December 1, 2019, The 1st Sunday of Advent

The Rev. R. Allan McCaslin
Readings: Isaiah 2:1-5; Psalm 122; Romans 13:11-14; Matthew 24:36-44

     From St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans, “You know what time it is … Now is the moment for you to wake from sleep.” I speak to you in the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

     Well, I am sure that like me, many here are still sleepy and a little worn out this morning given all the festivities of last evening. Of course, I’m talking about watching the ball drop in Times Square and all the cheering as we counted down the last few moments of the Season of Pentecost and listened for that final stroke of midnight proclaiming that the Season of Advent has burst into our lives once more! No?

Well then, let me be the first to say it, “Happy New Year!” That’s right! A New Year in the Christian Calendar Year began at midnight this morning. And that is cause for celebration even though, the truth is, most of us probably went to bed last night unaware that a whole new year in the life of the church and, in particular, this church was about to begin. And why not? After all, I think Advent with its four short weeks, is one of the strangest and most misunderstood Seasons of the Christian year.  

     See Advent has a two-fold message. On the one hand, Advent calls the world to prepare for the return or SecondAdvent, (Second coming), of the Christ in glory at the end of this age. On the other hand, Advent calls the world to prepare for the First Advent, the birth of the Christ at Bethlehem years ago. Advent says to prepare for the past, as well as the future, and urges us to realize that for people of God, our past and future are immersed in watching for, seeking, and anticipating the presence of the Christ, the Messiah, every day of our lives.

     As I was pondering not just today’s scripture lessons, but the entire message of Advent this week, I found that Advent boils down to one clear question. It is a question asked not only of the whole world, but especially asked of those who claim to be disciples and followers of the Christ: “Are you ready for Jesus?” I know it sounds simple and perhaps even silly to some, but that question has burned in my heart this week. You see, I find that in the busyness of mission and ministry it is very easy to get so caught up in doing the work of Christ that we can forget to watch for, seek, and anticipate an encounter with the Christ every moment of every day.

     That’s what was happening in the Church at Rome and inspired St. Paul to write them an urgent letter – a portion of which we heard as our New Testament lesson this morning. Now, there is enough to explore all that was going in The Church at Rome to fill a month of Sunday sermons. But, in a nutshell, Paul was distraught over the news that the success of that church had created a sense of elitism among her members. An elitism that led to all sorts of arguments over who should eat with whom, what is the right way to set the Altar, who is welcome to receive communion, and so on. And in the process, her members were so busy arguing that they had stopped looking for Jesus all together. Meeting Jesus had become an experience in their past – a life changing experience at that time, mind you- but now that first coming of Jesus had been relegated to reenacting Christmas pageants and looking forward to his eventual return, his Second Advent, rather than an everyday reality.

Paul says, “All this arguing has lulled you to sleep. Wake up!” “This is the moment!” “For Salvation is nearer now morethan ever.” God’s promised fulfillment of scripture has come and the opportunity to enter once again into a new life walking every moment of every day, as the Prophet Isaiah says, “in the light of the Lord” is at hand right now if you will choose to listen for, watch for, anticipate, and seek the Christ who always seems to appear when we least expect him and in the most unlikely of persons. “Now is the moment for you to wake from sleep.” Are you ready for Jesus?

     In today’s reading from the Gospel according to Matthew, Jesus tells us that no one knows what lies ahead except God.  Therefore, he says, “Keep awake … you must always be ready for the Son of Man’s return:” The return of Jesus Christ who comes to us daily and makes himself known to us in the breaking of the bread, in the prayers of God’s people, in the reading of scripture, in the Apostle’s teaching, in the words of a stranger, in the embrace of a loved one, and who, someday, will come with great glory and usher in an eternal new way of life and peace. Jesus says, “keep wake … always be ready” and Advent asks, “Are we ready? Are we ready for Jesus?”  “Now is the moment.”

     A colleague tells the story of a night when he had turned on the TV and kicked off his shoes and just laid back on the couch when suddenly his wife shouted his name from upstairs, “Rick! Rick! My water broke!” And in his own words, he was “immediately transformed from a couch potato to a man-on-fire” as he realized there were things to do beforebeginning to make the one-hour drive to the hospital. They were having a baby, and having it now.  Moments later, his wife entered the laundry room where Rick was frantically shoving clothes into the washing machine. “What are you doing?” she asked. “I’m doing laundry. I need some things cleaned before we go off and spend a couple days in the hospital.” He said there was a deafening silence followed by, “Rick…you don’t have time to do laundry. We need to go. Now!” It was their first child and he was unprepared. He was unprepared for how real things were about to get.

    And so it is when we meet Jesus: life takes on new meaning, a new “realness,” a new sense of purpose, a change in values and priorities, a new way of living. Whether we are meeting him for the first time at Bethlehem, or in our yearly celebration of his rising from the tomb at Easter, or looking forward to meeting him sometime in the future, we can encounter Jesus every moment of every day if we look for him, actively seek him, and yes, serve him. For those who continue to meet the Christ every day find that their lives and priorities are changed and enriched beyond imagination. Advent asks, “Are you ready for Jesus?”

     To help us answer that question in the affirmative, Advent invites us to prepare our hearts and minds personally and as a community of faith for the coming of Christ every day. And, just like the beginning of the secular new calendar year on January 1st when we wish each other good health and happiness, Advent shows us the way to renewed health and happiness in God right now. Thus, it is appropriate that this Season began this morning by restating what is really important: a healed and restored relationship with God and one another; a vigilant watchfulness for the times; and a recognition that God is always present and active in our midst. So, we began our services this morning with a call – an exhortation – to self-examination of our priorities and actions that get in the way of our relationship with God and with each other followed by a prayer of confession and the receiving of absolution. Now, the stage is set for opening our hearts, our minds, our ears and eyes to whatever God has in store for us as individuals and as a community of faith today and in this new Christian year.

     Beloved, “You know what time it is … Now is the moment for you to wake from sleep.” Are you ready for Jesus? Are we ready for Jesus? I invite you to join with me in both discerning and living that answer this week. And by God’s grace, may our answer always be “Yes.” Amen.