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First Sunday of Advent
Isaiah 64:1-9
Mark 13:24-37

Today we begin the Advent season of watching, waiting, and anticipation.  It is the darkest season of all with less sunlight.  Shorter days.  Consumed by busy-ness.    We begin this season of intentionality right dab in the middle of shopping, traveling, and parties; just as the year is winding down and we wonder how we are going to end the year and look forward to the next.

It’s almost laughable how busy we are, isn’t it?  How busy we are and yet, we are the ones who fill up every nook and cranny of our lives, telling ourselves that it is all necessary although not necessarily bringing us any closer to peace and contentment and spiritual maturity we yearn.

We set out on a journey lighting candles and praying around a wreath.  We’ll hang a different banner each week to remind ourselves to be hopeful; that finding ways to love one another are more important than ever and doing that insatiable work is the core of our existence, that joy is possible even amid the hardness of life and peace must be our pursuit though it often seems impossible.

The choir has committed to singing joyful songs on our front steps each week – an alternative to Jingle Bell Rock and Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer.  We’ll sing hymns and carols that regrettably only come once a year because you can imagine what might happen if we sang Joy to the World the Lord has come -say, the 3rd Sunday in May or some other time.

Once again, our staff has taken good time to write and produce the Advent reflection booklet to try to draw us all in.  Even Lefty, Richard, and Elena have written; as sure a sign as any of how significant this place is to each of them as well; how they see themselves but also how we see them as well.

And we’ll need it all; every single bit of it just to hold ourselves together and get through these next few weeks with our sanity intact.

We begin by reclaiming the transcendent good news of the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.  God has entered our world and oh how we long for his return.  And how do we open ourselves up to receive him.

The premise of a small, helpless, vulnerable baby being born in a lowly obscure place so long ago still captures our imagination; still hold us in a place of wow; still challenges us to press forward.

That the baby Jesus grew up to be the Savior of the world; and while shrouded in mystery and unknowing; and while the church upon which it stands is often “hit and a miss” and we ourselves are God’s biggest a work in progress; and while the likes of us so frail and imperfect – still, there is something about it all that’s worth holding onto.

What we say on this first Sunday of Advent is that something decisively happened in time and history.  I dare say it was December 25th but I suppose that is as good a day as any.  Nevertheless, something happened that has changed the course of history and time.  And has changed us.  It’s changed me.  And in order to draw ourselves into the reason behind all the shopping and gift giving, all the hustling and juggling, all the things that grab our attention – is the God who chose to come and be with us.

“O that you would tear open the heavens and come down so that the mountains would quake at your presence as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil to make your name known to your adversaries, so that the nations might tremble at your presence!”[1]  That’s how the prophet Isaiah begins his lament.

Perhaps, you have had that sort of lament your own self?  Prayed some version of that prayer yourself.  I know I have.  Perhaps you have wondered what is taking God so long; why doesn’t God hurry up and deal with this old world?  Where is the justice?  Where is the fairness?

And all too often, what we tend to leave unspoken in such questioning:  Lord, come quickly; make it fast and quick but exactly as I have imagined with as little effort as possible on my part.  Tear open the sky and make things happen with as little change on my part as necessary.  And as little sacrifice, as little prayer, as little faith, as little spiritual discipline, waiting, and listening.  Without me having to open myself up or place any conditions on myself at all.

And so this season of Advent is about our readiness and willingness to make room.  To ask these hard questions:  How can I let Christ be born in me?  Especially amid the dark places of my life and world.  How might I be the light shining in those weary places?  And if I don’t, who will?

Jesus said, in those end days, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give light.  The stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in heaven will be shaken.  Then the Son of Man will come in clouds, with great power and glory.

But the exact day and hour? No one knows that, not even heaven’s angels, not even the Son. Only the Father. So keep a sharp lookout, for you don’t know the timetable. It’s like a man who takes a trip, leaving home and putting his servants in charge, each assigned a task, and commanding the gatekeeper to stand watch. So, stay at your post, watching. You have no idea when the homeowner is returning, whether evening, midnight, cockcrow, or morning. You don’t want him showing up unannounced, with you asleep on the job. I say it to you, and I’m saying it to all: Stay at your post. Keep watch.

Perhaps our job is to not consume ourselves with trying to figure it all out.  I think it is a good thing that we do not know so much about it – don’t you? I mean really? Do we really want to know what the future holds?  Imagine, all the anxiety that would be heaped upon us if we knew what would happen and when?  Can you imagine the mess we would make of things if we really knew when the end of the world would be? Or even when we would draw our own last breath?  We tell ourselves that we would live differently; do better; love more earnestly, but I’m not so sure.  What we know for certain is that we have here and now.  This moment.  And we have this day; this day unlike any other.  And we have faith – a measure of it regardless of how small.  And this is our hope: that that measure of faith will be sufficient even amid the uncertainties of our lives.   And that somehow the light of Christ will fill us all with hope.

This is the good news we celebrate this season and really, we celebrate it all the time: as the Christ child was born into that ancient city of Bethlehem all those years ago, he is also being reborn in the present Bethlehem’s of our own lives in those obscure out of the way places in our hearts and minds where we least expect him.  Those changes of thought and attitude that catch us off guard.  Those gifts that have long been buried manifest themselves.  Our stories are situated within the context of that great story and we live and move and have our being according to the promises of it.

That is what we long for most of all isn’t it?  That amid the darkness; through all the ups and downs; the laughter and the tears; the adventures and misadventures that we might still find ways to look up.  To be reminded that we are not alone.  We are loved beyond measure.  Hope will prevail.  Peace is possible somehow.

Stay awake.  Keep alert.  Be ready.  You will be surprised beyond your wildest imaginings.

[1] Isaiah 64:1-2