First Sunday of Advent
November 28, 2004
The Gospel: Matthew 24:37-44
Sermon: "A Happy Beginning of Advent"
The Rev. William D. Oldland
On the mount of olives, Jesus said to his disciples privately, "For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour."
A Happy Beginning of Advent
First Sunday of Advent - November 28, 2004
This time of year is always a mix of emotions and feelings for me. On the one hand I feel rushed, pushed and pulled. Face it. The season of Advent means that Christmas Day is coming soon and there is just so much to do. Church services have to be planned. Sermons have to be written. Parishioners have to be visited. I'll bet many of you feel the same pressure at your offices and business lives. Then there is the personal stuff. Presents have to be purchased. The house has to be decorated. Plans have to be made for everyone's schedules of special activities and parties. On the other hand, I read the lessons for Advent and I wonder what is possessing me to rush so much. The lessons cause me to pause, to slow down. They beckon me to reflect on my life and my humanity. As a result there is this constant tension, this constant pulling on my feelings and emotions. They range from harried and confused to slow and peaceful. I feel productive when I am busy planning and moving ahead and guilty when I find myself contemplating and still. Does anyone else feel that way? Do you also find yourself counting down the shopping days? Do you see yourself wondering if it will all be done on time?
As I read the lesson for today, I began to wonder how Joseph and Mary must have felt at this time. Of course, Christmas was not around yet, but they too were in an interesting position. Mary would have been about eight months along at this time. The decree to tax the land would probably have been known. Joseph was going to have to travel with his very pregnant wife to a town he hasn't lived in for years. He would be out of work during that time. There would be no one to help with the delivery. He did not know where they could stay and he could not call ahead and reserve a room. They must have felt some of the same feelings I do right now.
Yet, I wonder how Mary felt knowing that she was bearing the Son of God. Do you think she knew what he was going to offer? Do you think she knew how it was going to end? I don't think so. Mary and Joseph, you and I are so much like the people Jesus describes in Matthew's Gospel. He begins by describing the people of Noah's day before the flood. They were marrying, eating, and drinking. They were living their every day lives. They were following their normal existence. They even had one guy in the neighborhood that was a bit different than everybody else. For some reason they could not explain, he was building a boat. He called it an ark. I have often wondered what Noah's neighbors thought about the ark and about Noah. I love Bill Cosby's answer as Noah when his neighbors start teasing him. They ask him why he is a building a boat. Bill Cosby's answer is a question, "How long can you tread water?" The point is the people were living their everyday lives. All except for Noah.
Let's move ahead to Mary and Joseph once again. While they are preparing for the birth of the Son of God, everyone else is going about their every day lives. People are marrying. They are eating and drinking. Some people are making plans for the big census to go back to their hometowns. They have no idea that God is about to do something so incredible that it defies imagination. God is actually growing and developing in a woman's womb. God is preparing to be born into God's own creation as a human being. As a human being he will feel hunger, thirst, hot and cold, rejection and acceptance, hatred and love. Yet, while all of this is coming the world just keeps on moving at its own harried pace.
Now, let's think anew about the words of Jesus. Like the days of Noah and like the days prior to his birth, God has another day in the plans. This day is the final day. It is the day when Jesus will return again. One more time, the people will be about their everyday existence. Two will be working in the fields. Two will be grinding meal. The Son of God returns and only one will be taken from each spot. One will be received and the other left standing. We do not know the hour or the day but we know what will happen. Our lives will be changed. The play we call life will be over for the director will have walked out onto the stage. The world, yes, all of creation will be changed forever.
What does Jesus tell us? He doesn't tell us the time or the hour. He tells us to be ready. We are to live our daily lives as if He would return in the next very moment. Does this idea make you feel comfortable or a little edgy? The question is out there. What would happen to me if Jesus came right now? Have I really done my best to follow Jesus Christ? Have I lived by the commandments to love God and love my neighbor? Do I trust God with all of my heart, my soul, my mind and my strength? These are hard questions and if we are really honest we don't want to sit down and deal with them. It is much more fun preparing to celebrate Jesus' birthday. It is much more fun wrapping presents and going to parties, decorating houses and trees, than spending time thinking about the second coming.
Yet, we can not escape it. Advent calls us to a time of reflection. The church knows we tend to get caught up in our busy lives. The church knows we want to hold the Christ child. So, Advent is a specific time to catch us up short. Advent is a time to help us pause and reflect on Jesus coming again. For the bottom line is we are not a cross and tomb people. We are resurrection people. We believe Jesus rose from the dead. We believe the tomb was found empty. We believe Jesus will come again. When he comes it will not be as a baby, it will be with power and glory. We believe we will know him and we believe he will know us. So, today we begin the season of Advent. We also fall pell-mell into the commercial Christmas season. Today we have an opportunity to decide where we might spend some of our time for the next four weeks. Will we find ourselves caught in the commercialized Christmas and the hustle and bustle of our every day lives. Or will we allow for some serious time for reflection and readjustment of our time? I hope we will take the time to reflect on our individual lives with Christ. I hope and pray we will read the stories of the birth of Christ with new eyes. I hope we will see our lives with Christ as part of the resurrection story it is. We do have the best story to be told. God created us. God loved us so much that God became human, like us. God died for us so that we might have eternal life. What an incredible story of God with God's people. I pray this Advent will be a wonderful time preparing us for that day when Christ will come again as we celebrate the day Jesus was born among us. I wish you a happy and thoughtful beginning of Advent.