November 28: The First Sunday of Advent

Sam Magill is a coach and poet. He has served on the Bishop’s Committee at St. Hilda St. Patrick and has chaired the stewardship committee. This sermon was preached as a response to Luke 21.25-36 based on the manuscript below.

Taken as a whole, today’s passage from Luke presents us with a peculiar beginning to Advent. Thanksgiving is done. Christmas lights are just around the corner. Trim the tree and wrap the presents. Get ready for the next holiday. In contrast, Luke advises us that the end is near.

21:25 “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves.

Indeed, there are signs! The roaring of a sea of voices, of social media, of self-selected truths is very much like the confused seas experienced in a boat or kayak when confronted with tidal forces, ocean swells, wind waves in another direction, tidal rivers and currents created water and land collide. Tragically, a 37- year-old man recently died kayaking off Everett. There were signs, but he failed to be prepared, to stay awake.

The signs of rising gun violence, of jury verdicts absent justice, of cars plowing through crowds of children and grandmothers are terrifying.

Luke goes on to say: 21:26 People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.

We have many reasons to fear – inflation, pandemic, conflict around the world, deadlocked legislative bodies, money for food, inadequate housing, national leaders flexing their domineering muscles and, lest we forget, melting glaciers.

21:32 Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. Luke tells us that everything we know of will be gone and suddenly. My struggle is that Luke wrote 2000 years ago and here we are, still in fear, still waiting, still hoping for the coming of a kingdom of peace.

Maybe it helps to think of this “generation” as an “age” – like the age of the dinosaurs. It ended – suddenly if we accept the giant meteor theory. Perhaps Luke is writing about the end of the age of humankind. That’s kinda scary. But in another more hopeful comparison, we can look at the Grizzly Giant – a Sequoia Gigantea (redwood tree) in Yosemite and others of its kind. As I reflected on the 2000 years since Jesus physically walked on the earth, I suddenly remembered that the Grizzly Giant is thought to be 3000 years old! It is very much alive and was an old tree when Jesus was born! Its “generation” has not come to an end! Although with human destruction of the earth, it may well end. Many of its kind perished in fires this summer. Perhaps the end is in sight.

Luke offers this advice to the Disciples: those who gave up everything to follow Jesus. To them he says:
21:34 “Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly,
21:33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
21:36 Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”

Phew. It sounds so grave, and I think Luke intends it to be.

So where does this leave us? What are we to do until the end of this age and the arrival of an entirely different world? Advent offers us a time to live in the tension between fear and hope. Between fear and hope. It may be a week from now that all ends; it may be another 2000 years. And we continue to harm one another, the planet, the creation.

In the meantime,…… we have been told what to do – love our neighbor, love ourselves, love God. Do not be weighted down by the justifiable fear – The problem is that all these acts seem to depend on us! Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead called us out: : “Somebody has to do something. It seems incredibly, in, in fact, it seems pathetic that it has to be us, you know.”

So why don’t we do anything? We know already what needs to be done! Seek wisdom, love justice, walk humbly, say the prayers, treat all people with dignity. Do the work He has given us to do so that we have the courage to stand before the Son of Man.

But people faint from fear! Fear is sold to us in “alternative facts” and “main stream” media alike. Fear. Fear feels sells much easier than hope.

Fear is paralyzing. The rabbits in our front yard sit motionless when they see Charlee dog coming out the front door. Being motionless is a pretty good strategy for prey animals. And Charlee only moves when the rabbit starts to run away. We cannot run away from the horrors of racism. We cannot run away from the ill treatment of our brothers and sisters who differ from us in a thousand ways.

21:28 Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
21:29 Then he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees;
21:30 as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near.

Friends, we see this year after year!
21:31 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near.

I say, that in the midst of the chaotic waves and noisy sea of information and events, that we DO see the buds of summer – If we have seen “these things taking place” over and over…..we can conclude that the Kingdom of God is near. And we have heard before that the Kingdom is at hand. And we have heard that God will recognize us when we stand before the Son of Man because of what we have done HERE! Freeing the captives, feeding the poor, visiting the sick, clothing the naked, on and on. We already know what needs to be done between now and the end of the world as we know it. We already have all that we need if we will stop being rabbits paralyzed with fear.

Let us face our fears. Stare them in the face, says Thich Nhat Han. Go into our safe place – this sanctuary? Our closest circles, our family – if they are safe for us, our Covid bubbles. Let us go inward and learn. Let us go into our rooms and pray to our father in silence.

So here – at the beginning of Advent, we stop to think about what is the opposite of fear? What will renew us, fortify us encourage us. This too is just around the corner! The rebirth of love into the world?

What can we do? We can be stewards. We can use what ever resources God has already given us We can live in our commons that includes people who are suffering. We are not a social club of nice people feeling good about ourselves because we come to church. No, we are a community charged with caring for the commons that is so much bigger than ourselves.

We are charged with staying awake, of not being paralyzed by fear. We are charged with waiting for whatever God has in mind and while we are waiting, to use whatever privilege we have to work for justice and peace.

A key task as the dark nights surround us is to listen into the winter silence and see what it has (what God has) to teach us this year. And we must, as Luke guides us, be on guard, be alert – waiting in hope.

I close with a poem from the great Sufi poet, Rumi. He describes a doorway between two world and people going back and forth. Perhaps, they are moving already between regular life filled with fear and the Kingdom of God – which is at hand.

don’t go back to sleep
The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you.
Don’t go back to sleep.
You must ask for what you really want.
Don’t go back to sleep.
People are going back and forth across the doorsill
where the two worlds touch.
The door is round and open. Don’t
go back to sleep.

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