from MARK 13:33-37
A Homily for 11.30.14
revised from a homily
first posted on
November 27, 2011,
Today we begin a new church year; today we begin our ascent up the mountain of the LORD afresh and anew. Today is the 1st Sunday of Advent.
As I am sure you know, the word Advent comes from the Latin word adventus, meaning "coming," and it offers the Christian believer a season of anticipation and hope as we remember the birth of Jesus and as we anticipate his return to fully reclaim and finally redeem the earth and its people.
This means the traditional Scriptures for the Advent season accent both the first and the second coming of Jesus, and therefore this season calls us to think and to act in a clear and an active allegiance and faithfulness to the Christ because of his Advent, both in the past and in the future.
In the First Sunday in the season of Advent the Gospel text reminds us that the time of Jesus’ second Advent is shrouded in mystery, and that no one knows the the dates and times, not even Jesus himself. This means, Jesus warns us, we must always be watchful and prepared, for we…
"do not know when the Lord of the house is coming, whether in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning.”
One wonders how the Son could not know, being as he was and is the Son, but of course this only offers us the reality of Jesus' actual flesh and blood humanity. As St. Athanasius reminds us:
”...viewed according to the flesh, because he too, as human, lives within the limits of the human condition."
So Jesus councils us, "Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come."
And we respond:
”Yes, LORD, we know we must watch and prepare, but we have been watching and waiting and preparing for a long, long time."
Or, as we could say it this way:
history is going somewhere, but it is taking a long time to get there!
Which wouldn't be so bad, really, for this world is a good place, worth fighting to defend, but there is so much sadness and hatred and violence here as well. And it is this sadness and hatred and violence that surely grieves the Almighty, no doubt, but it grieves us too, it wounds us to the quick of the soul. We sing the funeral songs over and over again. We walk through the antiseptic smells of hospitals and nursing homes so that we finally cry out in lamentation:
"O LORD Jesus, how long, how long? Ere we shout the glad song Christ returneth, hallelujah, Hallelujah, Amen Hallelujah, Amen" (text attributed to H. L. Turner & music to James McGranahan)
We long for the promised justice, that righteous judgment that will set the world right. Well, we long for it, that is, if we somehow have found ourselves already judged in the justice of another, namely Christ on the cross, the resurrection and the ascension.
But, not everyone desires the Advent of the LORD; not everyone wishes him welcome and present. Not everyone wants to bend the knee and confess with the mouth that Jesus Christ is LORD, to the glory of GOD the Father. But those who have offered the living and imminent returning Christ their allegiance and their lives, they realize that even though there is much to do here through the calling to Kingdom work -- binding wounds, feeding the hungry and freeing those bound by the dark empire -- the only way the Kingdom becomes a complete reality is the Christ's actual return in the sheer movement of free grace and loving power. I really have no understanding what this will look like, but I do not think we will mistake it for something else -- we'll know it when it happens.
So, now we wait and we prepare. Now, we see ourselves as part of a long, long story, a story that most likely will not end with our generation. We see ourselves as part of a long line of people, people rooted in the blessings and inheritance of Abraham, people who have been given the opportunity to live a truly human life in this world because of the Christ -- a life without greed and hatred and violence. That is, we are called to live lives that anticipates the coming Kingdom. We are given the gift to live out a kingdom humanity in the present, in this existential moment.
A fair question then, is just how we are to wait, to prepare and to anticipate the return of the Savior King? How do we forgo the selfishness of a murmuring complaint and the weariness of well-doing? How do we withstand the onslaught of greed and the commoditization of life day-after-day?
LOOKING BACKWARD, LOOKING FORWARD
First, we wait and prepare by looking backward at the redemption of the LORD, and by looking forward in anticipation of the complete redemption.
"Yes, of course we do, preacher, but that is the point. How? How do we do this?"
Primarily we do so within the gathered moments of the church, especially as we gather around the LORD's Table where we are invited to participate in anticipation. At the LORD's table we remember, of course, but we also announce the LORD's death until he comes. We participate in the memory of the Christ along with thousands of other believers -- past, present and future, even as we anticipate the Christ’s return for us and for the redemption of the world when we sit at that great celebration feast (cf. Luke 22:16 & Matthew 26:29).
That is, the promise of the Kingdom is found present in the breaking of this bread and this drinking together of the cup. This meal offers us the action of memory and this jostling of promise where the LORD comes to us in power and presence. In our liturgy of the table, when we say:
"Today, we remember with joy all that Jesus did to save us. In this memorial meal we remember his death and resurrection, we remember he willingly died and was raised to new life so that we might be saved. Jesus now sits at the Father's right hand in glory, ever living to make intercession for us, but through his Spirit he is also here with us now..."
this is offered as a reminder to us that this table is the LORD's table, and that he invites us here, but that he himself will not eat again until he eats with us at the great feast we will share together. This meal is offered as a reminder that our redemption which began with his victory on calvary, the new creation of resurrection and his kingship in the ascension, will ultimately only be complete with the final movement of the story, when the King becomes present and heals the entire world.
MOVING WITHIN, MOVING WITHOUT
Second, we wait and prepare by looking within and looking without. Here, we are describing our internal calling to move outward toward the broken world.
Daily, we must remember that we, each of us, have a part to play in the Kingdom enterprise of the LORD. Each of us have this calling from the LORD to be his people in the places where we are sown (Matthew13:24-30); the places where we reside side-by-side with the world. This means the Christ did not remove us from the brokenness of the human condition, he invites us to join him in the very crux of that brokenness.
We, as the sprinkling of new creation, offer the world a true humanness that anticipates the full and complete redemption of humanity in the coming Kingdom. That is, we bind the wounds and feed the hungry; we offer good works not as a contract for heaven but because this is GOD's good earth and it is worth whatever it takes to redeem. This, ultimately, is the meaning of the cross -- GOD loves this world and seeks to reclaim it from the forces of darkness as embodied in the bleakness of empire and the darkness of evil.
In just a few moments we will join our voices together in the Jesus' model prayer, an act Christians have been doing for two-thousand years. In a moment we will say...
“AND, NOW, LET US PRAY AS OUR SAVIOR TAUGHT US TO PRAY…”
And then as part of that prayer we will pray:
"Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy Name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven..."
"Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven."
There it is; there is the movement from the inward to the outward. We are called to live out the reality of the KING's presence, now in the everyday moments of our lives. We are called to follow Jesus into the world of woe, a world at war with itself, following him by reflecting his light, his presence, his Kingdom in the now. This is our prayer; this is our practice. This is our calling. This is our watchful and alert preparation for Advent!