First Sunday of Advent 29 November 2015
(Jeremiah 33:14-16 Psalm 25 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13 Luke 21:25-36)
“Don’t Fall Asleep at the Switch!”
So we have a camel and a Wiseman right up front this morning. And we have an Advent Wreath close by. We have a world that continues to be really difficult to understand. Most streets here in town have many houses decorated with Christmas lights. And. . . . .for the second time in three weeks we have a Gospel reading that seems more scary than comforting, more frightening than reassuring. Is it beginning to look a lot like Christmas?
It must be Advent. It must be the beginning of a new church year.
Notice we do not begin the church year in the midst of the chaos of the crucifixion; nor do we begin in the giddy perplexity of the Resurrection; not even do we begin in the silent and holy night of Christmas.
No, we begin the church year with Advent, the season that teaches us to wait for what is beyond the obvious; the season that makes us look for God in all the wrong people and in all the unlikely places.
Advent is about not having to know exactly what is coming tomorrow, only that whatever it is, every piece of it—some hard, some uplifting—is a sign that God is alive in us. Advent is about going inside of ourselves, lest we forget that life is about more than this life. Advent attunes us to the invisible in a highly material world. The function of Advent is to remind us that life has become too busy with things that do not matter, moving us to remember the things that do matter. Advent relieves us of our commitment to the frenetic in a fast-paced world. It slows us down.
Without Advent, we are moved only by the race to nowhere that exhausts our soul, making us so frantic with trying to consume and control this life that we fail to develop within ourselves a taste for the spirit.1 Without Advent, our inner spirit becomes stale and sour.
So why Jeremiah and Luke 21 on this First Sunday of Advent?
Jeremiah was living in a difficult time in the history of Israel. It was a time of devastating catastrophe for the nation as a whole. It was not easy for the people to hear Jeremiah’s words. When Jeremiah says “the days are surely coming,” it’s not a Pollyanna, feel-good hope. Rather, the “promise, “the Word of the Lord” is nothing less than the faithfulness of a God who calls God’s people to truly believe in the justice and faithfulness of God, even in difficult times.
This text from Jeremiah is far more about God’s faithfulness, despite sin and disobedience.
This is the expectancy with which we begin the Advent season, a profound faith rooted only in God and God’s grace.
And the message from Luke: that when heaven itself is spinning into oblivion, when every fixed star on the moral compass is wavering, when all hell is breaking loose (if you will) on earth, “your God is near.”
The message of Advent may come down to this: that we can never take our own emptiness and brokenness more seriously than we take God’s promises. When we least expect it and when there is no evidence for it, God’s power comes into the emptiness of this world in ways the world itself could never predict or foresee.
We cannot deny that our world remains in agony. We cannot deny that ecological collapse appears more and more critical. We cannot deny that we are choking on our fears. But we also cannot deny that God is faithful to Jesus Christ, and that Jesus Christ has a future and that our redemption is intertwined with His. Advent bids us to stand erect, confident and hopeful.
Eugene Peterson, in The Message translates these verses like this: “Be on guard. Don’t let the sharp edge of your expectation get dulled by parties and drinking and shopping. Otherwise, that day is going to take you by complete surprise, spring on you suddenly like a trap. So, whatever you do, don’t sleep at the switch….” [vs. 34-35, The Message].
Nadia Boltz-Weber says it this way: The voice of Advent is the recurring experience of seeing the emptiness of so much life around us, and weeping over our inability to fill it or even understand it, too often not being able to do anything about it. And then listening to the sound of God speaking our names and telling God’s story—it’s a messy business. But it’s our business and it is the most beautiful business in the world. It is God saying, “I love the world too much to let your sin define you and be the final word. I am God who makes all things new.”
This Advent, let’s not fall asleep at the switch. May we be awake and alert to hear God’s voice of promise. May we never take our own emptiness and brokenness and the brokenness of the world more seriously than God’s promise of love. “The days are surely coming,” says the Lord. I pray for wakefulness and alertness. I pray God’s voice to be heard! Amen.
1. Joan Chittister. The Liturgical Year, the spiraling adventure of the spiritual life. 2009. pp.59-62.
- Nadia Boltz-Weber. Patrix, the Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint. Kindle edition.