A Sermon preached at the Anglican Parish of Almaguin/Emsdale Dec. 2nd, 2007 Is. 2:1-5; Ps. 122; Rom. 13:11-14; Mt. 24:36-44God who comes to us so unexpectedly, come to us this morning and so transform our lives. In the name of the One we expect, Amen.
This morning, we celebrate the first Sunday of Advent. Advent marks the beginning of the Christian year and it’s the season that asks us to prepare ourselves for the unthinkable: we are asked to prepare ourselves for the in-breaking, for the coming of God into our world. It is a season which asks us to anticipate, to sit and wait for the impossible, the unexpected.
Waiting can be a really frustrating experience as I experienced all week waiting for our lovely national treasure, Bell Canada, to fix the church’s phone line. You call, you get put on hold, you get automated message after automated message and finally you get a live person only to find out that you’ll have to wait 24 to 48 hrs for the line to be fixed. And, when it is, you realize that there are a host of other problems and you have to call them again, and the season of waiting begins all over again. Even as I was writing this sermon, I was sitting, waiting for Bell. We tend to get impatient, frustrated, and even angry (though, I would never, never get angry with Bell Canada). We want things now, we don’t want to wait; we want instant gratification.
When we lived downtown in Toronto, we had a Shoppers Drugmart directly across the street. One night, the eve of Halloween, we needed some medicine for William because he was running a fever. So, I went across the street. The store stayed open until midnight and I was the last one to walk in as they closed the doors behind me. The scene that greeted me literally made me take a step back. All the employees of the store were taking down the Halloween decorations and products and replacing them, row by row, with Christmas ones. Astounding! “What the rush?”, “Why so quickly?”, I asked myself. There were Halloween pumpkins sitting beside and amongst Christmas wreaths and bows—a sure sign, if there ever were, of our culture’s obsession with immediate indulgence; a symbol of our collective inability to wait! The night of Halloween, we were thrown, headlong, completely unprepared, into the season of Christmas. How maddening!
And so, unable to bear the burden of waiting, we enthusiastically enter into this consumer Christmas, which has turned into a time of setting our cultural and societal coping mechanisms into play. We’d rather not take the time to wait; we get busy, we hide behind the season, we’d rather build fantasy castles around ourselves, decked out with plastic angels and candy canes than to . We lull ourselves to sleep, we numb ourselves in our shopping, we cope in our busyness. But advent, this season of delay forces us to wait, to take the time to anticipate, to prepare, to steady ourselves for God’s coming to us.
And notice that our readings this morning don’t circle around God’s incarnation in Christ, but around Christ’s coming again, his Second Coming. St. Paul writes “now is the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near.”…and Jesus tells his disciples in Matthew’s gospel, “keep awake, for you don’t know when the Lord is coming”…”you must be ready, for God in Christ is coming at an unexpected hour.” So the church is asked in this season not only to recall God’s adventurous coming in Christ but to prepare for Christ’s return…to anticipate his coming; to expect the impossible, to await the unthinkable—Christ’s advent, his coming to us. But what does that mean? What does that mean for the church, on the ground?
It means wholeheartedly and assuredly that waiting is an exercise of hope; it is the church’s exercise of hope; waiting is Christian hope in action. It's not wishful thinking, but hope in the One who has come and who will come; it is an active belief that God’s justice will prevail and that we are called to embody that justice in anticipation through our actions toward each other and toward our world. This means that waiting is not a passive activity but a wholly active one. Waiting is a restless, impatient act. Our children have a thing or two to teach us about the posture of waiting; “are we there yet?” is a common enough, but profound refrain; or you may remember what it was like as a child, waiting for Christmas morning—eager, impatient, restless, active waiting…this is what the church is called to do.
But this active hope requires that the church not fall asleep in its anticipation of God’s coming. But how easy it is to be lulled in this season!—how can we not when we’re bombarded with the synthetic images that float across our television sets, that greet us in our newspapers and magazines that demand that Christmas be a time of consumption and not a time of expectation; a time of gratification and not a time of preparation?
And when the church buys into this it neglects its prophetic call to stand in our culture as a beacon of hope, a place of peace in a world of violence, a light of justice in a world where it’s a rare gem. But when we wait, when we wait impatiently like a child awaits the wonder and mystery of Christmas morning, we can participate in the change that comes to our worlds; we can play a part in bringing God’s advent light to shine amidst the darkness that threatens our world.
So we prepare for God’s coming in this season of advent. And we actually expect that God will come to us. How foolish of us, how absurd, how impossible, but oh how marvellous and miraculous!