Sermon – December 3, 2017 – First Sunday of Advent


Let’s start this morning with a poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins called God’s Grandeur

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.

    It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;

    It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil

Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?

Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;

    And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;

    And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil

Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.


And for all this, nature is never spent;

    There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;

And though the last lights off the black West went

    Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —

Because the Holy Ghost over the bent

    World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.


The world is good and enduring, because God is present in the midst of it.

Louis Armstrong sung about the same thing in a way a bit more familiar,  What a Wonderful World.

I see skies of blue and clouds of white
The bright blessed day, the dark sacred night
And I think to myself what a wonderful world

Reading from this part of Mark and some of the other Gospels can give us a sense of anxiety about the state of things, a sense of uncertainty of the present as we ponder the future.   But let’s not lose sight of the fact that it’s a wonderful world.

I don’t think Jesus could have been for clear, conveyed his message more directly in this passage..   “About that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, only the Father..  Beware, keep alert, for you do not know when the time will come.”   That’s pretty clear.  Now, there is plenty of evidence out there in our culture, in our literature, in some segments and sects of the church that that imperative of Jesus is not being heard.  But listen, he says, “you don’t know, you can’t know.  Nobody knows.  But be aware, be alert, be awake”.  He doesn’t say, “be worried”.

I am amazed at all the things that we find to worry about every day.  Legitimate things.  We worry about our families and our jobs, our finances and our futures, we worry about a nation at war, we worry about our divisive politics, we worry about the state of the disenfranchised and the poor in the world.  These are good things to be concerned.   But why don’t we agree today not to worry about one thing.  Why don’t we agreed not to worry about when God brings the fulfillment of all things, when time is fulfilled and Jesus comes again.  Let’s agree to take Jesus at his word on this this morning and not worry about it.  Because at the root of this worry is concern for our salvation, and God has already settled that for us.  Christ has come that this question may be set aside for us that we might live then, as though that mattered.  To be consumed with worry about the end of time, is to dismiss, in effect, the work that God has done in this time through Christ and the work that we are about right now. .  In our reading from Mark there is no directive that we fear or worry.  Let’s agree not to worry about that.

Instead, why don’t we focus on the things that we can do.  What we can do is to be awake and to be alert and to be aware, as Jesus said.   The Gospel of Mark attests this morning that Jesus has come and revealed God’ loving purpose for us.  And to that end, he says, he has given us everything that we need.  That is what we know.  And it is these things of which we are invited to be aware of and alert to and awake to.

I think that Jesus is saying, live as though this matters:  that I have come; that these things you have anticipated from generation to generation has come to pass.  Live as though that truth is real in your life.  Be awake to the movement of God in your life and in the world.  Be alert to the fact that God is still working, molding us like a potter.  Be prepared when the movement of the Spirit of God calls us to live as though this mattered.  Be alert to the signs of God’s goodness, and don’t worry about the things you cannot know.

Among the ads and circulars that stuff our mailboxes each season about this time, I found one to my liking.   One catalog had for sale a simple bracelet that was inscribed with this bit of wisdom. It said, “Nothing is worth more than this day.”  To live in the awareness of Christ’s presence in the world, to be alert to the movement of the Spirit in our lives is to see the value of this moment and of this day, a gift in and of itself, where all things are possible. Nothing is worth more than this day.

To live in this awareness is to value this day and this moment as a gift given from the very hand of God.  If we are alert and awake in this day, those things that cause us anxiousness and worry will recede behind the weight of this gift.

So what gifts of this day do we share in common, what call to action, what stewardship of the things in our orbit?  Well, today is Commitment Sunday, the time each year when we cast our collective lot to further the mission and ministry of St. Matthew, and all relationships and dreams we embrace.. We have heard over the past few weeks from our brothers and sisters who lead and participate in some of these..   Today is one of the key ways we align ourselves with the vision of God as expressed and lived out by this congregation, this synod and this ELCA.  This is how we participate in ministries of hunger relief and healing, of justice and mercy, how we tend to one another, to our children, to the brothers and sisters in our own congregations.  This is how we partner with believers around country in support of undergraduate education through our 22 colleges, in the development of pastors and other leaders through our eight seminaries, how we share in the work of global mission.  Today, we add our voice and purpose to all those who believe that God is still working in the world, revealing the future.  Together, locally, we take steps as a community to be a part of the future as we close in on 75 years as an Urbana congregation.

There are a lot of reasons to celebrate and commit to the gifts of this day.  This is just one of them and we do so with an eye to the story that is central to our own.

Let’s move into this season with anticipation and not frustration, in hope and not anxiety, toward this blessed night that is to come, the grace and hope and excitement this season and this journey to Bethlehem brings.   Because what we anticipate is God’s great loving gift to a people who deserve much less, but because we have been called his chosen ones, he has deferred our shortcomings and sees us only as his children.  And in order to affirm that relationship for all time, beyond doubt, for God’s good purpose, he sends us His Son wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.

Let that be how we embrace each day in this Advent journey; to walk in the understanding and the awe and the wonder, that the journey towards Bethlehem in these days and our mutual journey of faith in our days is a journey of hope and thanksgiving, of celebration and triumph and grace.

May all these moments between now and then be reminders that all good things are caught up in this journey—the beginning of our redemption, the fulfillment of God’s promises, celebrated by the giving of gifts to remind us of the gift of Christ as we share in the enthusiasm of the Wise Men who presented gifts to our Lord; the preparations for holiday dinners and Christmas programs and the coming of old friends and family and the sharing of memories and the renewing of acquaintances. . . may all these remind us of the good things, that this is a wonderful life over which the Holy Spirit broods with her bright wing

And this; time to remember, to be watchful, to be awake, to be alert to what brings us together, what holds us together, what has brought us here, and carries along in this journey, what future we share, and why. Christ has come and will come again.  As we live each day in that faith, we can celebrate in joy and wonder at God’s gift and affirm that bit of wisdom we spoke of earlier, that nothing is more important than this day.