1st Sunday of Advent, year C, 2015 (preached 11/29/15)
first reading: Jeremiah 33:14-16
second reading: 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13
gospel reading: Luke 21:25-36
More end of the world stuff. More talk about – the “days” that “are surely coming,” “those days,” what the Lord “will” do, all the things that “will” happen – at some unknown point in the future, perhaps some events even happening now.
I preached about this a few weeks ago – how our preoccupation with “when” these things will happen just isn’t productive OR faithful.
What we learn over and over again (and AGAIN in today’s readings especially from Jesus and St. Paul) is how to go about waiting UNTIL “those days” arrive.
This is the focus of the season of Advent – waiting.
We wait for the birth of the Savior, but we also wait for “those days” that are surely coming – what we call the Second Coming.
But of course we hate to wait. Stores have had Christmas decorations out along with the Halloween merchandise. I saw houses decorated weeks ago.
I’m not going to be the liturgical judge and jury about Advent – there are many Christians that don’t observe Advent – but I think there is value in it. I think observing Advent is good for us, because Advent teaches us about waiting, even if we really don’t like it. Advent has been celebrated in the Christian Church since the 6th century, so it’s one of the more ancient traditions we have been given.
But waiting is HARD. The anticipation involved in waiting is truly hard to live with. Whether we’re waiting for medical test results, vacation to come, a phone call, the birth of a baby, the death of a loved one – waiting is hard.
We’ve all been the children in the back seat of the car, pleading, “Are we there yet?” only as adults we may use fancier language.
Usually waiting is hard because there is nothing else for us to do. But this is not the case for us in our life of faith. Jesus gives us plenty to do in the waiting time. We’re not meant to bury our heads in the sand, circle the wagons, hunker down or disengage from the world.
We have a life’s worth of work to do while we wait! We have work to do on ourselves and for each other.
Jesus tells us to “be on guard,” not against all the signs that are coming, or that even might be here already, but on keeping our hearts close to him.
And it’s interesting and telling, that along with the more obvious temptations of drunkenness and dissipation that weigh us down and distract us from faith, Jesus also mentions “the worries of this life.” Almost nothing weighs me down more than worry. And what is worry but the anxiety and anticipation of something bad that “might” happen.
Jesus warns us that amidst all the signs, temptations and worries that might distract us, we need to keep our eyes on the prize – life with him.
And St. Paul shows us what that life needs to be like. He writes to the Thessalonians in vs 12-13: “And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you. And may he so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.”
There’s A LOT going on here. Like I said a few moments ago, enough to keep us busy for a lifetime while we wait. St. Paul writes about inward and outward states of being and doing.
He speaks about our hearts, just as Jesus did. But Paul brings it up in prayer, that the Lord “strengthen” our “hearts in holiness.” He prays that we be continuously drawn closer to God. The answer to this prayer is an ongoing journey that we travel even beyond this life.
But our journey of faith while waiting isn’t only internal, it is external as well. As Paul writes, “increase and abound in love for one another and for all.”
The love Jesus has for us needs to overflow from our lives to the lives of others.
In the life of faith love isn’t just a feeling. Love is a VERB. Love is something we DO. And St. Paul tells us our job is to “increase” and “abound” in it. That means we’re never done with it. We can never retire from our calling to love.
And we are not just called to love one another in our little group – a fact that we are often quick to forget.
When Jesus tells us to love our neighbor – sometimes that neighbor is someone we don’t like very much. Sometimes that neighbor is someone who has hurt us. Sometimes that neighbor is a stranger who looks different, speaks differently, or is a different religion. We forget that the greatest example Jesus gives us of a neighbor is a Samaritan, and Samaritans were despised by the Jewish people of Jesus’ time.
St. Paul reinforces this broad vision of love when he exhorts us not just to love each other, but to HAVE love, to DO love for ALL.
This means everybody. No exceptions. Love is a hard thing to do. It’s especially a struggle to love those who hate us or wish to do us harm. And we’ll never be perfect at it. My goodness, we’re not even perfect at loving those who love us, loving those we really love! But it doesn’t mean we give up. In fact, Paul tells us to do more and more and more of it!
Our waiting for the birth of the Savior to us, and our waiting for the days that are “surely coming” are NOT empty. They are filled with reflection and soul searching and clinging to the cross – and they are also filled with actions of love, of “being” love, of representing the love of Christ, to all those we meet.
To love one another as he first loved us.