Advent Matters

The text of the sermon, based on Isaiah 64.1-9 with reference to Mark 13.24-37, video-recorded and shared with the people of St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, Spartanburg, SC, on the 1st Sunday of Advent, November 29, 2020.

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Advent. From the Latin, adventus. Coming. The church season of preparation for the arrival of Jesus. First, in his Bethlehem birth, which we celebrate at Christmas. And, second, according to the Nicene Creed and Jesus’ apocalyptic preaching about “those days (when) the sun darkens, the moon gives no light, and stars fall from heaven”, when, at some future, unknown time he comes again.

As Jesus’ first coming has happened and his second coming, not yet, Advent is about our expectant waiting. Thus, looking through the lens of comparative faith-history, we read Isaiah.

The people Israel, conquered by the Babylonian Empire, have been carried off to that foreign land. They long for liberation, but it hasn’t come. As their days in exile become years, their cries for God’s presence and power grow more desperate: “Tear open the heavens, O God! Come down! Make Your Name known to Your (our!) enemies, so that nations tremble at Your presence!”

Here, I hear an echo of coming fulfillment in Jesus, when at his baptism the heavens were torn open, the Holy Spirit came down, and the voice of God spoke.[1]

But I’m getting us ahead of ourselves. It’s Advent. We’re waiting. So, back to Isaiah…

God isn’t present. The heavens are quiet. God’s voice, silent. So deafeningly silent that the people, in despair, resort to prayerful manipulation. Hoping against hope that what they perceive as the absence of God isn’t true, can’t be true, they seek to provoke God to act, reminding God: “When You did awesome deeds that we did not expect, You came down, the mountains quaked at Your presence…You who works for those who wait for Him.” (And though the people didn’t say it, surely, they thought it: “God, in case You haven’t figured it out, we are ‘those who wait.’!”)

Here, I hear another echo of coming fulfillment in Jesus, captured in the words of the spiritual, He is King of kings:

He pitched His tents on Canaan ground,

no one works like Him,

and broke oppressive kingdoms down,

no one works like Him.

But, once again, I’m getting us ahead of ourselves. It’s Advent. We’re waiting. So, back to Isaiah…

God isn’t working. Or maybe God is working by waiting, too.

The people wait for God to come and save them. God, in hidden silence, waits for the people to come to their senses. In three ways:

  • To acknowledge that God is not their servant;
  • To admit that they “have become unclean, (their) righteous deeds as filthy rags; (their) iniquities, like wind, taking (them) away” and
  • To reaffirm who they are as clay in the hands of God, the Potter, to be molded and formed to do God’s will.

So, for Israel, so, for us…

Acknowledgement. God is not our servant.

Admission. We (in the paradox of our naked self-interest being as “filthy rags” in God’s sight) resist doing God’s will.

Reaffirmation. We are to renew our purpose; allowing the Spirit to remold and reform us to do God’s will.

Acknowledgement. Admission. Reaffirmation. These are Advent matters. For any one, whether nation or person.

Nation. I think of our beloved America. Though we sing “God, bless America”, dare we acknowledge that God is not on our side. If God is God, then God is God of all the nations. And dare we admit that our reliance on human power, whether the continued partisan skirmishes on Capitol Hill or our clashes along ideological lines has done little to nothing make way for political stability and personal safety? And dare we reaffirm our national purpose, making every day the 4th of July, working to share with all of us the self-evident truth of equality and the Divinely-bestowed inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness as enshrined in our national scriptures.

Person. I think of you and of me. Now, I dare not, I dare never tell you what each of you might (much less, must!) acknowledge, admit, and reaffirm. Speaking always and only for myself, I acknowledge that God is not my servant, puttering around in heaven waiting to fulfill my will. I admit my sinfulness, particularly in my weddedness to my self-interest, my elephantine memory for wrongs done unto me, and my struggles with forgiveness. And, in this, I reaffirm my purpose as a child of God, empowered by the Spirit as a follower of Jesus to do and to be love and justice for all people, always and in all ways.

Acknowledgement. Admission. Reaffirmation. These are Advent matters. So, I ask: What and how does Advent matter to you?


[1] See Mark 1.9-11.

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