Monday, November 30, 2015

we cannot wait

St. Thomas’ Church, Whitemarsh
Advent 1, Year C, 2015

May the words I speak and the words you hear be God’s alone. Amen.

We are fresh from spending time with family or friends, filling our bellies with delicious foods and giving thanks for the many blessings in our lives. The streets of Chestnut Hill and other neighborhoods are lit with lights and the shops and even some of our homes are decorated in preparation for Christmas. Last week radio stations began playing carols and the Philly Christmas Village opened up; it is a festive time of year, a busy time of year, a joyful time of year. 

And then we walk into church this morning and are presented with “distress among nations” and “roaring of the sea and the waves” and people fainting “from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world” (Luke 21:25-26). You might be feeling like there’s a bit of cognitive dissonance between the readings and the cheerful atmosphere. 

But if you’ve been paying attention to the news over the past two weeks, the readings don’t seem that far off target. First there were attacks in Lebanon, Iraq, and France. Then Turkey shot down a Russian plane on their border with Syria. Then there was a mortar attack at a UN base in Mali and an attack at a Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs. In light of all these terrible events, it is very easy to relate to the “distress among nations” and “fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world” mentioned in the readings (ibid.). 

But even though they just so happen to be relevant to today, why do we have these readings? Why not read about Mary and Joseph’s encounters with angels, or at the very least their journey to Bethlehem? Why do we read about how we will see the “Son of Man coming in a cloud,” being on guard, and escaping what is to take place (vv. 27, 34, 36)? 

Advent actually is a penitential season, like Lent; that’s why in many Episcopal churches you’ll see purple or blue vestments instead of green or white. We are preparing ourselves not only for the birth of baby Jesus in the manger, but for the day when Christ returns. And the news of the past few weeks serve as a reminder that we have a lot more preparation to do.  

Speaking of preparation, Daniel and I are obviously getting very close to the arrival of our child. All during the pregnancy we have been doing our best to make ourselves ready, from making regular visits to the doctor, to rearranging our apartment to make a place for the baby to sleep, to packing a go-bag for the hospital. Thanks to the amazing generosity of the people of St. Thomas’, we are much more ready than we would be on our own. But no matter how prepared you try to get, and how ready you think you are, the baby always comes before you’ve got absolutely everything together. 

Christ came into the world the first time before Mary was ready, and certainly before the world was ready.

Madeleine L’Engle, author of A Wrinkle in Time, wrote a poem that spoke to this, called “First Coming”:

He did not wait till the world was ready,
till men and nations were at peace
He came when the Heavens were unsteady
and prisoners cried out for release.

He did not wait for the perfect time.
He came when the need was deep and great.
He died with sinners in all their grime,
turned water into wine. He did not wait

till hearts were pure. In joy he came
to a tarnished world of sin and doubt.
To a world like ours, of anguished shame
He came, and his Light would not go out.

He came to a world which did not mesh,
to heal its tangles, shield its scorn.
In the mystery of the Word made Flesh
the Maker of the stars was born.

We cannot wait till the world is sane
to raise our songs with joyful voice,
for to share our grief, to touch our pain,
He came with Love: Rejoice! Rejoice!

(From The Ordering of Love: The New and Collected Poems of Madeleine L'Engle)

Christ came into the world before it was ready, and Christ will come again before we are ready. Yet even though we can never be fully prepared, it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t prepare the way as best we can. We still need to pack our bags, we still need to plan our route to the hospital, we still need to make straight the path of the Lord. 

Amidst the strife in the world that shows we aren’t ready for Christ’s return, we come together each week to fulfill our Baptismal covenant by praying to and worshiping God, seeking and serving Christ in all persons, and striving for justice and peace among all people (BCP 305). 

This is what we do in order to prepare ourselves as best we can.  This is our hospital go-bag. This is how we keep on guard so we can celebrate not only the joy of the birth of Christ, but of his second coming.

With all of the terrible things going on in the world, it can be easy to get paralyzed by fear or to sink into hopelessness. But Jesus warns us to “be on guard so that [our] hearts are not weighed down with…the worries of this life” (v. 34). 

Believe it or not, the theme for the first Sunday in Advent is hope. The Good News I see in today’s Gospel is that in the midst of preparation in anticipation of Christ’s birth and return, our life is given meaning, is given purpose. The world will not always remain the way it is now. Evil and suffering and pain will not have the last word. At some point, “the Son of Man [will come] in a cloud with power and great glory” to restore creation (v. 27). Until that time, we must not lose hope or cower in fear but “stand up and raise [our] heads, because [our] redemption is drawing near” (v. 28). 

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