Blessings to you this season of Advent, in the name of the one who was, who is, and who is to come. Amen.
Today begins Advent, the season traditionally marked by the twin themes of watching and waiting. But what, exactly are we watching and waiting for, and what are we supposed to do while we watch and wait?
When I was little, my cousins, Debbie and Donna, frequently came over to visit on Sunday afternoons and on holidays. Those were the best times. We kids, all about the same age, would play for hours while the adults talked, and drank coffee and sometimes played cards. I loved those days. And so, when I knew company was coming, I would sit at this big window we had in our living room, and watch, and wait for them.
At five or six years old I might have trouble sitting all the way through a church service, or all the way through arithmetic class (that’s what we called it then) but I could sit for the longest time, with my little nose pressed up against the window, looking for my uncle’s car to pull up and park and my cousins to come running up to our front door.
So, when I think of the watching and waiting of Advent, it is that image that forms in my mind – my nose stuck to the window, still as a mouse, watching and waiting in breathless anticipation for our company’s arrival.Sometimes, that is what our watching and waiting is like – we create a kind of sacred stillness around us as we eagerly watch for something to happen, afraid that if we get distracted we might miss its advent – it’s arrival.
It can be likened to the longing for the return home of a sweetheart who has been away at war or an adult child who is returning home from college or from their own home, now thousands of miles away from ours. Such waiting can be like so many other kinds of reunions for which we might yearn.
There are those other times of watching and waiting as well – the ones that fill us with a different kind of anticipation, like what we experience as we await test results or a diagnosis; or when we’re waiting for the boom to fall, perhaps bringing a big change in our job or in a relationship.
And then, of course, there is watching and waiting that happens in its own unique, sacred space, when we sit with a loved one on their final journey in life.
We can all probably name our own associations with the twin experiences of watching and waiting, some of them wrapped in sweet memories, and others accompanied by sadness and pain.
During this Advent season, while we wait in anticipation of Christ’s coming, at the same time we remember that Jesus has already come. So we ask ourselves, what is our watching and waiting about? Are we waiting for Christmas or for something else? While Advent is often treated as a season of preparation for the birth of Christ, what place do the twins, watching and waiting, play in this season for us today, living two millennia after that holy birth?
This morning, I would like to think about the difference between the passive activities of watching and waiting which are prominently encouraged during this season, and the call to action which we find in the scriptures today.
The words from our gathering hymn this morning, and the choir anthem that you will hear in just a few minutes reflect the preliminary kind of action that Jesus calls for in the gospel text I read just now. These hymns together with Jesus’ words implant a repeated refrain in our hearts today – Wake! Awake!
Listen to these words: “Wake, awake, for night is flying the watchmen on the heights are crying, awake, awake, Jerusalem. Arise!”
This definitely sounds more like a call to action than an invitation to quiet observation or waiting. It is a call to leave our complacency behind. The texts this day are intended to wake us up, to disrupt this comfortable, ordinary season of life.
Our Gospel reading was written to Christians living more than a generation after the life and death of Christ. Matthew, the Gospel writer, knew that the longed-for return of Christ was an expectation, but not yet a reality for the community. And so they were struggling…
They had been waiting a long time for the return of Jesus, and at least some of the people were losing hope that the promised realm of Christ, a realm that would bring about justice and peace would ever come.
Jesus had promised to return, but they now debated whether this was ever going to happen, and if Jesus wasn’t going to return, what did that mean for them? What did it mean for life?They were losing hope, they were losing faith in their own witness, divisions were growing between them about what following Christ even meant. How should they proceed if maybe, just maybe, Jesus really isn’t coming back at all?
Here we are over 2000 year later, still with our noses up against the glass, waiting for Jesus to pull into the proverbial driveway and bring about his reign of justice and peace. The world is yearning for peace, for life, for justice, for …….. something, we may not even understand what.
We live in a day and age when perhaps more people are unchurched than churched and have therefore never heard the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. There is a very good chance that people you know – neighbors and friends and coworkers and even family members have never heard anyone witness to who Jesus is for them.
Rather than simply waiting and watching like I did for our company all those years ago, these texts today are a call to action. They are a call and instruction to go about living during this time of waiting; to go about doing. They are encouragement to not give up hope. And they are for you and me and all of us who are challenged to have faith in the midst of the waiting, because on our own we can’t even begin to imagine what the transforming power of God’s future will be like.
But we know about today. We know that all around us God is present and at work in the world, and we see God present in so many ways, and through so many of the people who surround us. Jesus accompanies us through each day. And we have work to do, to prepare the world for the Jesus’ return.
Isaiah’s timeless message is encouragement to trust in God, knowing that we are to be the beacons of hope and justice and healing for a world that has gone awry, and knowing that there is much to do to prepare the world for Jesus’ return.
We are gifted and called to break the chain of violence in our homes and schools and on our streets. We are gifted and called to reject the vitriol that has taken over social media and conversation. We are gifted and called to be the ambassadors for Christ’s healing peace, to begin by rejecting the obscenity of weapons and creating tools of healing, caring, compassion and safety for those who are most vulnerable.
In the everyday activity of our lives – working in our fields, or offices, or volunteering in the community; caring for our families and our communities, we are blessed to show who we are as God’s holy people, and what difference it makes that Jesus is the embodiment of God for all people, for all ages.This is not a message that encourages passivity or complacency. Twice the prophet calls to the people, “come, let us go!” Let us go be the people of God, let us go do peace and justice, ridding ourselves of weapons and turning them instead into tools of hope and harvest. Isaiah’s parting words from this passage are, “Come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!”
The apostle Paul also issues a wake-up call, as he instructs all the followers of Christ to put on the “armor of light”. Again, the command leaves no room for passivity or complacency, but calls all within the community to action.
There is something that followers of Christ do; first, we fulfill the fundamental command to love. And now, Paul commands, wake up – to the reality that God comes like the dawn, and in the light of the new day, with love at the core of our identity in Jesus, we are to live in the light of Christ!
God only knows when Christ will bring an end to this age, coming with all the saints and angels to bring the final justice, peace, the complete rule of God into the world, accomplishing health, blessing, full reconciliation between people, between God and humankind, between the created world and all its creatures. Only God knows or can bring about the total realm of the divine kingdom on earth.
But through the incarnation of Jesus, God is present in the world today; is with you and me today; is blessing the world today; through our acts of compassion, feeding, clothing, justice, accompaniment. God is present working in us as we challenge the status quo, combat the evils of hatred, sin, greed, bigotry and blind self-interest.
God comes to us in the word and sacrament of each Sunday, through the community gathered and empowered for God’s mission and ministry today and tomorrow, and in the future at the end of all things.
In Advent we are called to ready ourselves to receive the disorienting God. We resist the temptation to see Advent as only being about God arriving as a baby on Christmas Eve.
Rather, we embrace God’s everyday presence with us as we answer the call to action, and we embrace God’s promise to come again as judge. We do not shiver in fear, but watch and wait with great and wonderful anticipation for the Advent of the all-encompassing love, mercy and grace God has already enacted and will one day bring to fullness in the coming of Christ.