Sunday, November 27, 2011

Sermon for Advent Sunday (Year B)

Mark 13:24-37
                                                                                            Isaiah 64:1-9a
1 Corinthians 1:1-9

(St Christopher’s, Rantoul)
Most of you are, I suspect, at least somewhat familiar with the Chronicles of Narnia, C. S. Lewis’s popular series of children’s books, and particularly the first volume—The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, which, as of a few years ago, was made into a quite well-done movie. As the story opens, the land of Narnia is in a dreary state, and is there a better description of dreariness than this?: “Always winter… but never Christmas.” Narnia is under the oppressive rule of the wicked white witch. It’s always winter, but never Christmas. But there are rumors in Narnia—rumors whispered from person to person, elf to elf, and—in that magical land—from tree to tree. “Psst, Aslan is on the move.” Aslan was a powerful lion who was thought to be the only hope for Narnia against the power of the White Witch. The rumor that “Aslan is on the move” was a source of great hope, a reason to get excited. Every eye was peeled for any sign of Aslan’s arrival. There was great vigilance, great expectation.

This is Advent Sunday. The season of Advent is about waiting and hoping and keeping vigil and watching out for the arrival of the One of whom the lion Aslan is a symbol. We’re waiting for the coming of Christ. Jesus is coming. He’s coming in power and great glory to judge the living and the dead. That coming could happen, quite literally, at any moment—maybe even before I’ve finished with this sermon! I’m sure we all want to be ready for that event, and to keep an eye out for it. Jesus is also “coming,” so to speak, four weeks from now, as we celebrate Christmas. Advent is a time of preparing our hearts once again to welcome the child Jesus—to become as little children ourselves, in order to properly welcome him as a little child.

This business of keeping watch, then—of getting ready—is very serious. But it’s also very difficult. We get virtually no support in this from the world around us. So we are at serious risk of missing it altogether. “God is on the move.” That’s the Advent announcement. It’s reason to be excited. It’s reason to be hopeful. Instead, too often, we’re just complacent. We get sucked in by the routine demands of life—working and playing and eating and drinking and laughing and crying and loving and learning—mostly good things, in and of themselves, but which can seduce us into a complacency that blinds us to what God is up to. God’s wonderful works are, as it were, “hidden in plain sight.” God is on the move. His movements are available for us to see, but we have to be alert, we have to be looking for them. It requires at least as much intentionality and discipline as bird watching, where if you avert your gaze, even for a moment. away from the trees, you run the risk of missing what you came out to see.

Jesus tells us a parable about vigilance. A household employee is left with some specific responsibilities while his boss is out of town. He may be tempted to slack off and delay getting down to work. There is, after all, no hidden TV camera, or anything of the sort, recording his every move. So why not grab some extra nap time while the boss is away? But the problem is, the boss has not told the employee when he’s coming back. The employee doesn’t know whether it’s going to be a long trip or a short trip. So if he’s smart, he’ll act as though it’s going to be a short trip. He’ll stay awake and attend to business and keep an eye out for the boss. That way, he’ll be ready for the master’s return, no matter when it happens.

The application of this parable is pretty clear, isn’t it? Jesus wants us to be vigilant, to watch out for him, to not let the routine demands of life rock us to sleep.  When we make a new Christian in the sacrament of baptism, we pray for the person, that he or she will always have an “inquiring and discerning heart.” We pray for so many things during the liturgy of baptism that it may be easy to overlook this one. But an inquiring and discerning heart is precisely the quality that we need to do a good job keeping Advent. An inquiring and discerning heart is a heart that is alert and awake and looking for signs of the presence and activity of God. An inquiring and discerning heart can see that God is on the move, that the status quo is temporary, that it will not always be winter, and not only will Christmas come, but spring will come as well. The ice and snow of evil and death will melt away, and the beauty and loveliness that God created for us to enjoy will burst forth in full bloom.

When we are vigilant, we are able to witness what God is doing. As St Paul writes to the Corinthians, we will not be “lacking in any spiritual gift, as [we] wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  When we are vigilant, we are able to participate in the mystic vision of Isaiah: “O that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at your presence.” When we are vigilant, we number ourselves—to use the language of Jesus in Mark’s gospel—we number ourselves among the “elect” whom the angels “gather from the four winds.” And the really good news is that those of us who are here at this moment are—at this moment, at least—among the elect. We have been gathered and constituted as the Body of Christ, and as we celebrate this Eucharist together, we are re-constituted as the Body of Christ. We share in the sacrament of the Body of Christ. We are present as the heavens are opened and the Holy and Immortal One draws us up into His presence to be with Him in the most intimate conceivable way. We who are here are “in the know,” we are “on the inside.” We can see that God is on the move, and the sight is marvelous in our eyes.

If we are not vigilant, if we have been asleep at the switch, blind to what God is doing in the world and in our own experience, then the idea of the second coming of Christ is something we look on with fear and dread. This fear and dread may often be disguised as scorn and ridicule, but it is, nonetheless, fear and dread. But the fact is, the message of Advent Sunday is not supposed to be scary; it’s supposed to be comforting. God’s great final saving act—the return of Christ in glory—is the happy ending to beat all happy endings. If we’re awake, we’ve got nothing to worry about. God is on the move. Let’s keep our eyes peeled. 

Amen—Come, Lord Jesus. 

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