Sunday, November 29, 2009

1 Advent

November 29, 2009

Luke 21.25-36

In case you haven’t noticed, it is the first Sunday of Advent. We are reminded of Advent everywhere we look this morning. We have the beautiful blue frontal on the altar made by Gin Templeton, a long with all the other blue hangings. I get to wear the blue chasuble. It is a time in which we, as the Church, turn our attention, just like the rest of the world, toward Christmas.

However—and here you’ll see me getting a bit harsh, maybe even wagging my finger at you—it is not Christmas yet. Christmas doesn’t begin until Christmas Eve. For now, we are in this anticipatory season of Advent.

Anticipation is a very good word to sum up what Advent is. We are anticipating. We are anxiously expecting something. And in that way, I think Advent represents our own spiritual lives in some ways. We are, after all, a people anticipating something. Sometimes we might not know exactly what it is we are anticipating. We maybe can’t name it, or identify it, but we know—deep inside us—that something is about to happen. We know that something big is about to happen, involving God in some way. And we know that when it happens, we will be changed. Life will never be the same again. Our world as we know it—our very lives—will be turned around by this “God event.” It will be cataclysmic.

Last week, when Bishop Smith was here visiting us, he referenced the current film, 2012. Well, this last week, as is my usual family tradition, I took my parents to a movie on Thanksgiving afternoon. One of the movies I wanted to see was, of course, 2012. Sadly, I was out voted and we saw a deplorable film, The Fourth Kind. And last night, my friend Greg and I went to Ninja Assassin, which was better than The Fourth Kind, but not by much. But the hype surrounding 2012 seems to just keep on generating.

It seems that 2012—both the movie and the idea—will not soon be forgotten. Lately, this whole idea of the world ending in 2012 has just snowballed. I now have two students in the current Intro to Theology class I’m teaching at the University of Mary wanting to do their final projects on the 2012 prophecy. The Mayan prophecy of the end of the world happening in 2012—because, I guess, their calendar ends in 2012—has piqued the thoughts and imaginations of many people, obviously. Certainly apocalyptic kind of things always pique our interest.

What I find so interesting about the apocalyptic literature we hear this morning in our scripture readings as opposed to the 2012 hype is that in our scripture readings, we find anticipation and expectation for this final apocalypse, while there seems to be such dread regarding 2012. And that anticipation and expectation is a good and glorious thing, I think. That is what this season of Advent is all about. It about anticipation and expectation being a wonderful thing in and of itself. Because by watching and praying in holy expectation, we grow in holiness. We recognize that despite the doom and gloom some people preach when it comes to prophecies, doom and gloom doesn’t hold sway over us as Christians.

Still, despite this view, we are a people living, at times, in the dark doom and gloom of life. In Advent, we recognize that darkness we all collectively live in without Christ. But we realize that darkness doesn’t hold sway. Darkness is easily done away with by light. And so, in Advent, we are anticipating something more—we are all looking forward into the gloom and what do we see there? We see the first flickers of light. And even with those first, faint glimmers of lights, darkness already starts losing its strength. We see the first glow of what awaits us—there, just ahead of us. That light that is about to burst into our lives is, of course, Christ.

The Light that came to us—that is coming to us—is true King—the King of a Kingdom that, as Jesus says in today’s Gospel, is near. It is near. Yes, we are, at times, stuck in the doom and gloom of this life. But, we can take comfort today in one thing: as frightening as our times may be, as terrible as life may seem some times and as uncertain as our future may be, what Advent shows us more than anything is this: we already know the end of the story.

Unlike the mystery of the 2012 hype, with its mysterious ending of the Mayan calendar, we know what the end entails. We might not know what awaits us tomorrow or next week. We might not know what setbacks or rewards will come to us in the weeks to come, but in the long run, we know how our story as Christians ends. God as Christ has come to us as one of us and with a voice like our voice, Christ has told us that we might not know when it will happen, but the end will be a good ending for those of us who hope and expect it. God has promised that, in the end, there will be joy and happiness and peace.

In this time of anticipation—in this time in which we are waiting and watching—we can take hope. To watch means more than just to look around us. It means to be attentive. It means, we must pay attention.

I’m sure I have shared one of my favorite Advent stories with you before. It’s just so great that I have to repeat it. I read it once in book about St. Antony of Egypt, a monk in the early Church. In the book, the author relates the story about how the early desert monastics used ostrich eggs in their worship. Somewhere, some time in my life, I am going to buy an ostrich egg and use it as a visual aid when I preach this story. The story goes that in some of the churches that they built, these monastics hung ostrich eggs from the ceiling as a “symbol of spiritual dedication.”

A visitor to one of the monasteries, wrote later about this practice:

When it intends to hatch its egg, the ostrich sits not upon them, as other birds, but the male and female hatches them with their eye only; and only when either of them needs to seek for food, he gives notice to the other by crying; and the other continues to look upon the eggs, till it returns…for if they did but look off for a moment, the eggs will spoil and rot. [1]

To be honest, I don’t even care is this story is scientifically true or not. I love the story because, in so many ways, it is a perfect illustration of what we, as Christians, are doing during this Advent season and, really, during all of our spiritual lives as Christians. Like those ostriches, which gaze almost agonizingly for the hatching of the egg, so too should we be waiting, with held breath, for the Kingdom of heaven to break upon us.

So, yes, Advent is a time of waiting and it is this waiting—this expectant anticipation—that is so very important in our spiritual lives. Advent is a time of hope and longing. It is a time for us to wake up from our slumbering complacency. It is a time to wake up and to watch. The kingdom of God is near. As frightening and sobering as that thought might be, it is near. It is near not in the same sense the Mayans were predicting the end of the world was near. But it is near in the sense that the Kingdom of God is so close to breaking through to us that we can almost feel it ready to shatter into our lives.

So, in this anticipation, be prepared. Watch. Christ has come to us and is leading us forward. Christ—the dazzling Light—is burning away the fog of our day-to-day living and is showing us a way through the darkness that sometimes seems to encroach upon us. Like those ostriches, we simply need to watch. We need to look anxiously for that light and, when it comes, we need to be prepared to share it with others. This is the true message of Advent.

As hectic as this season is going to get, as you’re feeling overwhelmed by all the sensory overload we’ll all be experiencing through this season, remember, Watch. Take time, be silent and just watch. For this anticipation—this expectant and patient watching of ours—is merely a pathway on which the Christ Child can come among us as one of us.

[1] Cowan, James. Desert Father: A Journey in the Wilderness with Saint Antony. 2004. Shambala; Boston. p. 106.

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