard you were expecting. There was excitement and joy. There was trepidation and uneasiness. Maybe if your pregnancy was not planned there was shock, awe, fear, and worry.
No matter how you became expecting, once you were things had to be done. There are the doctor appointments, prenatal vitamins, throwing up every morning, afternoon and evening. It is a chaotic time and those ten months of pregnancy, eight of which you knew you are, life is completely different and all focuses on that time when the baby will arrive. This is what we are doing here in Advent and these four full weeks of waiting for Christmas.
However Christmas started back around Halloween didn’t it? When we were picking out our costumes for Trunk-r-Treat there were Christmas Trees up, so Christmas had started. The house across the street had their lights up a week before Thanksgiving and many of you already put up your Christmas Tree, scheduled the Christmas parties, and hopefully will be cooking lots of cookies for the Cookie Walk this Saturday. There is so much in this world that points to the fact that Christmas has already started. There is already so much busyness and chaos, hasn’t Christmas already come? Yet while the world’s December rush may point towards Christmas it usually doesn’t point to the Christ Child.
The main purpose of the season of Advent is to prepare. This season asks us to sit back and understand that our lives are made different because of God coming to this world as a human baby. But if we get caught up in the hurry of the shopping season are we truly prepared? Are we truly ready for the Christ Child?
We live in a unique time in history, we live in the now and not yet. We live in-between the advents of God. We live in the in-between times. Jesus Christ has already come into the world thousands of years ago and he promises that he will come again and that hasn’t happened yet. We have access to Jesus’ teachings, life, example, and miracles through the Word but the time when the world will be made right again through his judgment has not happened yet. As a commentary I read this week put it, “Already Jesus has established the means through which we are drawn into relationship with God, but not yet do we live in complete communion with God. Already the realm of God is evident, but not yet is that realm fully established. ” We are in the midst of now and not yet.
But what does this have to do with our waiting? What does that mean as we prepare for Christ Child? It means that our job is to stand a little counter cultural. If you want to see this in action come to the worship meeting when we plan out the Advent Season. I dig my heels in every year and attempt with all my being for us to hold off singing Christmas Carols as late into December as humanly possible. Sure our radios have been blasting Justin Bieber’s version of Silent Night since mid-November but that night has not come yet. Christmas is a 12 day season starting on December 25th and going to January 6th or Epiphany. If we don’t stand against the reality of the world at times we will lose focus on the true meaning of this season. Instead of preparing and expecting the Christ Child we will go back to simply welcoming in Christmas.
This is a naturally hectic, hurried, and chaotic time of the year. It may seem impossible to believe that God can bless or even be found in this congested time of parties, school work, plays, performances, shopping, wrapping, writing, and eating. I cannot imagine doing the play that was in the video today; all those personalities and all those parts working together in a chaotic moment. Yet if we go back to the very beginning of the Bible, to the first two verses of Genesis say, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.” There was one thing that existed before all others, chaos. I don’t know how else to describe an earth that was formless, empty, and dark. Whatever you call it chaos seems appropriate. Yet out of the chaos God created everything; the day, the night, the sun, the moon, the earth, plants, animals and eventually us. God looks at the chaos and the impossible and see possibilities.
No matter how busy our lives get this season; no matter how chaotic it feels, God sees possibilities to create something good. Mary’s pregnancy was disordered and confusing, more than probably any of ours. She didn’t know if her finance would stick with her, if her family would claim her, and then while bringing Jesus to term she had to travel. In the rush of trying to find a place to stay they found refuge in a stable surrounded by who knows what kind of smells, noises, and confusion. Yet in that chaos God put on flesh and dwelt among us. All those in Bethlehem at that time were rushing around in the demanding event of the census. As they rushed here and there they missed the birth of the Messiah.
St. Augustine preached a sermon in which he said, “The first coming of Christ the Lord, God’s Son and our God, was in obscurity. The second will be in sight of the whole world. When he came in obscurity no one recognized him but his own servants. When he comes openly he will be known by both the good and the bad. When he came in obscurity, it was to be judged. When he comes openly it will be judged. He was silent at his trial, as the prophet foretold…Silent when accused, he will not be silent as judge. Even now he does not keep silent, if there is anyone to listen. But it says he will not keep silent then, because his voice will be acknowledged even by those who despise it.” When he comes again we will know. But we will ready?
Growing up my Boy Scout Troop took High Adventure Trips every couple of years and I got the pleasure of going to Yosemite. As we hiked and camped in that beautiful piece of God’s creation and some of our parents were able to come with us. One of my friends Dad strapped on a backpack and took this adventure with us. As he hiked he did so with a camcorder and camera around his neck. Like a fifteen pound yoke around his neck he traveled here and there waiting for the right moment. His goal was to document the existence of these things called bears which we were warned were highly prevalent in the area. No one in our group had seen one in the week we spent in the woods until one day when my friend’s Dad glanced over and saw one a few feet off the trail. He stood there in awe at this massive creature that looked at him and then bounded off into the deep woods. This was his story of course. With that camcorder and camera around his neck he didn’t capture anything of this so called bear. With all his preparation he still missed capturing the moment.
Will we be ready to celebrate his first Advent on December 25thagain? Will we be ready to welcome Christmas or the Christ Child? As we actively wait with great expectations, my prayer is that you let God in. Let God into this four week journey filled with expectations. Read the wonderful devotional that was put together and let the words and activities transform this time of waiting into a time of God creating something out of the chaos. It takes work, like any pregnancy, like any major life event, yet when we are ready we can capture the moment and experience God who is already in this world and will come again.
And all God’s people said…Amen.
Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 1, Martin B. Copenhaver, p. 25.
Pulpit Resource, Vol. 36, Year A & B, October, November, December 2008, Jason Byassee, p.40.