29 November ‘15
Take my lips, Oh Lord, and speak through them; take our minds and think with them. Take our hearts and set them on fire, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
Did you notice? Today, today, we begin again with another Advent, this short season of repentance and preparation, of promise and expectation and hope that begins the church year. But in a sense we begin again at the end.
Did you hear it? We begin with the words of an ancient prophet, Jeremiah, for whom the world as he knew it was ending. We begin with his proclamation to Israel about a coming Messiah and about salvation. Consider Jeremiah. God called him 626 years before Jesus was born. He is known for being, at best, a reluctant prophet. He was unsure of his task, unsure of his performance, sometimes even unsure of God. He was a lot like most of us. And yet, even with all that, Jeremiah trusted in God’s promise. Now all these years later we hear his words echoing through time, offering God’s promise of healing and restoration even to us. “The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah.” Jeremiah goes on to put words around that promised gift. God will send a Messiah, one who will be known for being in right relationship with God and who will bring God’s justice into this world Jeremiah’s words are full of hope and expectation. I wonder how they were received in that chaotic time? Jeremiah’s world was at war. The tiny nation of Judah was caught between opposing super powers. Political concerns, in that small nation, were both firmly linked to and, at the same time, in conflict with the long help sense that the nation existed because of the divine promise. In some ways the prophet’s words are forever timely. These many years later don’t we too long to trust in the promise, to trust in the faithful love of God even in the face of our own uncertainties? And so we begin again with repentance and preparation, with promise, with expectation and with hope. We begin with the words of another prophet, Jesus of Nazareth, the one we call Messiah.
Do you find his words startling today, the first Sunday in Advent?
We read his picture of the end of the world and that picture is undeniably timely. It has indeed been a year of “distress among nations”. There are wars and rumors of wars, there are the countless individual crisis’ that burden us day to day. Don’t each of us, from time to time, find ourselves “fainting with fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world” as the Gospel According to Luke says so eloquently. Those words of Jesus’ have been timely in every generation then ‘til now I expect. What are we to make of it all? What advise does Jesus have for us? His words are simple.
“Now when these things begin to take place. Stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near…Be alert at all times, praying you many have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”
Let’s listen to another translation of Luke 21:34.
Eugene Peterson’s translation, “The Message”, puts it this way.
“Don’t let the sharp edge of your expectation get dulled by parties and drinking and shopping” Ouch. That certainly hits close to home when we experience the extended Christmas season offered by our culture as the truth of this holy season. Jesus’ words offer a powerful contrast. He suggests that this action of repentance and preparation, of promise and expectation and hope needs to support and inform every single thing we do, not just in this season but in every season. How wonderful that Advent offers us a particular opportunity to take a deep breath, to slow down and to focus on that which is really crucial, our relationship with God and with God’s Messiah who is and is to come. How wonderful that we can go forward in hope because we know for sure that God’s promise has been fulfilled. Hold Jeremiah’s message in your heart and mind. I’ll paraphrase,
“God is faithful and when God makes a promise that promise will be kept.”
Always God gives us just what we need so that we can “stand up and raise our heads.” Our God of promises fulfilled gives us the gift of prayer to hold and guide us all our days. Listen to our collect for this first Sunday in Advent. It begins, “Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life…” That “now” is crucial. Now, right now, today, as we remember our Lord’s first advent and look toward his second we ask God’s grace to cast off those ‘works of darkness and put on the armor of light.” The prayer is an old one, composed for the 1549 Prayer Book, and from 1662 until the present Prayer Book revision it was to be used daily throughout the Advent season. That sounds like a good idea to me in this Advent season. Why not take the bulletin home today and put that prayer where you can use it daily during this season? Why not use that prayer and let God open your eyes to the possibilities of redemption hidden within the ordinary events of daily life right now, right here?
You might combine it with the devotions offered on the Advent Calendar available for you in the parish hall. (Don’t forget to take a copy home today)
I’ll be the first to admit it. In the midst of our busy, complex, stressful lives God’s possibilities are often enough hard to see. But here’s the thing. We can still decorate our homes and bake cookies, we can still shop and go to those Christmas parties. We can even listen to the news that floods into our lives from all around the world. We can do all that because we have that gift of prayer to help us on our way. And because we have our faith in God’s promises kept. It’s been close to 2600 years since the reluctant prophet Jeremiah spoke. And yet he still offers to us that word of hope and promises fulfilled. It was his simple faith, his trust in God that led him to let go of his self-concern, his self-preoccupation to speak God’s word. God has given us everything we need to do the same. God has given us just exactly what we need to “stand up and raise [our] heads bringing God’s love and hope and justice into our world. “The days are here. The time is now. The promise is fulfilled.” Amen
(Advent Thirst…Christmas Hope Prayer and Meditation for the Journey, Anita M. Constance, S.C., Paulist Press, Mahwah, N.J., 1994, p. 4)