151129 – Do You See?

Yr C – Advent 1 – Luke 21:25-36

My first day back last Tuesday was the day that the trees and bushes were all covered in a layer of light snow and it all looked like a beautiful winter wonderland. If I hadn’t already realized there was a change of season happening that certainly underlined it – with an exclamation point! Needless to say, I noticed!
Do you notice the change of seasons?
Do you notice the signs? do-you-see
Did you notice I was gone for a few months?

People have been asking how it went and if I’m happy to be back. It went very well…and I am tickled to be back! Just to get everyone on the same page, I’ve been on a three month sabbatical finishing my thesis/dissertation for my Doctor of Ministry degree. There’s a 90 page version and a 35 page version. My topic was about helping ministers and congregations learn to notice God’s Presence more. Right now there are 20 some-odd churches from British Columbia to Nova Scotia and a couple in the States that if you said to them “Surely God is in this place” they’d respond with… “Help me notice!” It was called “The Presence Project” and the feedback was wonderful. I’m very pleased.

I’ve submitted my work and now I’m waiting for my advisors to send comments and suggest revisions – then we dance back and forth a bit – then I’ll do a presentation in January and get more feedback – then I do my final submission in February and in March they make it official. So I’m through the heavy lifting but not quite completely done yet. I have to wait, and wait. How perfectly appropriate for Advent! Having three months to focus on just immersing myself in that work was a tremendous gift and I am very grateful for it. Thank you! And I’m also very grateful that Dan did such a fantastic job leading you while I was away.

So yes, it’s good to be back. I’ve missed this, and y’all. And what better time to make a fresh start than today – Advent 1. Happy New Year, by the way. It’s the beginning of the Christian church year. We start with the season of Advent – a time of anticipation and preparation for Christmas. Advent scripture readings sometimes throw people for a loop because they tend to be fairly pointed and not very Christmassy. There’s a reason for that. We’ll talk about it in a minute. Today is definitely one of those weird readings. It’s called the little apocalypse! And it’s quite a distance from “silent night.” Let’s have a look at it.

Luke 21:25-26 “It will seem like all hell has broken loose – sun, moon, stars, earth, sea, in an uproar and everyone all over the world in a panic, the wind knocked out of them by the threat of doom, the powers-that-be quaking. “

Merry Christmas?

Do you remember that time when everything was peaceful, there was no conflict in the world, and when you turned on the news it didn’t feel like all hell was breaking loose? When was that again? Never! This is kind of the way it always seems to be. So what do you think Jesus is trying to tell us here?

We get this description of horrific world events and he says it’s a sign of something. He says it’ll feel like the end of the world is coming – like the apocalypse is upon us. Well, you’ve been following the news. ISIL, Syria, refugees, Palestine/Israel, Paris, Beirut, Baghdad, shootings – how did Jesus know that this stuff would be going on when we read this passage 2000 years later?

Here’s the thing, he isn’t describing some particular time in history when certain things are going to happen, the planets align in a certain way, and God’s kingdom will suddenly appear in a flash of fire and light.
He’s not describing how it’s going to be; he’s describing how it always is!
When doesn’t it feel like the apocalypse is coming?

vv.27-28 And then – then! – they’ll see the Son of Man welcomed in grand style – a glorious welcome! When all this starts to happen, up on your feet. Stand tall with your heads high. Help is on the way!”

Then, is now! – which means we’re supposed to see the Son of Man welcomed in grand style now.
Don’t get caught trying to take this literally. It’s not that at all. You’ll miss the point entirely.
It’s poetry. It’s metaphorical. It’s language designed to paint a picture and tell you something that’s true about the world. And what’s true is that when all this terrible stuff is happening – which is pretty much always – then we’re supposed to stand tall with our heads up – not turtle and run away and hide – and open our eyes and see the help that is before us. It’s always like the apocalypse and God is always right here ready to help.

This is hope week in Advent. Hope isn’t a wish for something that might be, it’s an unwavering trust in what will be.
What gives you hope?
I hope that it’s a steadfast certainty that surely God is in this place and every place – that whether you can readily see it or not help, and light, and love, and Presence are all around.
Do you notice?
Do you see?
Can you recognize the signs?
They’re as obvious as when a tree starts to bud in the spring – you know something’s coming.
When you have to start waking up in the morning 10 minutes earlier because you have to allow time to scrape your windshield – you know something’s coming.
When you come to church and the seats are arranged in a circle instead of the usual pattern – you know something’s coming.
We learn to recognize the signs. Can you recognize God’s signs? Can you see that something’s coming?

