Sunday, December 3, 2017

"Keep Awake!" Sermon for SUNDAY, December 3, 2017 - 1st Sunday in Advent

"But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see 'the Son of Man coming in clouds' with great power and glory. Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven. "From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. "But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. Therefore, keep awake-- for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake."
~ Mark 13:24-37

"Keep Awake!"

Grace be unto you and peace, from God our Father and from our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen

A time of celebration is at hand – Today starts a new year! “But”, I hear you say, “hang on a second Cap'n! It isn’t January 1st yet, it’s December 3rd!” Ah, true it is, but just the same, a new year begins today! The Church’s new year, that is. Today it’s the first Sunday in Advent, and the season of Advent begins the Church year. The traditional liturgical color for Advent (like that of Lent) is … Purple. Advent (like Lent) traditionally being a season of reflection, repentance (and sorrow), but also of preparation, waiting, anticipation and longing.

Yes, Advent is the season when we reflect upon our readiness (or lack of it!) to welcome Jesus; when we, as Christian people, prepare, wait for, anticipate and long for his coming – which we celebrate each year at Christmas. Our Gospel verses today, this first Sunday of Advent, aid us in our weeks of reflection and preparation, waiting and preparation prior to Christmas, as we strive for personal spiritual renewal (as we prepare to be ready to welcome Jesus into our lives afresh) on that ‘Joyful Morning’.

Indeed, Jesus prefaces his parable with a statement of the reality of what it means to harbor the deepest longing and anticipation common to every Christian’s heart, waiting for his coming. Yet, he knows of the impatience of the human spirit, how easily we give up, when we’re waiting – and waiting – and waiting … and nothing seems to happen. Jesus says, “Take heed, watch, for you do not know when the time will come.” He tells us to be watchful, he tells us to wait, he tells us to be hopeful, he tells us to anticipate his return. Then he begins his story.

It’s a short story, which he begins with a familiar three words – “It is like”. When Jesus uses an introduction like this, we know that he is about to invite those that hear his words to make a parallel between the all-too familiar everyday life, and the deep mysteries (yet realities) of faith. The familiar, everyday life-situation is that a man leaves his house to go on a journey. He’s evidently rather a wealthy man since he has a number of servants. Before his departure he instructs each of them in their duties – some to make sure the house is kept neat and tidy and in good repair. And he instructs the doorkeeper to keep watch so that the door may be opened for him, the master of the house, on his return home.

The servants are to be vigilant in their duties. Even though they don’t know when the master will return (perhaps the master doesn’t either? Matt 24:36) there’s no slacking allowed! No sense in which the servants can say, ‘The master surely won’t be home today, so let’s just have fun, be lazy: no matter about the dusting, the cleaning, the disposal of the household garbage. No reason to keep watch, no reason to be ready to welcome the master home today. We’ll begin our preparations again, our watching, tomorrow!’ But tomorrow never comes, does it! And so the house gets more and more cluttered and dusty, the door’s hinges become rusty and difficult to open. The servants become lazy; sharp-sightedness becomes impaired through lack of practice.

How much like these servants we can be, in our lives of faith! How like that house our spiritual lives can become – full of clutter, dusty, unkempt! How like that door our spiritual lives can become, difficult to open! How un-prepared we can be for the Master’s return! What lack of vision we can suffer from when we do not anticipate, when we cease to hope for, the Master’s return!

Advent is a time for ‘putting our spiritual house in order’. By examining our life’s priorities, what’s important to us and our loved-ones, through the spiritual discipline of prayer and reflection on Jesus’ word, we can empty our house of the clutter that hinders our readiness to welcome Jesus, the Master, into our lives. How about the clutter of our desire for material things – the new car, the latest computer games, the newest cell-phone … all the things that adverts on TV try to convince us will make our Christmas complete! SWEEP THOSE DESIRES AWAY! How about the clutter of our desire to buy all the food and drink (so much of which gets thrown away) without which, TV adverts try to convince us, Christmas will be so disappointing! SWEEP THOSE DESIRES AWAY! Now I’m no ‘humbug’, and I enjoy celebrating Christmas as much as any other Christian. But what’s Christmas all about? That’s the question. It’s about celebrating the birth of Jesus. And the most important thing is that we need to be sure we’re ready to welcome him again, whenever he ‘comes home’ to dwell with(in) us.

