November 27, 2016
FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT
The Rev. J.D. McQueen, II - All Saints’ Episcopal Church, San Diego, CA
Today begins the season of Advent, a time of preparation for the comings of our Lord Jesus Christ.
While we’re of course preparing to celebrate Christmas, Jesus’ first coming, there are also two others:
v his final coming “with power and great glory”
v and his ongoing one, which includes all the ways we encounter him between now and then.
At Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, the Word of God himself entered human history, and the Advent Mass readings provide the context for that.
v The prophecies of the OT share the promise of a coming Messiah.
v In the gospels we hear John the Baptist telling the people to repent because he has come.
v The readings also point to Jesus’ final coming, and in today’s gospel lesson he reminds us that this call to repentance and preparation is no less urgent today.
Jesus tells the disciples that his final coming will be like the flood in Noah’s time, when people had no idea what was happening until they were already being swept away.
v And what I think should be chilling about this are the images Jesus uses.
v We think of God visiting judgment on the wicked, but these are not people engaged in the kinds of awful debauchery and sinfulness we might imagine.
v These are people simply going on about their business, totally unaware that they were living a life apart from God.
As another example, listen to this reflection Pope Benedict the 16th gives on the situation that we can easily find ourselves in without realizing it:
In my daily living, I have little time for [Jesus] and little time for myself. I am completely involved from morning to evening in all the things I have to do, and I even succeed in eluding my own grasp, because I do not know how to be alone with myself.
My job possesses me; the society in which I live possesses me; entertainment of various kinds possesses me; but I do not possess myself.
And this means that I gradually go to seed like an overgrown garden, first in my external activities and, then, in my inner life, too. I am propelled along by my activities, for I am merely a cog in their great machinery.
I don’t know about you, but that experience sounds awfully familiar to me.
v If Jesus’ coming is ongoing, then we need to live our lives with an ongoing sense of Advent: preparing to receive him in stillness and watchful expectation
v That doesn’t happen by accident, but we can cultivate it by making a daily habit of recollection, repentance, and rest.
Recollection is simply following Jesus’ command to watch and be ready.
v Every evening take some time to be with Jesus – review the day with him, look ahead to the next day, and make a resolution for how you will make him a part of it.
v Then, during each day, create smaller spaces where you can pause and take stock of how you’re doing, and then renew (and maybe adapt) your resolution.
The other two things, repentance and rest, come as natural parts of this recollection.
The call to repentance means to return to the Lord, and so when our review reveals times when we could’ve done better, we’ll ask God’s forgiveness and for the grace to do better in the future.
v Far from beating ourselves up, this is an opportunity to personally experience the joy of the prodigal son when his father runs to embrace him and celebrate his return.
v [Encourage us to examine ourselves more fully]
Finally, resting is our response to seeing where we’ve encountered Jesus in the midst of our day.
v Whether in the moment it’s happening or in thinking back on it, we need to pause – as much as we can – and just enjoy that consolation.
v When we move on from them too quickly we don’t get all that Jesus is offering, and can lose track of how frequently those moments really come.
Resting is even more important when it comes to the encounters that aren’t so obvious – things like illness, suffering, and disappointment – things that seemed annoying or unpleasant in the moment.
v When we need God to lift us out of the crush of our obligations and take us back from the things that possess us, this is often what it looks like.
v Resting in the things that have frustrated us, made us wait, caused us pain, left us feeling alone, and so on, helps us remember that these are moments that belong to God.
v In giving them over to God, we give him the space to reveal the ways he’s preparing us to feel something of his great love.
As Paul tells us in his letter to the Romans, it’s time to wake from sleep, for salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed.
v So let us renew our faith and make ready for our Lord Jesus’ coming with the same joy and urgency that he has in all his comings to us.