In my neighbourhood people took down their Halloween decorations and put up their twinkly festive holiday season lights. It’s a sign that something’s coming. We decorate fairly minimally at my house but the prime feature is a one metre high illuminated Joseph, Mary and baby Jesus nativity. I hope when people pass by they notice. Something’s coming, and it’s more than just Santa and Frosty.

vv.32-35 Jesus says, “Don’t brush this off: I’m not just saying this for some future generation, but for this one, too – these things will happen. Sky and earth will wear out; my words won’t wear out. But be on your guard. Don’t let the sharp edge of your expectation get dulled by parties and drinking and shopping. Otherwise, that Day is going to take you by complete surprise, spring on you suddenly like a trap, for it’s going to come on everyone, everywhere, at once.”

Jesus says we shouldn’t get distracted by parties and drinking and shopping. He doesn’t say that those things are intrinsically bad and that we shouldn’t do them – he says to not get distracted by them.
I’m not anti-Christmas – I’m anti-missing the point!
The way we do Christmas in North America is a massive distraction from the point. We’ve made it into a ginormous shopping and partying season where we are constantly bombarded with Christmas messages that have virtually nothing to do with Christmas.

So here in church we go counter cultural. We celebrate the season of Advent. Advent means waiting.
By the time the church gets to celebrating Christmas everybody else is packing up their stuff and getting ready for their Valentines decorations.
We don’t mark Advent to be party-poopers or to scold people for the crass commercialization of an important spiritual event (well, maybe a little!). We mark Advent so we won’t get distracted and miss the point.

What’s the point? This week it’s about hope.
In a world where there is so much hurt and worry and anxiety and fear and danger and need people of faith look around and instead of being dismayed or overwhelmed we look deeper and realize that we are not alone in this. God is here.
There is light in the darkness.
There is trust that there’s more than just this.

How’d we learn about this? Well, for most of us here Jesus taught us about it. His life, his stories, his teaching, his insights, his ability to see God in all places and all people – Jesus is the source of our hope because he helped us notice Something More. What a gift that is! Hope, certainty, trust, empowerment in the face of the world’s troubles. It’s big, important stuff which makes him a big, important guy so we make a point of celebrating his birthday – which we have no clue when it actually is so we called it December 25th. That it happens in this hemisphere when the nights are at their longest just adds to the power of the date for us. When our world is at its darkest, we celebrate the birth of Jesus, who for us is the light of the world.

And the reason why Advent is so important – why emphasizing waiting is so crucial – is that God is not in the magic wand business.
Hope is strong but it’s slow.
Peace is powerful but it’s subtle.
Joy is a deep state of being not a rockin’ party.
And love is the ground of our being not a fireworks display.
That’s a hard sell in our on-demand, next-day-delivery, instant-gratification society. But that’s why it’s so important to do it.
Advent makes us slow down and remember what the season is all about. Advent says something’s coming, and it invites us to take a deep breath and notice.

Let’s do that right now. Close your eyes. Take a deep breath. Take another one. Breathe-in the hope.
Sometimes we can’t see until we close our eyes.
Sometimes we can’t notice because we’re too distracted by the tinsel and the flickering lights.
But if we can remember to breathe, and to wait – anticipating the coming of light that illuminates our journey and warms our hearts in the cold realities of the world – if we can do that, we’ll see something wondrous. (You can open your eyes.)

If we take the time to pause and notice we’ll see that the light we’re waiting for is already here.
We’ll see that the hope we desire is already filling us.
We’ll see that in a world teeming with distractions a strange story about a baby born to poor parents in a backwater little town can turn our perception upside down and help us understand what’s really real.

A helpless, tiny baby – that’s God’s answer to the hurt of the world. No instant miraculous fixes – just a model of how to live enfolded in love, constantly aware that God is with us, and embodying that love in all our interactions.

This is the hope of Advent. A time of preparation, anticipation, waiting, praying.
A time to celebrate with the world but not become distracted by it.
A time to remember. A time to notice.
Something’s coming – and it’s already here.
Do you see?

Amen.