Watch, therefore, for we do not know when the Master will come. Will it be in the evening? Will it be at midnight? Will it be at dawn, or later in the morning? We don’t know – but we must be found alert, vigilant and welcoming. We must not be found to be asleep.

‘Asleep’ means ‘unprepared’. And it means to be indifferent and unconcerned about being unprepared. As Jesus cautioned his disciples then, so he alerts us to the fact that we too must be ready – or we’ll be in danger of missing his promised arrival altogether!

Yes, Jesus’ arrival is an event that is a promised reality. We do not know when (or how) the Master of our house will come, but we are offered glimpses of this mystery in Scripture.

In Luke’s Book of Acts 1:11 we read, “This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” In John 14:3 Jesus says, “I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.”

Jesus is coming again, of that we can be sure – like the master of that house – but when (or how) he will return, that’s a mystery! In Matthew 24:44 Jesus says, “Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour. A few verses before he says, “Of that hour and that day no one knows, only the Father in heaven”. So, what does it mean to be ready? It means clearing our ‘spiritual house’ of ‘every-day’ (worldly) clutter so we can be alert and, ultimately, to welcome the Master. I’m not suggesting that Jesus will return at Christmas (we don’t know when!), simply that Advent gives us an opportunity to make ready. And, perhaps above all, it means being patient as we wait and not giving-up. Like the old gardener in the following.

There is a story about a tourist traveling along the shores of Lake Como in Northern Italy. When he reached a castle called Villa Arconti a friendly old gardener saw him peering through the gates, and opening them, invited the tourist inside. There the tourist saw the most spectacular gardens he had seen in a long while, gardens that the old gardener kept in perfect order. The tourist asked the old gardener whether the owner of the castle was in residence. “No” he replied, “He hasn’t been here at all for the last ten years.” “Does he ever write to you?” the tourist asked. “No.” “From whom do you get your instructions?” asked the tourist. “From his agent” was the reply. The tourist pursued his questions: “Does his agent come here?” The answer was in the negative. “Who DOES come here then?” asked the tourist. “I’m almost always alone, apart from the occasional tourist like yourself” replied the old gardener. In amazement the tourist exclaimed, “Yet you keep this garden looking immaculate, just as though you expect the owner to arrive home tomorrow!” “No, not tomorrow - TODAY, sir, TODAY!” replied the old gardener.

Jesus is coming again. Yet are we waiting for his coming only at the end of time – or do we also sense his presence among us today?

For Jesus still comes to us through his Word as, throughout the Church, we listen for him through the Gospels. We know Jesus’ presence through his Church, through you and me and all faithful people, as we become his servants, to and with one another. But all the same we called to be watchful, to patiently wait, and to prepare for Jesus’ arrival. Through our meditations on the Word of God, made known through Christ Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit, may our Advent preparation enable us to be found ‘awake’, prepared and welcoming when Jesus returns. Amen
Father in heaven, the day draws near when the glory of your Son will make radiant the night of the waiting world. May the lure of greed not impede us from the joy which moves the hearts of those who seek him. May the darkness not blind us to the vision of wisdom which fills the minds of those who find him. We ask this in the name of Jesus the Lord. Amen

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New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. The New Revised Standard Version Bible may be quoted and/or reprinted up to and inclusive of five hundred (500) verses without express written permission of the publisher, provided the verses quoted do not amount to a complete book of the Bible or account for fifty percent (50%) of the total work in which they are quoted.

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