We Are Waiting for More Than Just a Baby
1 Corinthians 1:3-9:1-7a; Mark 13:24-37
So once in a while I feel just a little off-center. I was there a little earlier this week. On those days; I miss seeing Martha, sleeping in my own bed, and having “the comforts of home.” Understand this is an emotional state, and not because I am lacking anything in Morton. I have also felt a sense of being a bit disconnected at home, but it has a different edge there than it does here.
It shows up most clearly when it is time to get the sermon up off of the floor - from simply saying what ought to be said - to making it interesting enough to listen to. You know how I like to say things preachers often say, but have a twist, a wrinkle, a bit of oomph. That creative spark is the first thing to go into hiding when I am not fully in the moment.
That vague sense of being not complete is a part of the Advent Season. Often we believe that there needs to be snow, or we are too focused on the shopping, we may hear ourselves say, “I am just not in the Christmas spirit, yet.”
Clearly a part of this is a self-centered desire to make ourselves feel good and recreate the times when we remember how we used to feel. But each day is fresh, and this Christmas will not be like any we had before.
Certainly we have all suffered losses. This life takes a toll. Partners leave us, our health deteriorates, we are not the person we used to be. Years ago Elizabeth - at 102 years old - confided to me, “Pastor, I wish I had half the energy I had at 95.” She was sincere. At 95 she still drove, and her eyesight and fingers worked well enough to work the sewing machine. No one else has ever said that to me.
The relationships we have with our siblings and even our children are different. Even we are different. Maybe wiser for the experiences we have had. Hopefully, we have gained some new theological perspective that enables us to reposition ourselves in relation to God.
Clearly, my own relationship with the Creator, Messiah and Creative Spirit has changed. Not only am I in Morton - and submerged into this congregation’s sense of flow and the way you express your care and attention to one another, but what I am beginning to appreciate about the identity of God, and my own identity are on shifting ground.
Our faith life is a genuine life. It has its ups and downs. It outgrows some old thinking, and sometimes we experience age old phrases with new eyes and a sense of wonder.
In our tradition we honor the need to step back from the usual words we say about God and faith, and take a second look. We try to “see” our faith with the eyes of the person we are today, even as we mourn the losses that have given shape to this person we are.
Today we step into Advent, the season of anticipation, and we step into a new church year. In Advent we await the coming presence of the Christ. It is more than just waiting for a baby. We intentionally are waiting for the Second Coming, the end of the age, and recall all of those biblical images of the Christ returning in power. And for some of us, we are a bit anxious, because we have been trained to dread the hour of humiliation and judgment.
In fact, the church has introduced the color blue as an option for Advent, helping to distinguish the season from Lent, the time before Holy Week and Easter Sunday. Liturgical Blue speaks of hope and the incarnation of God’s love; and shows less focus on being ashamed of our failures.
A good part of the “Party Clothes Swing” I am bringing to you for the lighting of the Advent Candles is intended to reframe our thinking about the end of the age. When we love God, especially as we know the love of God in Jesus, the Second Coming should be a great and glorious day, the happiest day of our being.
So Advent celebrates the tender love of God, who exposes the fact that true love - by definition - includes vulnerability. So the God of heaven, who knows how untrustworthy humans are, knows all about the sin of Adam and Eve, and Cain and Abel, is still compelled by love to be born to an unwed mother, on the back streets of the village of Bethlehem. What could ever say vulnerability than to be born a human infant, to a non-standard family, without a hint of economic comfort?
This same God comes to declare victory over death, and victory over the ego of the world, that resists the vulnerability required to love God and neighbor. All of that is over, and only love survives.
We are ushered into that awareness through the words of the evangelist Mark. Mark will be our regular companion through this liturgical year, Year B in the Revised Common Lectionary. I recommend you take an opportunity to sit and read Mark aloud. It only takes about an hour. It will give you a new appreciation of the flow of the gospel story of the life and teaching of Jesus.
You will discover that in the eyes of Mark, Jesus is a man of action. Mark lacks the skill of a sophisticated story teller. Our translations smooth out the rough edges of the Greek text. For Mark tells the story in staccato bursts; Jesus did this, and then immediately was off to do something else.
We believe Mark was the first gospel written, then Matthew and Luke, working from the same outline, told the story as loved by their communities, with virtually all of Mark’s stories, but then adding some material circulated in both Matthew and Luke’s communities, and then material unique to each of them.
Mark, our primary voice for this year, routinely defers to action over talking. And so when he cautions us to “Keep Awake,” he means for us to be busy and involved in our ministry, because when the Savior arrives - the man of action expects to see the faithful engaged in acts of love and mercy.
So today we are busy. Our liturgical life steps into a New Year, as our life as a community has its Fall Meeting, looking back over the past year, and then intentionally positioning ourselves for the work of the coming year. New folks will step into Board positions, the Search Committee will seek out a new pastor to help you define the next chapter of life here, and the Constitution will be revised, to help the congregation accept and thrive in the reality that is today. Past, Present, and Future belong to us. And we gather as people of God, shuddering a little - because it is so hard to be vulnerable in an age of aggression.
So I want to give you a bit of hope, a little taste of God’s love, that you may pull out of your jeans pocket while you are working in the Kingdom. This tiny song is from John Bell, song writer and worship leader to the Iona Community, off the coast of Scotland.
Don’t be afraid, my love is stronger, my love is stronger than your fear.
Don’t be afraid, my love is stronger, and I have promised, promised to be always near.
Just two lines. Try it with me now.
Welcome to the New Year. Welcome to the time of anticipation, where we expect great things. We expect the Second Coming of the Christ, and expect that will be a great day when Love finally defeats evil, sin, fear and even death.
Welcome to Advent where the vulnerability of love is exposed, and people of faith, sometimes hesitantly, sometimes anxiously, claim as much as they dare, trusting the web of relationships in the faith community. Welcome to the time of anticipation, where we await so much more than a baby.