December 1, 2013 1st Sunday of Advent "At an Unexpected Hour"

posted Mar 11, 2014, 10:27 AM by David Hawkins

December 1, 2013

1st Sunday of Advent

"At an Unexpected Hour"  

Scripture Reading: Matthew  24:36-44 (Liturgist)

“But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, or the Son, but only the Father. For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man.

“Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into.

“Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”

Sermon: "At an Unexpected Hour"             Rev. David Hawkins

As you could tell by walking into the church this morning, the church has changed seasons. I would like to take a moment and thank all those who helped with the hanging of the greens yesterday. This is just so beautiful. And it certainly helps us get into the the Advent Season.

Advent is a curious season in the Church year. It’s this weird time of quiet expectation, right smack dab in the middle of maybe the most joyfully exuberant holiday of the secular world. Christmas is the big event, and I believe that it overtook Thanksgiving in this year, with Black Friday actually beginning on Thanksgiving Day. It will be a mad rush from here on in.

The malls and the stores and the TV’s are playing Christmas music, and all the decorations are up all over town. Christmas is very much in the forefront of everybody’s minds, at least in the commercial sense.

And that’s the strangeness of Advent. Advent, at least for the church, is not Christmas. Advent is something different than Christmas. It has its own mood, its own themes, even its own music. While Christmas is a time of celebration, Advent is a time of preparation. Christmas is a time of unwrapping presents, singing carols, proclaiming the birth of the Prince of Peace, but Advent is a time of watchfulness, a time to consider meaning of our lives, and ponder the times we live in.

When I was the Music Director in my Church back in Grand Junction, the pastor, as do pastors pretty much everywhere, tried to choose hymns that were appropriate to the Advent season, hymns that pointed toward the return of Jesus Christ, hymns that remembered the prophecies regarding a messiah, hymns that called to mind the themes of candles in the dark, wakefulness, anticipation, the return of Jesus, that sort of thing.

And I remember as a music director being a little bit frustrated with the pastor, because there was just so much great Christmas music out there that needed to be sung, why couldn't we just skip all this introspective, broody type of music, and get right to the good stuff? Why couldn’t we just sing Christmas carols each week of December?

And I wasn’t alone in thinking that. The pastor was under a lot of pressure to submit to popular demand, and simply let the congregation sing carols all the way through to Christmas. After all, that’s what everyone else on the planet was doing.

But after a few years, and several conversations with the pastor of that church, I began to change my mind about Advent. And I began to appreciate more and more the subtlety of this season. The way it looked backward and forward at the same time. The way Advent makes us wrestle with the tension of the ‘already and not-yet’ reality of living between the kingdom of this world, and the coming kingdom of God.

And especially the way it reminds us to be alert to return of Jesus Christ. It’s too easy to get caught up in the everyday-ness of our lives, to go along with everyone else, and hardly give a thought to the discipline of our faith, the expression of what God has called us to do. And especially in this frenzied, insane season of consumer excess, we especially need to be reminded not only that Jesus is the reason for this season, we need to remember why Jesus is the reason for this season.

Advent calls us to slow down, think about what’s important. It calls us to let go of stuff that hinders us from looking for God coming into this world. And this has nothing at all to do with getting the best price on a big screen TV, or buying a new car, or getting caught in predawn rush of Walmart and fighting for the newest line of Martha Stewart towels. All of that stuff is the opposite of Advent.

And we need that reminder. And we need it every year.

Because we can’t help but get caught up in it. All of us. We find ourselves wanting more, buying more, going in debt even more, because that’s what everyone is doing. We go with the flow. We live in the kingdom of this world. And in doing so, we aren’t ready to see a different kind of kingdom breaking in all around us. A better kind of kingdom. We take our eyes off the prize, and are distracted by lesser things.

But I don’t think that this is a new phenomena. I don’t think that this distraction is something invented by 21st century capitalism.

In our scripture today, we see Jesus using the dramatic imagery of the apocalypse to shake the people out of their own sense of complacency, reminding them not to take their faith for granted, not to be sleepy in their own spiritual journey. It’s too easy to think that this world is all there is, that there is no greater reason for our lives, to simply go along with the flow. But Jesus reminds them and us that this world and all that’s in it has a beginning, and it has an end. Our lives are lived before God. And our God will judge those lives. Be ready, Jesus says. for that moment. Be ready for when you stand and give an accounting of your life. It could happen at any time.

And this is a scary thought. In fact, it is a terrifying thought. Who could possibly stand before God and justify their own life?

But this is exactly the mystery of Advent.

We live in mortal terror of a mirror being held up to our lives, but we also live in the promise of the grace of Jesus Christ. We look forward to the return of Jesus Christ to judge the world, and everyone in it, and yet, we also look forward to the birth of a baby boy who will fulfill the promises of God to redeem all creation.

Advent calls us to live in the tension between these two truths. There is no answer to Advent. There is no reconciling it. There is only the experience of it.

And this is why the four weeks of Advent are a gift. This season of Advent is grace in and of itself. We are given the gift of time to come to terms with these ideas of  Jesus Christ, Bethlehem’s Child, and Jesus Christ, judge of the nations. We are given time to come to terms with our own lives, lived in between the birth and return of Christ. And we are given time to come to terms with the ways we fail to live up to the standards of our faith, and yet are redeemed by the one who comes to judge our lives.

This Christmas season, I encourage all of us to relax about the shopping. Let’s slow down in our party preparations. Let’s take time to enjoy the season, rather than be overwhelmed by it. But let’s also stay awake. Let’s live our lives before God. Because Jesus will return at an unexpected hour.

Thank God for Advent. Amen.