Radical Advent

Sermon for December 1, 2013
The First Sunday of Advent; Year A
Isaiah 2: 1-5; Psalm 122; Romans 13: 11-14; Matthew 24: 36-44
The Rev. Margot D. Critchfield

To choose to live as a Christian is to choose to live a radically different way than most people today choose to live.  We are steeped in an ethos that honors independence and self-reliance, while the One we choose to follow models inter-dependence and reliance on God.  The economy in which we live rewards ambition, competition, and survival of the fittest, while the One we choose to follow advocates humility, collaboration, and self-sacrifice. And while our social values promote the accumulation of status, power, and riches, the One we choose to follow commends dying to self, service to others, and repeatedly warns against the terrible perils of hoarding one’s wealth.

Pretty much everything the world beyond these walls holds in high-esteem is flat-out denounced by Christ, while so many of his teachings around which we organize our lives as his followers are the object of snarky remarks by the increasingly shallow world in which we live.  Teachings about things like working for social good instead of personal gain, like forgiving those who hurt us, or even as fundamental as observing the Sabbath.

Just witness the looks of total disbelief when a young person turns down a high-powered job for a lesser-paying one with a non-profit. Witness the awe with which people respond to reports of victims forgiving the criminals who wronged them.  Witness the disregard for the Sabbath when our schools schedule pancake breakfasts on Sunday mornings and our town deems a triathlon more important than safe egress for its citizens to attend church!

To choose to live as a Christian is to choose to live in a radically different way than most people today choose to live.  And never is this more painfully clear than during the season of Advent. The word on the street is heralding a countdown to Christmas and preparing for the coming of Santa– encouraging us to buy things we don’t even need; while at the very same time the Word in our scripture is heralding a countdown to the end times and preparing for the coming of the Son of Man — warning us to turn away from the same conspicuous consumption our culture is urging us towards.

“Cast aside the works of darkness,” St. Paul exhorts us, “and put on the armor of light.”  
“Cast aside your conscience,” the commercials counter, “and put down your credit card of choice.

I wonder who we will listen to this Advent?

Advent is a time of faithful waiting, a time of not only anticipating and celebrating the coming of Emmanuel, God-with-us, in the person of the baby Jesus –but a time of faithfully anticipating the outrageously unlikely moment when it will happen again, “on a day and hour that no one knows, neither the angels of heaven nor the Son, but only the Father.”

As Episcopalians, we don’t talk much about what St. Matthew calls “the end of the age” or about the Son of Man appearing in the clouds “with power and great glory.”  Many of us may not even think we believe in a so-called “Second Coming” of Christ; it sounds too much like the stuff of bad apocalyptic movies and hyped up novels about the so-called rapture.

But in fact, if we are faithfully waiting and working and praying for violence to cease, for poverty to be eradicated, for hunger to be eliminated, for disease to be obliterated, for justice to be done and for love to conquer all—then whether we realize it or not, we are anticipating the day when Christ will come again in all His fullness and God’s will will be done on earth as it is in heaven, at last.  Whether we realize it or not, we are counting on the day when God sets all things right by restoring and reconciling all of creation to God’s original intent.  Because then, and only then, will all those things we are waiting and working and praying so hard for be fully realized.

In the meantime, as Jesus so urgently reminds us this morning, we are called not only to wait for that day but to prepare for it.  And while we may prepare for Christmas by decorating, baking, shopping, and wrapping, we prepare for the day we will meet our Lord face to face by being fully awake to the world within us and to the world around us.  We prepare for the day we will meet our Lord face to face by slowing down while the rest of the world speeds up, by taking inventory of our lives, our relationships, our hearts, and our souls…by accepting God’s forgiveness and giving thanks…and by turning back with new found freedom and joy and passion and commitment to living as Christ calls us to live. In short, by casting away the works of darkness and putting on the armor of Light.  Now that is Advent!

Of course, in this crazy culture that makes an idol of our egos, who wants to take stock of her shortcomings, failures, or flaws? When everyone else is going to parties, drinking eggnog, and sneaking a little kiss under the mistletoe, who wants to imagine himself standing alone before God or wondering what such an encounter might reveal?  But you see, to choose to live as a Christian is to choose to live in a radically different way than most people today choose to live.

To choose to live as a Christian is to sign-on to a faith that asserts that sooner or later we will be held accountable for how we have lived our lives—how we’ve lived in relationship with God, with each other, and with all of God’s creation.  Yes, we will be judged with Divine love and with mercy—but we will be judged. So whether it happens when our entire world is completely transformed by that outrageously unlikely moment that Christ walks this earth again, or in the much more mundane inevitability of our own individual deaths— we will be held accountable. Whether God comes to us, or we go to God, God’s loving judgment will purge us of all that separates us from God’s Divine Love. God’s loving and merciful judgment will reveal –and heal– all of our brokenness.

The German martyr Dietrich Bonheoffer wrote that, “We have become so accustomed to the idea of divine love, and of God’s coming at Christmas, that we no longer feel the shiver of fear that God’s coming should arouse in us.”  He said that, “The coming of God is truly not only glad tidings, but first of all frightening news for everyone who has a conscience…

Frightening because when we stand face to face with God’s all powerful Love—our judgment may well be in the painful realization of just how much we have hurt the One who loves us into being and unto death.  Our judgment may well be in suddenly seeing just how much we have disappointed this God of Divine Love, how much we’ve fallen short of God’s dream for us… how miserably we have failed to love God with all of our heart, and all of our mind, and all of our strength, or to have loved our neighbors as ourselves.

It could well be that in the brilliant Light of God’s love we will no longer be able to avoid seeing the truth about ourselves and our lives with absolute clarity: All the things done and left undone, or as the Litany of Penitence says—all of our pride, hypocrisy and impatience; our self-indulgence, dishonesty and envy; our greed, indifference, and idolatry; our abuse of this planet, of our selves and of each other.

But when we do—when we face that judgment—we have the assurance that the One we choose to follow will be there to remind us we are already forgiven.  The One we choose to follow will be there to embrace us and restore us.  The One we choose to follow will be there to heal us and to love us into new life.

Wouldn’t that be divine? Wouldn’t it be divine to stand before God already healed of all brokenness, purged of all sin, restored to perfect wholeness, free from all that now binds us, bathed in the Light of God’s perfect Love? Wouldn’t that be…well, wouldn’t that be heaven?

So what are we waiting for?

We have the freedom to wake up and to prepare right now for the inevitable day that none of us can foresee, when we will meet God face to face. We can choose right now to examine our lives, our relationships, our hearts and our souls.  We can choose right now to take stock of all our broken places and seek healing.  We can choose this very day to return with newfound freedom and joy and passion and commitment to living as Jesus calls us to live.

Advent is indeed a time of waiting, but we needn’t wait for the Second Coming to experience God’s forgiveness or to be healed and redeemed by God’s generous love!  Now is the moment to wake from sleep, for none of us knows on what day our Lord is coming.

Cast aside the works of darkness,” St. Paul exhorts us, “and put on the armor of light.
“Cast aside your conscience,” the commercials counter, “and put down your credit card of choice.

I wonder which voice we will listen to this Advent?  Amen.

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1 Comment

Filed under Sermons by Margot

One response to “Radical Advent

  1. Pingback: ADVENT 2: God is coming! Aren’t you scared? | Dr Ken Baker

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