Sermon – December 1, 2013 – 1st Sunday of Advent

First Sunday of Advent

There are two kinds of travelers in the world. One of them are those who travel like my Dad. For folks like him, the destination is the primary and you get there by traversing the shortest and most efficient route between point A and point B. The points along the way are distractions, to be avoided. Let me give you an example. One time my father was taking the four of his children on a trip of about six or seven hours. Considering that we left at 9:00 in the morning, there was no way to avoid, we thought, stopping for a meal along the way. At about noon, half-way through the journey, the natives were getting restless. “Let’s stop and eat, Dad! We’re hungry.” Nothing. He just kept driving. The cries became louder, “We’re hungry! Let’s stop at the Kentucky Fried Chicken!” Now, I am not sure that my Father ever ate a fast food restaurant, and certainly never on the road. He kept driving. “Dad!!” Finally, he turned around and said. “OK, OK, here you go. Here are some jam sandwiches.” He handed back a bag of Wonder Bread. Just Wonder Bread. “Dad, this is just a loaf of bread.” He said, “Yeah, take two pieces and jam them together, eat them and shut up. We’re not stopping.”

That’s one kind of traveller. My wife is the other kind. You know those brown signs for state parks and places of interest? Yeah. We stop at all of those. “Oh, look honey. A historical marker. Let’s stop and read the plaque. What fun!” The destination is a given, but the urgency of reaching it is lost to the journey.

By Dad’s rubrics, the road was a trial to be endured. Travelers like my wife accept the journey for what it is and take from it what the journey offers. I’m guessing that the journey that God has planned for God’s people is much like the latter than the former.

The problem with the first kind of traveler is that urgency takes over. Because the quest for the destination is so pressing, we end up trying to get what we can and keep what we have. It is the way of scarcity not enough time, not enough money, not enough reason to delay. And imposition or interruption of that pressing mission can bring conflict, and conflict puts us in a new relationship with the world, with God, with the neighbor.

The second way of traveling is based upon abundance. But on their journey there is much to behold, there is much to do, there is much to receive. This way of traveling is to participate and to appreciate and to live into that which is provided on the way.

The first way of traveling is to expect the worst. The second is to hope for the best.

The problem with the first kind of traveler, the urgent hurried journey, is that it lets us off the hook. But no matter how fervently we pray for the fulfillment of all things, for the end of the journey, there is still work to do along the way.

For the journey, Scripture has provided rules for the road for both kinds of travelers.

“Follow me. I will show you the way”. Sometimes the path is counter-intuitive. Sometimes it will take you away from your self-interest to remain faithful, to stay on the road, to practice another rule of the road. So follow me, Jesus says, and I will lead you.

Another rule for the road. Love one another. Caring for one another reduces fear and anxiety and increases fellowship and appreciation. Recognizing life and love in another turns us from the road of fear and conflict suspicion and betrayal, to common purpose, mutual striving, and communal ends. Scripture says get up off your knees and get to know your neighbor. Get out of your house and take care of the poor. Take your foot off the gas and see that you are invited to share in an adventure of life and living. Put on the brakes and appreciate that you breathe in and breathe out.

Do not be afraid. The traveller of the first sort assumes she is always in charge, in control, and when evidence is presented to the contrary, fear and anger rise up and things go from bad to worse. Expect forgiveness. The journey does not end with one bad decision or a foolish wrong turn or the obstinate interlude where we shout down the guiding voice of the Lord and head willingly into the darkness. You see, that’s the deal in Christ, the wanderer is always welcomed back, the lost one led to the light.

Be awake. You don’t know the hour that the Lord will come. Really. Look around. It will happen here, in the midst of a restored relationship, in a healed heart, in a liberating word of acknowledgement, encouragement or forgiveness. That’s how it happens. . . . along the way.

Listen up. Christ will surely come to you unexpectedly. Just when you thought you had it all figured out and were in complete control , the events of this life, the consequences of your wayward decisions, or the thoughtless or cruel behavior of others brought it all crashing down and . . . you . . . think . . . you are lost. . . . look for him in that unexpected place. Look for him in that place you had declared this was no room for him. Look for him in the place where he has been unwelcome.

Most of us have been to that place where we were too cool, too smart, too enlightened, too strong and insulated and self-sufficient for Christ. We found him too demanding, too inconvenient, too parochial or just too weird. Look for him there when you come to that place where we come to declare your deepest needs and find that you are the only one listening, and the only way out is the map that got you here in the first place. That place where we face the stark reality that our resources are inadequate, our answers too small, our strength too tapped, our plans awry, our way . . . lost. Look for him there. He is on that part of this journey, and frankly, for all his power and authority, Christ has a lousy memory. He will forget how you got here, and show you the way back.

Look for him there, and when you do, know that he does not come to us to mock or accuse, but to invite and guide. He does not come to reject but to renew. And he comes to us on this journey with answers big enough, wisdom deep enough, love strong enough and the way clear enough. And from there you begin again.

Be awake, be alert. God is not idle. Your salvation is nearer you now than when you became a believer. The way is sure because Christ is true.

No, this life is not meant to be viewed from a distance as in the club car of a bullet train, where you can barely focus on the scenes that pass you by. God does not intend for us to rush in fear and anxiety through the grace of our existence, experiencing the whole thing like a doppler effect.

Nope, the fulfillment of things will come its time, and if anyone tells you they know how or when, remind them God has not made that known to anyone. In the meantime, there’s the journey. This journey. Where we get glimpses of that which is to come. . . where we share in the full sufficiency of God. . . where we participate in the fulfillment of God’s deepest promise. Remind them that each day is a gracious gift, a chance to be alert to and encounter that promise of revelation at any moment, in any place. Remind them to chill out and take what the journey offers, and that Christ is with us each step of the way.

Today I am reminded of a beautiful prayer from our Evening Prayer service. Lord God, you have called Your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths untrodden, through perils unknown. Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.