First Sunday in Advent

Deacon Blaine Barclay

December 2nd, 2018

Today is the first Sunday of Advent. The beginning of a new liturgical year. The readings for today are like a warning shot over our bow to set the tone for the coming year. To get us on the right foot for Advent and this year of Luke.

It is an interesting exercise to step back for a moment from this particular Sunday, And to look over the readings and ‘collect’ prayers(the opening gathering prayer just before the readings) for the four Sundays of Advent as a whole. Only then do we really noticed the darker side of Advent, so to speak, the deep foreboding, the call to repentance as a response to God‘s initiative of breaking in upon our broken humanity.

advent are somewhat dark and foreboding in their tone. Filled with longing fora hope that is more like a promise, a faint glimmer of light on the horizon.Like the early dawning of a new day, a day we are called to make ready for with repentance, good deeds, and justice, in this wilderness that is our home. Only on the third and fourth Sunday’s of Advent does the sun come up over the horizon, and even then with shadow.

 Today’s collect, for example, prays for ‘the resolve to run forth to meet your Christ with righteous deeds at his coming‘. To act like those, ‘gathered at his right hand‘, which is the hand of mercy and good deeds.Advent calls us to be awake to the tragic darkness of our world and of our hearts, or, should I say, what we have made of our world and of our lives. To long for the one who God is sending to rescue us from ourselves. The one our first reading calls, a ‘Righteous Branch ‘, who, ‘shall execute justice and righteousness in the land’. This Branch, this Son of David, Anointed, Messiah King, Jesus the Christ.

 Even this hope, however, is awake to the tragic. The Promised One will also struggle with his war against the night, will know risk,temptation, loneliness, rejection, loss, grief, torture, execution. Nativity,the coming of God into the vulnerability, the very bottom of our human condition, is a battle cry for all of us to join him in this fight. This non-violent revolution of tenderness, taking back the night, in the time between the first Nativity and the second Nativity. The birth of the Messiah and the victory of the messianic people, called to a messianic lifestyle.

 Saint Paul captures this ‘building the kingdom of God’ lifestyle quite well when he says, ‘brothers and sisters: may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all’. Paul goes on to remind the Thessalonian Christians about all they have learned about, ‘how you are to live and to please God‘, and how, ‘you should do so more and more’.

 We all know that life is a struggle, that it is not allchoirs of angels, smiling donkeys, and strangers with gifts. In the time between, we will know struggle, darkness, ‘fear and trembling and sickness unto death’. Jesus warns us in the Gospel today. He speaks to his disciples of those who are, ‘confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves’ . The experience of chaos, within and without. That, ‘people will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of heavens will be shaken’. This is very dark foreboding language coming out of the mouth of Jesus. But rather than speculate about what Jesus elsewhere says, ‘no one knows the hour or the day‘. What advice does Jesus give us about how to live in the face of our experience of darkness, dread, the last things, judgment? First, he warns us not to Anesthetize ourselves (numb or put ourselves to sleep), self-medicating in order to avoid the struggle. He says, ‘be on guard so that your hearts are ot weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life’. The universality of suffering is a trap, he warns us, if we choose to deal with it with a scattered, distracted life.

On the contrary, Jesus calls us to, ‘be on guard’, to ‘be alert’, to ‘stand up’, to ‘raise your heads’, ‘praying’ for the strength to meet the day of the Lord. Advent is meant to shake us into wakefulness to a hope on the other side of all that habitually stands, that can fill us with a false confidence. Like James Bond’s favourite drink, Christians are meant to be‘shaken not stirred’. Standing strong in the Lord, ready for both Advents. God is coming to us, are we ready?