1 December 2019: The First Sunday of Advent

The Rev. Joseph Peters-Mathews is the vicar of St. Hilda St. Patrick. The gospel text for the day was Matthew 24.36-44.

As we being the season of Advent,
we have Jesus’ admonition
to stay alert,
for we do not know when he will return.
“Keep awake therefore,
for you do not know
on what day your Lord is coming…
“Therefore you also must be ready,
for the Son of Man is coming
at an unexpected hour.”

Advent is not only when we count down
to God beginning to make all things well
in the birth of Jesus.
The Biblical texts we hear
over the next four weeks,
actually talk very little
about the Incarnation.
These are texts for the end of time,
when all is finally made well,
through the work of Jesus.

These texts can actually be difficult for us to hear,
in the 21st Century United States,
particularly if we’ve never really faced oppression.
They’re also difficult to hear
when so much of American culture
has an understanding of these texts as escapism,
that there will be a rapture,
and there’s nothing to be done until then,
so they let the world burn around us.
These passages about the end of time,
about Jesus’ return,
are also difficult to hear…
because he still hasn’t come back!
A few weeks ago we heard
in the letter to the Thessalonians,
about the importance
of people who don’t work not eating.
That wasn’t about means testing public benefits
or ignoring the difficulty of getting jobs.
It certainly wasn’t about shaming the poor.
It was about Jesus’ return and the end of time.
Essentially, the writer was saying,
“Jesus is coming back,
but don’t quit your day job.
You have to work until he does!”

When you think your world has ended,
this texts get a little easier to hear.
Easier to hear when you live in an oppression
that makes mothers worry
about their children being killed by police.
Easier to hear
if you watched a generation of your friends die —
or you have no mentors in your community —
because the government did nothing as a plage raged.
Easier to hear
if you survived that
but it’s your first fear
when someone you love comes out.

In the passage today,
Jesus is in Jerusalem,
just before the plot to kill him
is set in motion.
He knows that he is going to die,
and he knows that he will beat death.
Jesus knows that through his incarnation and resurrection,
God is setting aright
what has been so wrong for so long.
That’s the vision Isaiah has in today’s passage.
Jesus also knows that the world as the disciples know it
is about to end.
this text will be easy for them to hear
as they face religious and civil oppression
for following the Resurrected Christ.

In Advent we count down to Christmas
with our Harry Potter advent calendars,
and we light candles to pierce the deepening-darkness.
Our texts in Advent, however,
are about how God in Christ,
through the resurrection,
has changed all of the world.
Today Jesus tells us to keep alert,
because we don’t know when he’ll return.
We keep alert by working for justice with his help,
and through him to realize the visions
of the world set right.

Advent, is when as NT Wright says, we
“live consciously between the resurrection of Jesus in the past,
and the making of God’s new world in the future…
“Because Jesus Christ rose from the dead,
God’s new world has already broken into the present,
and Christian works for justice…take the shape that they do.”
As we start our advent journey together,
we notice that destruction and the end of the world
are on the pens of the authors we read.
Destruction isn’t the end goal, though.
Redemption, restoration, and resurrection
all follow the destruction
when the Son of Man comes
at his unexpected hour.

Today is World AIDS Day.
Approximately 1.1 million people in the U.S.
are living with HIV today.
About 15 percent of them (1 in 7)
are unaware they are infected.
In 2017, 38,739 people
received an HIV diagnosis
in the U.S. and 6 dependent areas.
That number remained steady for 2012-2016.
Just over half of those were in the South.
In the 1980s,
when AIDS burst onto the scene
and decimated the queer community,
the government did almost nothing
except laugh when reporters
asked questions about it at briefings.

In 2019, 829 people have been shot and killed by police.
Over the last five years,
According to The Washington Post’s Fatal Force database,
26% of those killed by police have been black,
while making up just 13% of the US population.
The Post says,
“Compared to their numbers in the overall population,
an unarmed black man
is about four times more likely
to be killed by police
than an unarmed white man.”

In Advent,
when we hear the need to stay awake,
and hear visions of the peaceable Kingdom
begun in Jesus’ resurrection,
we have the assurance
that these wrongs will be made right.
We have the assurance
that God values justice,
even if we don’t see it in our lifetimes.
In Advent we focus on the Good News
that God has won,
death has been defeated,
and another way is coming.
We also profess this
as an article of faith every week:
“He will come again to judge
the living and the dead.”
As we stay awake,
not knowing when Jesus will return,
we prepare for his return
by working to see God’s vision realized
and repenting of the ways we’ve failed to do so.
Come Lord Jesus.

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