I had the privilege of preaching at All Saints Episcopal this morning. Since I love a good first Sunday of Advent sermon and was pleased with how this one turned out, I thought I’d share on the blog.
Mark 13: 24-37
Here we are on the first Sunday of Advent. It is a time on the secular calendar when others in the world are putting up twinkly lights while the Most Wonderful Time of the Year plays in the background. And while these folk happily eat cookies, sip their hot chocolate, and marvel at the pretty decorations, we have this:
But in those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from the heavens.”
Man, you just gotta love apocalyptic writing, don’t you? 🙂 This passage just cuts through the sparkle and fake snow in one fail swoop. So for better or worse, we start this season, a season whose name means coming, with an arrival of sorts. But this arrival is not the coming of sweet baby Jesus in a manger long ago. This advent is a picture of the future coming of the son of Man, a full grown Jesus manifesting himself with great power and glory.
Now the second coming is a bit of a controversial thing. It is something we might shy away from in such grace-filled places as an Episcopal church. There are others who embrace this idea of Jesus coming back wholeheartedly. In fact there are others who use passages like this one to inspire fear, and then wield this fear to manipulate others.
And honestly these days that sort of manipulation is not too hard of a task. With this past year full of terrorism, Ebola, and racial unrest, it might seem like the stars are getting ready to fall from the sky. If you are like me, this fear mongering just makes you angry, makes you want to take this passage and set it aside, wishing to go back to passages that sound like good news to our ears.
And then for me, this thing happened:
Here is some backstory. My husband is from Dublin Georgia so for many years we have driven the back roads between Houston and Laurens Counties. About three quarters of the way from here to there, you go through a little town called Dudley. And in the cross roads of this town, outside of a gas station that also sells chicken fingers and tater logs, there is a large white cross with bold red letters that reads, “Jesus is Coming Soon!”
For years this red-lettered cross was a thorn in my side. I wondered what kind of person would take the time and effort to threaten his patrons with this message on a daily basis. “You better be ready, Jesus is coming soon.” Over the years we would laugh as the owner had to repair the sign time and time again. “Ooops, looks like Jesus didn’t come back soon enough for that paint job.”
And then one day, one day I saw the cross through new eyes. It was around the time Hurricane Floyd threatened Savannah and we had to evacuate since we were living in Savannah at that time. On our trek inland we had spent hours creeping along I-16 with other scared people, just trying to save who and what we could from nature’s wrath. It was a scary time for sure, but it was also a time of amazing generosity. People banded together to help each other in any way they could. The good town of Dublin set out refreshments and opened its churches for shelters. And as we passed by that sign, that large white cross with the bold red letter that particular trip I realized the truth of that sign. Jesus really is coming soon. It just didn’t look quite like I thought it would.
No, Jesus’s coming didn’t look like a scary, mad guy up in the sky. Instead it looked like the arrival of tired and scared evacuees. Jesus’s coming looked like kind people offering a snack to cranky children, and strangers opening their doors to stranded travelers.
For here is the real truth of Advent, the coming. It happens not once in history or once a year, but every single day. Christ has come. Christ is coming. And Christ will come again.
And this coming is not something to be feared, but to be anticipated with great joy and longing. God is coming among us. Every single day. Every breath. We are just not always able to see it happening right in front of us.
But what exactly does it mean for Christ to be coming among us, present tense? I think some of the great Christian thinkers have it right when they say that one of the most likely places God will arrive is between us. Between worshipers gathered together to praise God’s name. Between the one is who is hurt and the one that offers a balm of healing. Between the one who is downtrodden and the one who offers a helping hand.
And here is the trick. When God comes, it does not just change one person in the equation. It changes us all. We all are healed. We all are lifted up. We all are set free.
When God comes among us, it will be with such light and glory that all our darknesses will be lightened until we are transformed by that glory into people who don’t even need the moon or the stars anymore so brightly do we reflect the Son of Man’s light.
But since the coming of Christ can be subtle and surprising, not arriving according to our calendar, Mark wants to impress upon us we have to be awake and looking for it. And not just looking but longing and searching with all our hearts.
You know there is something tricky about longing and searching. If we think we already have all we need, are so full with all we already have and know, then we are unlikely to be looking out for anything else. It is like the difference between the person who has a belly full of turkey passed out on the sofa and the one who hasn’t eaten for days. When the great heavenly banquet is offered, the hungry one, the empty one will be looking for it. The one stuffed with lesser things might just sleep through it.
So as we enter this season of Advent, let us to remember to embrace that spirit of emptiness, of poverty, of hunger for Christ. Christ is coming my friends. And his arrival is a wonderful and awesome thing. So let us be awake. Let us watch and wait, always longing for the continuous coming of our Lord.
*For more on Advent follow Centering Down throughout December. I hope to post Advent poems, stories and resources for the next 25 days