Sunday, December 7, 2014

Beginning at the End

Advent  1 +B + 2014              30, November                 Fr  Robert R.M. Bagwell+

Isaiah 64:1-9                                                                                                        Psalm 80:1-7, 16-18 

1 Corinthians 1:3-9                                                                                                      Mark 13:24-37

 There was an 85 year old man who was out fishing one day when he heard a voice: "pick me up".  He looked around and didn't see anyone but then he heard the voice again: "pick me up".  He looked down at his feet and there sat a frog.  The frog said: "pick me up and kiss me and I'll become a beautiful bride."  He picked the frog up and put it I his pocket.  "Hey said the frog, I told you to pick me up and kiss me and I'll become a beautiful bride."  The man said "no thanks, at my age, I think I'd rather have a talkin' frog."

 The unexpected:  this life we live is full of unexpected things.  Some we expect but fail to materialize, others we do not expect and they come upon us "un-expectedly." We enter sacred time this morning into an expected yet still unexpected season of God's prophetic Kalendar we call "advent" a word that means "coming."  When one of our friends is about to arrive for dinner, we don't say "Julie's advent will be in about an hour." "The kids will 'adventing' home from school soon." No, Advent is a momentous coming, one with great pomp and significance. Advent is about coming, it is not about leaving.  It is about deliverance, it is not about fleeing away in fear. It is more like 'the doctor is coming" when a woman is unexpectedly giving birth.  This pregnancy we remember is the new birth of the human soul; the one we anticipate is looking for the renewal of Creation. God comes in the dark places.  Darkness is passive.  Light is active.  Advent is in many ways a dark place.  The days are shorter.  The temperature is colder.  it is in the dark places that we really grow.  We are blessed and grow in the dark and difficult places. A seed cannot germinate in the light but in the dark place, the soil.  The seed is not buried, it's planted.  It is the cultivated plant we admire, not the seed.  We are no different.  We live in the darkness of what the "hail Mary" calls 'this valley of tears.'  So it has been with the people of God from the beginning to this very moment.  The Hebrews lived through the dark places that God might bring them into the light. It is the difficult times that we grow.  The dark places will make you or break you.  But Paul wrote: "For God, who said, “'Let light shine out of darkness' made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ."  (I Cor 4:6)  Advent looks toward glory!  The glory that we experience now in Jesus and the glory to come in Second Coming the redemption of the world.

Advent is an odd season as the world and secular culture around us counts it.. It isn’t culturally accessible. It  doesn’t lend itself to retail. There are no made-for-TV movies telling heartwarming stories about the great and terrible day of the Lord. The secular world ignores it in favor of an "already Christmas." It is an unsettled season that holds in tension the now and the not yet, longing and hope, judgment and redemption. This is clear in the readings for the First Sunday in Advent.

Advent is about waiting.   I always like to emphasize our Jewish forbearers in the faith during Advent.  They were a people who kept the  hope for a Messiah alive for centuries, thousands of years always waiting with anticipation for the day.   They lived in a time where reality could be harsh.  Food and drink depended on the weather.  The attacks of nearby hostile nations a measured possibility.  They longed for a day of peace and security when God's Messiah would judge the nations and preside over a government of which there would be no end.   Advent is replete with symbolism.  Symbolism in our Tradition draws everything together: meaning and corporal witness to something greater than itself.  A reminder. For Anglicans, especially Anglo-Catholics, this is obvious.  For this prelude to the commemoration of the One who came as Emmanuel, God with us, it is a giant One Way sign to glory.   Our own culture is full of signs that attempt to draw us to something greater than ourselves, but most of these are shallow substitutes.  "You deserve a break today", "The world’s networking company," "The ultimate driving machine," "The quicker picker-upper," The king of beers", "The antidote for civilization"," Hertz puts you in the driver’s seat" and " The few, the proud, the Marines."  Great promises, but like politicians, the hype often exceeds the outcome.  Advent is more honest.  It says: "you'll get out of it what you put into it."  it is a mini-version of the everyday walk of the committed follower of Jesus Christ.

