(Modified 2021-11-28: Added audio recording of this sermon)
1 Thessalonians 3:9-13
November 28, 2021
St. Mary’s Regina
by Paula Foster
Every so often, we get a strong reminder that the ways of God are not the ways of the world. According to the ways of the world, Christmas is lighten-up time…one month out of twelve when we give ourselves permission (perhaps guardedly because of Covid) to go to parties and buy gifts for friends and family and decorate our homes with trees, lights and ornaments of every kind. It is the season of eggnog and sweets and assorted beverages when the instinct to purchase is hallowed and overeating is required. Whatever else is going on in the world, Christmas is a time to rise above it…to be happy, to be at peace, to anticipate birth.
The ways of God are less cheerful, overall. They offer us no shortcuts to joy. If the church calendar is any indication, things always get darker before they get light. No matter how much we’d like to take a straight road to Christmas, there are these dark days of Advent to go through first. Advent leads us down a road that leads through the graveyard of our sinfulness, through the wilderness, and through a river of repentance. There is a lot of waiting along the way, waiting and telling the truth about all the scary things that can happen before the birth of real joy takes place.
If we decline or refuse to take this road, which we are free to do, then Christmas becomes little more than a sentimental story with lots of presents attached to it. It will work for a while to keep our minds occupied but come January 1 the bills arrive and leftover turkey is past its prime and the shine is gone. God knows. The old world must end, in some fashion or another, before the new world can begin. And any of us knows this truth too, if we dare to be completely honest with ourselves. We cannot get well until we admit we are sick. We cannot put our lives back together until we stop pretending that they are not broken. And we cannot find our new beginning until we say out loud, to anyone who will listen, that we have come to the end of our rope and are just hanging on. I know that I’ve been there and remember what a difficult time that was in my life… the ending of all I knew about my life, myself…and to wait…simply wait to be shown a new path.
Waiting is some of the hardest “work” we do as humans, and so is change because we are wired to DO, to take charge, to make things happen. So when Jesus tells of devastating changes and destruction, we don’t really want to listen. When he tells us to be alert, we aren’t sure why we’re on alert because our world looks pretty secure from where we stand, doesn’t it, although the folks in BC may have a different point of view this week and we might be having a niggling sense of doom regarding supply chains and the sorts of trickledown effects that climate change is having on our world/lives.We are already surrounded by wars, famines, earthquakes and volcanic activity and a global pandemic. How bad can things get, Lord. Is the end near?
Jesus’ parable of the fig tree stands alongside His admonition to “Be Alert at all times”. In other words, keep your eyes and ears open to the truth within His words and teachings. Within His teachings we find strength, courage and wisdom to follow the road before us. And as His modern- day disciples, I’m pretty sure He will lead us into uncharted territory. However scary that may sound, remember we are not alone….ever. Jesus promises to be with us…to guide our hearts and minds, to comfort and encourage, to strengthen and enable us to bring God’s light to the world (or at least our corner of the world). BUT we have to be willing (remember we have free Will) to do what it takes to prepare.
The gift of the Advent season is a reminder to us that we need to prepare ourselves for the coming of God’s Kingdom. We need to be ready. We need to know what God expects of us. We need to know how to live, deeply, within the love of God. Today, I offer a few questions that may help us on this journey. What does that all-encompassing “God love” look like in a broken world? How do WE live into that holy love…each and every day of our lives? Do others feel God’s care and compassion through us? Perhaps, importantly, are there changes we need to make in ourselves?
I want to suggest that each of us take a little time sometime during Advent to re-read the Gospels as a reminder of the life to which we are called by Jesus, as followers of Jesus. As we read an entire Gospel at one time, we might encounter a new perspective on the ages old story of Jesus’ life. And then, perhaps we need to set aside a portion of the day for prayer. It doesn’t have to be big chunks of time, but a time set aside to sit quietly, offering God our concerns, and maybe most importantly, listening with expectation for the living Word of God…that still, small voice inside that points, directs or shows us a different path of possibilities.
The following is a collect from the 1928 Episcopal Book of Common Prayer:
Eternal God, who commits to us the swift and solemn trust of life; since we know not what a day may bring forth, but only that the hour for serving you is always present, may we wake to the instant claims of your holy will, not waiting for tomorrow, but yielding today. AMEN.