First Sunday of Advent, Year B
November 30, 2014
(Note: For each Sunday of Advent we will focus on a particular word as theme for the gospel. The four words are Awake, Prepare, Witness, and Be.)
And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake. Mark 13:37
Are you ready? Not for Thanksgiving, not for Black Friday, Local Saturday, or Cyber Monday shopping, not for decking the halls, or bowl games and play-offs–no I’m asking about Advent. You know, that season that kicks off every liturgical church year by setting a tone of attentiveness and preparation?
Here’s what I both like and find discomforting about Advent. I like that the season extends open arms and invites us to truly be present and alive and aware. I like that Advent is about readying my life, my heart, and my home anew for Christ’s presence. I like that Advent beckons me into renewed and refreshed relationship with my Lord and Savior. Oh, and I like the color blue, lighting candles, stubbornly holding off on the Christmas decorations and carols, and at the top of my voice singing Advent hymns such as“Light One Candle to Watch for Messiah” and “Blessed be the God of Israel” and “All Earth is Hopeful.”
Yet these very same things that I like about Advent I also find discomforting. It’s so much easier to rush through the days blithely pretending that there will always be more time. It’s so much easier to put off today what can just as well be done tomorrow. It’s so much more realistic to be overbooked, overstretched, and overextended rather than awake, aware, and alert to every precious moment of this life. And oh how easy it is to buy into the hype and hoopla of the consumer seasonal mash-up of ThanksHanuChristgivingKwanssakahmas!
So let’s back up a minute and read both the gospel lesson (Mark 13:24-37) and the Old Testament (Isaiah 64:1-9). What do you notice? Well, for one thing there isn’t a commercial bone or tone in either lesson. There is despair, suffering, and gloom aplenty, although these elements give way to a hint of hope, an admonition of expected behavior, and recognition that God is God and we are not. Not exactly elf on the shelf material, is it?
We wait, we hope, we sin, we mess up: wash, rinse, repeat. The key, according to Jesus in today’s gospel message, is to remain awake. We are to remain fully awake. We are to be present in our own lives and fully aware of everything and everyone around us. Much is expected. Our houses–real and metaphorical–are to be swept clean and prepared for the master’s return.
We’re told it won’t be long, and yet here we sit a couple of thousand years later. Jesus is coming again in in great power and glory. That’s right. He is coming. Not will be coming. Certainly not may be coming. Jesus is coming even now. God sightings are all around us if we but look. We see our Lord in the faces of our neighbors. We sense a divine spark even in those we call enemies, for all are made in God’s image. In last week’s final reading from Matthew we heard that Jesus is seen in the weak, powerless, poor, imprisoned, hungry, and thirsty. Dear sisters and brothers, there are plenty of folks around who fit these descriptions, so we can see Jesus. In fact, we can look around in our worship space during Advent and see plenty of evidence that Jesus is coming.
So let us truly be alert and watchful, let us be prayerful and hopeful. Let us be real with one another and with ourselves. Let us be fully present in this thing we call life. It is perfectly fine to expect to see Jesus, to experience signs of the kingdom breaking in amid the pain and suffering, between the brokenness and beauty. Don’t ignore it or overthink it. Just do it. Sing those Advent carols at the top of your lungs. Light candles as an act of defiance against the powers of darkness. Resist hastening Christmas at the expense of this beautiful season. Make gifts and give experiences rather than trinkets destined for the shelves of Goodwill or a landfill. Write letters of appreciation and gratitude instead of simply outlining the family news for 2014. Give prodigally and unexpectedly. Look for Jesus everywhere–in traffic, at the laundromat, in the grocery store checkout line, at work, on the street corner, next to you in the pew. Breathe deeply knowing that the Spirit of God fills you with grace, goodness, and life.
Keep awake. Watch, listen, and expect God to show up. Be a steward of this season. Amen.
The Advent Fig Tree: Draw a large fig tree without leaves and post on the wall somewhere in the worship space or in a gathering space. In worship give each person a green paper leaf and invite them to write where they have seen Jesus during the past week. In Advent we wait and watch for Jesus. We look for God sightings in the world. Invite worshipers to tape their leaves to the tree before leaving. Alternately, have them place the leaves in a basket that is passed around during the hymn of the day. Place a supply of blank leaves by the tree and invite people to write where they see the face of Christ all during Advent. (Note: If you have a big enough space leave room to add elements in the following week to this paper “mosaic.” We’ll be adding an element each week. Next week will be a road or path, the third week will be a river, and the final week will involve photos of your church family. Stay tuned!)
Ever slept through a class? Have you ever been so absorbed in something else–a game, a movie–that you failed to hear what someone is saying to you? All of us have been there! Jesus, however, is asking us to be awake and really see what’s going on around us. He invites us to really pay attention to our lives and the people around us as we wait and watch for him. This week why not take a walking tour of the neighborhood around your church building. Invite youth to take photos of things they’ve never noticed before. Invite them to really watch, look, and listen–to be fully present in the journey. When you return collect the photos into a slide show and talk about what you notice that you’ve never really seen before. Make the connection between being awake and alert to look for Jesus in the world. How do we see Jesus in the world? Did you see evidence of him in the neighborhood walking tour? If so, how and where? Invite youth to keep awake all during Advent for news, conversations, images, and ideas about Jesus in the world that they’ve never noticed before. If you have time make a photo collage or YouTube video to share the results of your walking tour with the congregation. Intersperse words from this week’s gospel lesson among the images.
Wait! Thanksgiving is over, right? Not according to our epistle lesson from Paul’s first letter to the church at Corinth (1:3-9)! Verse four says, “I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been give you in Christ Jesus…” Moving from Thanksgiving to Christmas can change our focus from being thankful and celebrating the gifts of others to our own wants and needs as all the ads for Christmas goodies dance across the screens of our televisions and computers. So, let’s slow down and give thanks in Advent. Let’s look for signs of Jesus in others and give thanks for their lives and gifts to us. Invite children to think of one person they’d like to thank for being a faithful Christian. Give each child a simple thank you card–either design one and buy blanks to run through your printer or have the children make one or pick up inexpensive ones at a local dollar store. Remind children to stay awake, to watch, and look for opportunities to say thank you during Advent. Finish with a simple prayer.
Photos: Alan Turkus, OiMax, Jennifer Rayfieyan, Creative Commons. Thanks!)