Sunday, November 27, 2011

1 Advent

November 27, 2011

1 Corinthians 1.3-9; Mark 13.24-37

+ For some reason, I want to say this morning; Happy New Year. I know that sounds crazy and strange on this last Sunday in November. But, for us, it is New Year. A whole new liturgical year begins today. We are now—on this first Sunday of Advent—in what is called Year B in the liturgical cycle. There are three years in the liturgical cycle—Year A, Year B, Year C. And through those three years we explore various scriptures and themes in our Sunday liturgies.

For us Christians, it’s kind of nice to have our own New Year. It’s nice to have a time to begin anew in a more quiet and contemplative way. It is nice to have a new beginning in a prayerful way.

And, as we begin this season of Advent, we find that it does feel like the beginning of something. Something has changed. There’s been a turning. And I’m not just saying this because the Christmas decorations are up and we hear Christmas carols in restaurants and stores.

We are—on this First Sunday in Advent—looking to the future and to all it holds for us. I think one of the things we as Christians know is that something awaits us. Now, we might not know for certain what that “something” is. We can’t articulate it. We can’t define it. We can’t quantify it.

But we know “something” good and glorious and beautiful awaits us. Call it a kind of spiritual instinct. Call it the goal toward which we are all working. It lies there ahead of it in the foggy darkness of our future.

This time of Advent is the time in which we wait for that glorious “something.” It is the time in which are watching for that wonderful “something.”

In our Gospel reading for today, we find the rallying cry of Advent—the word that captures perfectly what we should be doing during this season. It’s just a simple phrase, and we it in two different ways:

“Keep alert.”

“Keep awake.”

Jesus says it just those two ways in our reading from Mark: It seems simple enough.

“Keep alert” and “keep awake.”

But is it simple? Our job as Christians is sometimes no more than this. It is simply a matter of staying awake, of being attentive or being alert. Our lives as Christians are sometimes simply responses to being spiritually alert. For those of us who are tired, who are worn down by life, who spiritually or emotionally fatigued, our sluggishness 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 fatigue, fail to see.

For us, that “something” that we are waiting for, that we keeping alert for, is none other than that glorious day of Christ, that we hear St. Paul talk about in his epistle this morning. That glorious day of Jesus comes when, in our attentiveness, we see the rays of the light breaking through to us in our tiredness and in our fatigue. It breaks us through to us in various ways. We, who are in this sometimes foggy present moment, peering forward, sometimes have this moments of wonderful spiritual clarity. Those moments are true moments of being alert—of being spiritually awake. Sometimes we have it right here, in church, when we gather together.

I have shared with each of you at times when those moments sometimes come to me. They sometimes come to me here at this altar. One of the most common ways they happen for me is when I have broken that break and we are singing the Agnus Dei—the Lamb of God. As we sing, and I have had moments in which I look down at that broken Bread and that chalice, I realize: yes, this IS the Lamb of God. This is Jesus. This is the spiritual goal of my life. This IS the Day of Our Lord Jesus. Jesus has truly come to us this day. This is what it means to be awake.

Certainly, in a very real sense, today—this First Sunday of Advent— is a precursor of that one glorious day of the Lord Jesus that St. Paul talks about. But the rays of that glorious future day also break through to us now when, in our attentiveness, we recognize Jesus in here at the altar and in those we serve as Christians. Those rays of the Day of Christ break through when we can see Jesus in all those we meet and serve. In this beautiful Sarum blue Advent season, we are reminded that the day of Christ is truly about dawn upon us. The rays of the bright sun-lit dawn are already starting to lighten the darkness of our lives. We realize, in this moment, that, despite all that has happened, despite the disappointments, despite the losses, despite the pain each of us has had to bear, the ray of Christ’s Light breaks through to us in that darkness and somehow, makes it all better.

But this is doesn’t happen in an instant. Oftentimes that light is a gradual dawning in our lives. Oftentimes, it happens gradually so we can adjust to it, so it doesn’t blind us. Sometimes, our awakening is in stages, as though waking from a deep, slumbering sleep.

Our job as Christians is somewhat basic. I’m not saying it’s easy. But I am saying that it is basic. Our job, as Christians, especially in this Advent time, is to be alert. To be awake. Spiritually and emotionally. And, in being alert, we must see clearly. We cannot, when that Day of Christ dawns, be found sleeping.

Rather, when that Day of our Lord Jesus dawns, we should greet it joyfully, with bright eyes and a clear mind. We should run toward that dawn as we never have before in our lives. We should let the joy within us—the joy we have hid, we have tried to kill—the joy we have not allowed ourselves to feel—come pouring forth on that glorious day. And in that moment, all those miserable things we have been dealt—all that loss, all that failure, all that unfairness—will dissipate like a bad dream on awakening.

“Keep alert,” Jesus says to us.

“Keep awake.”

It’s almost time. Keep awake because that “something” you have been longing for all your spiritual life is about to happen. It is about to break through into your life. And it is going to be glorious.

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