A congregation of the United Church of Canada
Yr B ~ Advent 1 ~ Mark 13:32-37 (The Message Translation)
And so we enter the Season of Advent – a season of waiting with anticipation for the coming of Jesus. That’s a loaded statement, of course, and we’ll unpack it in a few minutes, but for now let’s talk about Advent in broad terms.
Way back when Advent was treated more like Lent. A sombre and introspective time of thinking about heavy theological things, and preparing the way. Over time we’ve shifted it a bit. Now we focus more on the waiting part. And considering when Advent happens waiting is really hard.
December is a month that’s been taken over by the hubbub and franticness of preparing for Christmas. People worry and fuss about decorating, and getting their shopping done, and entertaining (and being good for Santa). There are big concerts, and celebrations, and parties, and food, food, food!
Usually by the time Christmas actually arrives we’re exhausted from all the preparations! The 12 days of Christmas are supposed to START on Christmas day. Instead we tend to stop then. We’re tired of Christmas before the church calendar even says we’re supposed to start celebrating it!
And into that mix preachers like me get to stand here and tell everyone to slow down and wait.
Instead of shop, bake, clean, and party we offer theological words like hope, peace, joy, and love.
I trust you don’t hear me saying all that usual Christmas stuff is bad.
It just needs balance. And this Advent waiting and anticipation in church is a great balance to the way Christmas unfolds out there.
Church and culture don’t have to be enemies in Advent, but there is some tension. For example, you’ll notice that even though some radio stations have already gone to all Christmas music all day long we have only one Christmas carol during the worship service in the morning – and I do that reluctantly! We’re also experimenting with some pre-church carol singing because the mean minister won’t do it during worship!
Scripture too is a challenge during Advent because we can’t tell the nativity story yet. Even if we could get the world to stop focusing so much on Santa and instead to focus on Jesus Advent tells us, nope, not yet, gotta wait for Jesus until at least the 24th! Instead, all the texts are about waiting, and some of them are pretty harsh.
And that’s why we focus so much on those four themes – hope, peace, joy, and love.
This week the theme is about hope.
But the passage from Mark doesn’t sound like hope at first. It sounds like Santa saying “You better watch out!”
Mark 13:32-37 – a homeowner goes on a trip and leaves their servants in charge. The focus is on the gatekeeper. They’re supposed to make sure they don’t fall asleep on the job. To keep awake. To watch. To wait. (Sounds like Advent, right?) But then it says to watch and wait and stay awake because you don’t know when the master is coming!
Um, but we do.
We’ve got these neat things called calendars and it’s really clearly marked that on Dec 25th we’ll mark the day that Jesus was born.
(Yeah, yeah, I know it’s not the actual day – no one could possibly know the actual day – but that’s when we mark the day so we just go with it.)
Except even we in the church can’t wait that one more day and we actually celebrate Jesus’ birth on the 24th!
Scripture says we don’t know the day – don’t know the timetable. And yet we have these calendars that clearly mark off the days.
Some people start counting the days to Christmas in the summer!
Heck some even start the day after Christmas anticipating next year! (I doubt though that it’s Jesus they’re waiting for!)
So we absolutely do know the timetable! We still have to wait for Jesus to come, patiently checking off the days, but the day is known.
And we wait in hope. Because hope is trusting in your bones that something is going to happen.
In fact, calendars leading to Christmas – even calling them Advent calendars – are quite a popular thing even in the secular world. I think they mostly like it because it gives an excuse to open a present every day, but it’s still a taste of Advent hope.
Do you do an Advent calendar? They’ve progressed way beyond just chocolates now.
I’ve seen food advent calendars, and beauty advent calendars, and socks advent calendars, and alcohol advent calendars (that one’s probably not very religious!), and who knows what else.
They’re fun. They help us anticipate. You might even say they increase our sense of hopefulness because we’re awaiting the big day that we know is coming!
I’d like to offer you something different for this December.
How about you try a Reverse Advent calendar this year.
Instead of opening a present every day, take a big bag or a box and put one item of food in it every day. Day after day, as you anticipate the coming of Christmas you’ll see your bag become more and more full of food and hopefully you’ll become more and more hopeful that your spirit of kindness, sharing, and generosity will be shared. And then on Christmas Eve bring your big bag of Advent food to the church and we’ll put it all together and take it to the food bank.
A Reverse Advent Calendar! I hope you’ll try it!
So, let’s review. Advent is about waiting. But what exactly are you waiting for? While you’re thinking about that, watch this.
In these last few minutes I have I’d like to do something a little risky. I want to flip this whole Advent thing on its head and ask you a way tougher question than you may like – who’s waiting for whom?
In that video the chorus kept saying “I will wait for you.”
What if we understood who’s talking differently?
The common way to look at this, and it’s common because it’s good theology and really helpful – is to say that we are here and waiting for Jesus to come.
But when you think about it, if you really believe the kind of theology that I endlessly preach about, that God is already right here and now, in every place you are and everyone you encounter, and if Jesus’ Spirit is understood to be always with us, then it doesn’t make much sense to wait for Jesus to come.
It makes it sound like he’s not already here, but he is.
He’s in our hearts. He’s in our hands.
So we can do the usual song and dance and wink and say that we’re waiting for Jesus who’s already here but we’ll pretend not for a month and call it Advent anticipation.
Or we could do something really radical. We could ask a completely different question.
Are we waiting for Jesus to come to us, or for us to come to Jesus?
Maybe the one singing that song in the video is actually Jesus – and he’s singing the chorus right to us – “I will wait for you!”
“I (Jesus) will wait for you!”
In Mark 13 Jesus says, “Stay awake!” – That’s the same as saying, “Be present!”
God is already and always present – we’re not.
Maybe the highest level of hopefulness imaginable is God’s yearning hopefulness that during this Advent season WE will open OUR hearts and notice God’s relentless omni-presence, and discern Jesus’ unwavering loving guidance, and embrace the Spirit’s unfailing compassionate companionship?
Maybe in this season of waiting the greatest waiting hope is God waiting for us?
Patiently, passionately, poignantly, persistently.
Maybe that’s as good a definition of God’s love for us that there is – a waiting hope.
And so begins our Advent season – a season of preparation, of remembering, of hopefulness, of anticipation, of waiting.
And as the world around us is immersed in the hubbub that December brings, may we remember to slow down, to breathe deeply, to be present, and to allow ourselves to be immersed in the presence of God – which is awaiting us right here, right now, and always.
Thanks be to God!