The Advent themes symbolized by the wreath are ones that the Lord gives to those who trust in him: Each candle represents 1,000 years.  Added together, the four candles symbolize the 4,000 years that humanity waited for the world’s Savior—from Adam and Eve to Jesus, whose birth was foretold in the Old Testament  Hope with the “Prophet’s Candle” reminding us that Jesus is coming.; Faith with the “Bethlehem Candle” reminding us of Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem;  Joy with the “Shepherd’s Candle” reminding us of the Joy the world experienced at the coming birth of Jesus; and Peace with the “Angel’s Candle” reminding us of the message of the angels: “Peace on Earth, Good Will Toward Men".

We serve a God who prepares.  Paul wrote to the Corinthian Church : " …it is written: "What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived" -- the things God has prepared for those who love him." (I Cor. 2:9)  God cannot be "surprised".  He has prepared for this exact purpose since "before the foundation of the world."  (Ephesians 1:4)  Yes Advent calls us to prepare our hearts for the celebration, the commemoration and a renewal of the promise and hope we have in Christ.  But it is also a time to remember that God  has it all under control and he has prepared from the beginning for what is becoming now and what is yet to come. Advent teaches us to live in readiness and anticipation. Paul said in our reading for today:  "You know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near."  Not in fear but in eager expectation.

Each year Advent reminds us to look for that day when all will be well, as Julian of Norwich said.  When all wars shall cease, all poverty and starvation be eradicated, all injustice brought to justice and God reigns in a new heaven and new earth.   We call it the Parousia or Second Coming of Christ. We speak of it in the Creed every week: "He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end". In the Lord's Prayer: "  Thy kingdom come". Even in the Christmass collect we pray: "grant that we who joyfully receive him as our Redeemer may with sure confidence behold him when he comes to be our Judge." But Advent is cosmic and timeless.  It is in God's time, in Greek: Kairos. Time outside of time. It points us to restoration, reclamation, wholeness and healing. But like exercise and learning it doesn't come without pain.  We all know thanks to the athletes among us: no ;pain, no gain.


Wouldn't it be great if we could just avoid all of the bad stuff at the end? C.S. Lewis said, "the  Christian faith is a thing of unspeakable joy but it does not begin with joy but rather despair.  And it is no good trying to reach the joy without first going through the despair." ..thanks, C.S."

In considering how we will keep in mind that as the scripture says: "the time is short" let me relate an apocryphal story.  It is about three devils who to finish their apprenticeship were to be sent to earth.  Meeting with Satan: he queried them about strategies to thwart the work of God. The first devil said: "I will say there is no God" Satan replied: "only the most foolish would believe that." The second said: " I will say there is no Hell." Satan replied: most of humanity believe there is hell for some."  The Third said:"I will say: 'there is no hurry'." "Do that" Satan said, "and you will ruin humanity by the thousands."

The statements we call: "the mystery of faith" recall this each Eucharist: "Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again." and "we remember his death, We proclaim his resurrection, We await his coming in glory."  Each time we say one of the creeds we affirm the same thing.    This does not discount the fearful side of the second coming of Jesus Christ, which is why we are still about the work of the Light.  And for those who Love his Appearing, it is great anticipation and joy and the dawn of a reign of goodness and glory to the human race.  Although we still see much good in this world we also see evil gaining an incredible foothold.  Scripture entreats us "O pray for the peace of Jerusalem, may they prosper who love you."   Beginning this morn, we look forward to that time to which this weary world looks of which blessed St Julian of Norwich wrote: "all shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well…"  God has a prepared blessing for each one of us.  Let us begin again this morn to look for the Hope, Faith, Joy and Peace the Lord Jesus came to bring and that he has put into our hearts by the Holy Spirit. A blessed and holy Advent to you all.

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