1st Sunday of Advent, Year C
Happy New Year everyone!
Today is the first Sunday of Advent and in our Christian calendar the beginning of a new lectionary year – the cycle of readings we use on Sundays over the course of the year that follow Jesus’ life, from hopeful anticipation of Jesus birth in Advent, through his birth, life and teachings, his passion, death, resurrection, and ascension, to the giving of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost and finally growing in grace and truth through the rest of the year until the celebration of Christ the King, the consummation of the reign of God we celebrated last Sunday. Whew! It’s quite a ride every year.
So why do we rehearse, rehear, remember, re-enact, and reapply the story of Jesus and God’s story of God’s love and forgiveness each year? Why do we come Sunday after Sunday to take some of the most common elements of the fruit of the earth, bread and wine, and ask God to bless them to be for us the body and blood of God’s son – consuming the symbols of the eternal becoming temporal, bread and wine representing the life of the one who gave himself so that we might see God’s love poured out for us - not so much as a penalty for our brokenness, but to demonstrate both God’s love for us and the futility and inherent evil of human violence.
We come together weekly to remember the story, because we so easily forget. We come together weekly to ask forgiveness for that same anger we hold in our hearts that if left unchecked grows into hatred and violence that led to the cross. We gather in order to experience, to taste, to see, to hear, and to feel that no matter what happens in our lives, we are loved with a love that is not some gooey affirmation that there is nothing wrong with us and that we are perfect the way we are, but that even with the imperfections we all know we carry, we are still fearfully and wonderfully made in the image and likeness of the one who is without flaw and limitless in God’s love for us.
We come together because we sometimes find ourselves weak and in need of comfort, close to despair and in need of hope, lonely and in need of friendship. We come not only because we need to experience God’s love, but because we need each other. Grace is not just a beautiful concept, but a divine relationship that plays itself out in the relationships we have with one another.
Those relationships matter. We are not a club that pays dues in order to belong, we are the body of Christ who are baptized and confirmed and received into an organic whole that is knit together in the womb of God’s heart by God’s Spirit to be God’s representatives to a world that desperately needs the love and forgiveness we experience here.
We come together not for our own sakes but for the sake of others. And it is only as we follow Jesus into our neighborhoods and classrooms and businesses to love others as we experience God loving us, that we will see the peaceable kingdom of our Savior becoming incarnate in our day.
Advent is about expectation and the hopeful realization of that expectation, that we might see Jesus born anew in our hearts, in our lives and in our world. But that is only one side of Advent. The readings for these first few Sundays in this new season of the church point us toward another coming, one of promise and fulfillment and judgment.
But how does that coming judgment square with the picture of a loving God we have in Jesus? There is a movement in the church that is attempting to reconcile some of the violent images of God we find in the Bible with the non-violent Son of God who showed us another way to be in the world, resisting and even absorbing the violence of the world in order to transform it.
This movement is not really new though, it was there in the Garden when rather than executing Cain for the murder of his brother Abel, God saved Cain’s life and sent him out of the Garden under God’s protection. It was also there in another Garden when Jesus was arrested and one of Jesus’ closest friends drew his sword and cut off the high priest’s servant’s ear, but Jesus healed that servant and said to his followers to put away their swords.
So we find ourselves in this in-between time, this period of waiting for the promise, the time between the already of Jesus first coming and the not yet, looking for what his second might be, because even as Jesus himself said, no one knows the time or the day.
But maybe the fulfilling of God’s reign of love emerges in every generation of those who follow in the way of Jesus. Maybe in our own in-between time of celebrating what has been in our lives and hoping for what is to come we may find our way to God’s peaceable reign in our lives as God loves us into God’s present moment. Because the future will take care of itself and the past is already done, so all we really have is today, the eternal now where God lives and loves us - to love and be loved, to serve and be served, to practice what Jesus taught, and to remember, rehearse, re-enact, and reapply together the life we are to live now.
The Psalmist said it best,
Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths.
Lead me in your truth, and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all day long.