Saturday, November 29, 2008

I Advent




November 30, 2008

Psalm 80. 1-7, 16-18; 1 Corinthians 1.3-9; Mark 13.24-37

In today’s scriptures we find everything turning. The vision has shifted. We are not looking back. We are not looking inward. We are not looking at each other. Our vision has been forced, collectively, to the future. We are looking to the future and to all it holds for us. We are looking into what seems to be the darkness. And our spiritual eyes are struggling to adjust—to focus.

At first, it seems as though we can’t. The darkness of the future is just too deep. Yes, we know that there might be hope somewhere there—we know that the potential hopes and dreams we carry with us might be there, somewhere in the dark, but we simply can’t see them.

The darkness also reminds us that the future holds fear and insecurity as well. The future holds the potential also for pain and loss and all other kinds of uncertainty. On this first Sunday of Advent, as we gather here, squinting warily into this uncertain darkness, we are reminded of two things.

First of all, we are reminded of what awaits us there in there darkness. If we look hard enough, if we look patiently enough, we will see it. There, in that darkness, it will appear as maybe a spark or a flash. It might seem like our spiritual eyes are playing with us. But if we are truly astute—if we spiritually attuned—we will know in our essence that it is not a figment of our imagination. That spark of light, the soft gray glow is none other than light.

As we progress through Advent, that light will become brighter and clearer and more defined. To our eyes, as used as they are to the darkness, it might become almost blinding. But that Light awaiting us at the edge of our spiritual darkness—that Light that is breaking through into the very midst of our collective darkness—is none other than that which we hear about in our reading from Paul’s letter.

In Paul’s letter, we find a name given to this momentous event—this moment in which the Light breaks through—this moment we are all deeply longing for. It is “the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.” In the Old Testament, this day—the day of the Lord, the day of Yahweh—was a day of fear. It was something to dread and to wish would not happen, because it was a day in which God’s wrath would be wrought on the earth.

For us, it isn’t the same. For us, as Christians, the day of our Lord Jesus Christ is a glorious and wonderful day. It is the day in which God breaks through to us finally and completely. It is the day in which everything that separates us from God is broken down and destroyed. It is the day on which whatever barriers there are between us and God are once and for all time destroyed.

The day of our Lord Jesus Christ is a glorious day. And this Advent time is a time in which we are reminded that this is exactly what we are looking toward and longing for in our spiritual lives. This day of our Lord Jesus Christ is the day when the light of Christ breaks through into the darkness of our lives. It is the day in which the blinding, all encompassing Light of Christ breaks into not only our collective darkness, but also into our personal, individual darknesses as well.

And it is there. The day is just there beyond our spiritual vision. In the darkest moments of the night, it is hard to imagine the dawn. But that day is about dawn into our lives.

Which leads us to the second point of which we are reminded. In our Gospel, we find the rallying cry of Advent—the word that captures perfectly what we should be doing during this season. It’s just one simple word.

“Watch.”

Our job as Christians is sometimes no more than this. It is a matter of watching. Our lives as Christians are sometimes responses to our watching. For those of us impatient in our watching, our impatience sometimes manifests itself in our spiritual life and in our relationship with others. When we become impatient in our watching, we sometimes forget what it is we are watching for. We sometimes, in our intense watching, fail to see.

One of my favorite pieces of Christian literature is the famous dictum of Frank Weston, the early 20th Century Anglican Bishop of Zanzibar. Weston wrote a piece that is a perfect reminder to us as we leave church each Sundays. But it is also a reminder to us who might be watching for the day of Our Lord Christ too closely. In it, we find that the day of Our Lord Jesus is not some apocalyptic event in the future—some rending of the skies and thunderous descent from heaven. It is not the day in which we encounter the Judge Christ on his mighty throne. Rather, the day of Our Lord Jesus sometimes dawns in our lives again and again. Sometimes we are so accustomed to the darkness of our lives, we become blinded and cannot even recognize the dawn.

Bishop Weston writes;
You are Christians!
Then your Lord is one and the same
with Jesus on the throne of his glory,
with Jesus in his Blessed Sacrament,
with Jesus received into your hearts in Communion,
with Jesus who is mystically with you as you pray,
and with Jesus enshrined in the hearts and bodies of his brothers and sisters
up and down the world.

Now go out into the highways and hedges,
and look for Jesus in the ragged and naked,
in the oppressed and sweated,
in those who have lost hope,
and in those who are struggling to make good.
Look for Jesus in them;
and when you find him,
gird yourselves with his towel of fellowship,
and wash his feet in the person of his brethren.

For us, the day of our Lord Jesus comes when we do just that It comes when, in our watching, we see the rays of the light breaking through to us in the Blessed Sacrament, in the Communion we share and receive. Certainly, in a very real sense, today is the day of the Lord Jesus. Today, as Reginald Fuller said, “the Church experiences a rending of the heavens in each liturgy, when Christ comes down in his sacrament to visit the people in their need.”
But those rays also break through when, in our watching, we recognize Jesus in the ragged and naked. Those rays of the Day of our Lord Jesus breaks through when we can see Jesus in “all the oppresses and sweated, in those who have lost hope, and in those who are struggling to make good.” Those rays break through when we can even recognize Jesus in the ragged and naked, oppressed and sweated, hopeless person struggling to make good who stares back at us in our own mirrors.

In this beautiful Sarum blue Advent season, we are reminded that the day of our Lord Jesus is about dawn upon us. The rays of the bright sun-lit dawn are already started the lighten the darkness of our lives. All we have to is watch. And, in watching, we have to see. We cannot, when that day dawns, be found sleeping. Rather, when that Day of our Lord Jesus dawns, let us greet it joyfully. Let us run toward that dawn as we never have before in our lives. Let the joy within us—the joy we have hid, we have dried to kill—the joy we have not allowed ourselves to feel—come pouring forth on that glorious day. As we run to greet that dawn, let us do so with song, with our souls singing,

Restore us, O God of hosts;*
show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved.

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