December 3, 2024

The First Sunday of Advent

December 3, 2023

The Rev. R. Allan McCaslin

Readings: Isaiah 64:1-9; Psalm 80:1-7, 16-18; 1 Corinthians 1:3-9; Mark 13:24-37

From Isaiah, “When we did not expect (it), (God) came.” I speak to you in the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

     An employee was busy assisting travelers at an airline gate when she was approached by a man who insisted that he should be taken care of immediately even though there were several others ahead of him. When told he would have to wait his turn, he bellowed out, “Do you know who I am?” Without a second thought, the employee picked up her microphone and announced to the hundred or so folks waiting nearby, “May I have your attention please. May I have your attention please.” People quieted down. Now that she had their attention, she gestured towards the irate man and asked, “Do you see this man in front of me? Well, he can’t remember who he is. So, if any of you recognize him please come forward and let me know so that we can tell him who he is, and then tell him where he should go.”

Do you know who I am? Do you know who you are? That question is nuanced in today’s gospel lesson, and it is a timely question. See, these first two Sundays of Advent focus on the Christian belief and assurance that our resurrected and ascended Lord will return to earth at the end of this age. That event is called the Second Advent or Second Coming of Christ.

Unfortunately, predicting exactly when our Lord will return and what will happen on that day has fostered a billion-dollar industry of books and films and television shows all purporting to know the answer. And that industry has sown doubt and confusion, worry and stress, and caused family and church divisions over who might be supposedly “left behind” while, at the same time, millions of people throughout the world are starving and homeless. In many regions of our country and the world today, the Christian message of hope and welcome, of love, mercy, and endless grace has morphed into a heresy that says the sole purpose of faith is to help you own a multi-million dollar home or the best car in the neighborhood and if you don’t have those things, well, you don’t have enough faith. And that message is often coupled with the threat that you had better get ready because Jesus is coming back and everyone that ever treated you badly is going to get theirs. It seems that the Christian message is now either about riches or revenge while ignoring the need for justice and mercy and fairness to freely flow and flourish in every community. More and more Christians no longer seek and serve Christ in all persons, but rather, focus inward for the sole betterment of themselves. Friends, that is not the Gospel of Jesus Christ, nor the message and unique beauty of Advent.

     In this morning’s reading from the Gospel according to Mark, Jesus speaks clearly about his return and what he expects of those who call him, Lord. Those expectations can be summed up in two words: “Keep awake.” Now, while I would love to begin a sermon reminding everyone to keep awake or stay awake, that is not what Jesus is talking about. To keep awake is not about opening your eyes towards the skies above you, or looking for signs and wonders that might predict when Jesus will return. And it certainly isn’t about amassing riches or reveling in the prospect of revenge. Our Lord says, “Keep awake” as in know who you are, know who Jesus has called you to be and then, with vigilance, keep to the tasks at hand. And what are those tasks?

Well, Jesus uses an image of servants and master to remind us that we have a job to do while he is away. Our job, our task, is to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, body, mind and strength, and love our neighbor as ourselves – love all that God loves. In other words, our task is to truly be God’s people: to let our lives – our thoughts, our words, what we value, and what we do - demonstrate God’s unconditional and transforming love; witness to the reconciliation and mercy possible with God; and to be Christ’s continuing light of redemption and hope in this world.

     Jesus says (vs. 33) that the day and time of his return is known to no one and therefore, do not expect any warning. He says when you see these signs know that he is already at the gate – he is already here. Thus, we have the first lesson in this Season of Advent: Christians live in a state of constant readiness, but it is a readiness without fear. See, the servants know their tasks. They know what they have to do, and they do it fully expecting that their master will return at any moment. Jesus says do not be concerned about when he will return. In Mark 3:35 Jesus says that doing the will of God has nothing to do with the timing of God’s judgment but, doing the will of God has everything to do with living the Gospel. The question the master will ask upon his return is not, did you see the signs, but rather, have you been faithful to your call as a Christian, your call to be an active disciple of Jesus Christ? That is the only question.

     This life of faith and witness in action is what St. Paul was speaking about in today’s reading from his first letter to the Church at Corinth. Paul rejoiced because, while anticipating and looking forward to Christ’s return, the people were engaged not in predictions about the future, but rather, engaged in active ministry. Paul says, “I give thanks … to my God … for the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you” and he rejoices that they are being enriched in knowledge and speech centered on what? The things of God. That Church was not passing the time of day idly waiting for Christ’s return, but rather, they were active in mission: teaching, studying, feeding the hungry, being Christ’s presence to everyone in need, and building up the community of faith. Like the servants in our Gospel reading, they were fulfilling the task at hand: they were faithful to their call to be Christ’s light in this world.

    The Prophet Isaiah speaks of God, our Creator, as the potter and we, mere mortals, as clay open to God’s shaping and reshaping work within us. We call that shaping and reshaping conversion. It is an on-going action of the Holy Spirit within us as God recreates his people so that we become a people known for faithfulness to the Gospel; content to focus our time and energy on being Christ’s reconciling presence in our communities while we anticipate our Lord’s return.

     And so, our Advent journey begins this morning with our Lord’s words, “Keep awake.” Be alert: Know who you are. In a few moments we will stand together and renew our Baptismal Covenant Promises and, thereby, be reminded of who we are, whose we are, and how we are called to live every moment of every day. And the answer about how we should live is stated in today’s scripture lessons. They urge us to put our faith, our trust in God, our love for God and neighbor, into action. That is the first step in walking this Season of Advent together. Knowing who we are, and what we are called to do and to be.

    Friends, the Season of Advent invites the Church to grasp more fully, more deeply, that the miracle and grace offered to all creation in the birth of the Christ at Bethlehem – that Advent of God with us – the Word made flesh dwelling among us – if it is ever going to make a difference in our world abroad and at home - it should and must change how Christians, how all of God’s people, choose to live. So I invite you to join with me in taking time – deliberate, focused time - to pause, reflect upon, ponder, examine and explore our life journeys as individuals and as a parish community, and ask ourselves how we might be more faithful to Christ and then choose to do something about it.

     May this Advent 2023, draw each of us into a deepened relationship with Christ and then send us forth with a renewed commitment to Christ’s mission on earth. We “do not know when the master of (this) house will come.” But, my beloved, if we are awake to who we are and seek to live as we are called to live, then, in the words of the Prophet Isaiah, we will indeed realize that “when we did not expect it, God came” and continues to come every day. How is that possible? By seeing, and seeking, and serving the Christ in every person we meet. The Advent challenge for us, in the words of that old Carol, is will the Christ find in your heart and my heart a room prepared for him not just at Christmas, but every day. Beloved, Keep Awake, and may our gracious God grant a blessed Advent journey to us all. Amen.