Sermon – November 27, 2016 – First Sunday of Advent

Advent 1 Year A

Romans 13:11-14, Isaiah 2:1-5, Matthew 24:36-44


Today marks the first Sunday of Advent, the season in which we wait and prepare for Christ’s coming. It seems simple but Advent is much more multidimensional. Advent is not just simply a time for us to prepare for Christmas— commercials, black Friday sales, and mall Santas can help us with that. Instead, Advent orients us beyond the event of Christmas. It prepares us not just to welcome a new baby, but a new world where justice and peace reign for all people— a way made possible through the love of God in Christ. It is an opportunity to wake from our sleep and reorient ourselves to the mission we are called to in Christ.

Advent exists in a space that is simultaneously past, present, and future. This is why our scripture readings for today do not focus on the Christmas story. In fact, we don’t hear about Mary, Joseph, or baby Jesus until the very end of the season. Instead, our scriptures pull us from this 1past event and draw us towards the future. Advent is a dual proclamation about God coming to earth as a human child as well as the promise of Christ to return again. We are reminded that the work of God initiated in the birth of Christ is not done. We find ourselves stuck between something that happened long ago and something that will happen in the future. The work of Advent is to live in this middle space.

The problem, though, is that we humans do not like being stuck in the middle. We don’t often appreciate ambiguity, mystery, and the unknown. We are hard wired to take sides and fit our world into compact, little boxes. It is natural, then, that in this season we gravitate towards either end of the spectrum— but living our life of faith only on one side has its risks.

If we use the season of Advent only to remember the event of Jesus’ birth, then our lives as Christians risk being only a commemoration or a memory. If we focus only on the birth story, our image of God becomes forever frozen as a sweet child laying in a manger. Our faith cannot live and breath if it is stuck in the confines of an past event. Conversely, if we only focus on Christ’s coming in the future, then our image of God becomes solely distant and passive— a God who sees our world but leaves us hanging until someday God acts. Further more, if we focus only on this second coming, this image of God, then we easily fall into the belief that our actions do not matter. Why care for creation now, if Christ will just come and make it right in the future?

Living our life of faith in either side leaves us blind to the work of God in the here and now. Being stuck on either end of the spectrum, we dismiss ourselves from the responsibility we are called to in the here and now. We risk passivity and inaction. This is why our readings for today, on this first Sunday of Advent, call us to wake up; they draw us from the past or the future and jolt us into the necessary action of the present. It is in this middle space that the work, the preparation, of Advent takes place.

The original hearers of our scripture readings also struggled to live in the middle space of Advent. Those hearing our Gospel in Matthew still felt the sting of their temple and religious livelihood being destroyed; they suffered from huge economic inequality, where only a few were allowed to prosper. Within Matthew’s community, one of the earliest Christian communities, internal conflict and division began to rear it’s ugly head. Similarly, in Romans we read about a Christian community who was arguing about who was worthy enough to be called a Christian. While they were arguing, they forgot the poor and hungry, they forgot that Christ is to be found in their neighbor; they made Christianity an insular club.

Both Matthew’s community and Paul’s community in Romans struggled to see the presence of God in the here and now. I cannot help but wonder if they had given up— this Christianity thing was no longer worth fighting for. Perhaps they so quickly forgot the incarnational God in Christ— the God that lives in and through us. They resigned their own vocation, instead, deciding to wait for God to intervene. They had fallen asleep on their call to be Christ’s hands and feet on earth. In our scripture readings on this first (Week) Sunday of Advent, both communities are told to get ready and “wake up!”

In Matthew, the call to “be ready” was meant to be a jolt to the community’s system. It was a reminder that Christ’s work on earth was not finished and that they were responsible for helping it come to fruition. To make oneself ready is to continue the work of Jesus. What did Jesus do? Cared for the sick, welcomed the outcast, casted out demons, denounced evil when he saw it, and called his followers to go and do likewise.

In Romans, the call to “wake up” was a call to moral action. Paul urged his community to set aside their quarrels, to not let darkness overcome them, and to rise and reorient themselves in Christ. For when we are clothed in Christ, it is not possible to turn our eyes from the needs of our world. It is true that the darkness of our world takes advantage of our slumber.

In our communities and in our world today, how are we being invited to “be ready”, how are we being called to “wake up?” Where in our world is darkness thriving off of our inaction? What are we meddling over that is preventing us from hearing the real, urgent call to action here and now?

This Advent we will be focusing on this verse of John: “A Light shines in the darkness and the darkness can’t overcome it.” Together we can lament, pray for light to shine in our world, and hope for Christ’s love to break into the dark, forgotten places. But we cannot forget that we have the ability to hold Christ’s light too. In Advent, we remember Christ’s birth and we hope for Christ’s coming again, but this is not an invitation to passivity, it is not an excuse to do nothing. We must do the hard work of seeking out the oppressed, welcoming the stranger, calling out evil, and working for justice and peace. We will turn towards the light, clothe ourselves in Christ, change weapons into tools used to feed the hungry, and we will work towards a future where Christ’s mercy reigns for all people. We will not sleep because for people who are hungry now, persecuted now, marginalized now, our inaction could mean that they never see this future break through. In the words of Journalist Dan Rather, “Now is a time when none of us can afford to remain seated or silent.”

Each day we have the opportunity to speak, the opportunity to take a stand, the opportunity to see the world around us and not be satisfied. Each day that we wake up we have the opportunity to be awoken, to let Christ stir something within ourselves that will not back down.

Advent is a season hope, expectation, waiting, and preparation, but it is not something that just happens. Each Advent we have the opportunity renew a vow: A promise to work, to be the Christ’s light for our neighbor, to fight against the fear and injustice of our time. As we answer this call, we shine Christ’s light into the darkness.