First Sunday of Advent 3 December 2017
(Isaiah 64:1-9 Psalm 80 1 Corinthians 1:3-9 Mark 13:24-37)
“Earthquake! Oz! Three-year-old Theology!”
Just as we sat down for Thanksgiving dinner, my three-year-old grandson, sitting directly on my left, began singing Jingle Bells. “Grandpa, help me sing,” Jaxon says to me, “it’s Christmas!” I said, “But, Jaxon, today is Thanksgiving, not Christmas.” He insisted, “no, it’s Christmas, I want to sing Jingle Bells!”
So there I was putting gravy on his turkey, getting ready to sing Jingle Bells, and, at the very same time, having a theological discussion with my three-year-old grandson! “It’s Christmas, grandpa!” ”No, Jaxon, it’s not Christmas!” “Yes, grandpa, Christmas is here!”
Christmas is here—but it is not here. Christ has come—but we are awaiting the coming of the Messiah. The Baby has been born—but not yet.
Today you will not hear any ranting about people getting too caught up in the secular celebration of the season. Rather, amid all the parties and shopping, all the cards and baking, all the festive craziness that most of us get involved in to varying degrees, what I want to offer you on this First Sunday of Advent is some Advent space to find stillness, to desire just a bit of quietness, a space where we can be reminded at a deeper level of why God came to us in Jesus: we are God’s beloved children.
At the beginning of Advent we begin a new Church year, and we begin hearing a new cycle of scripture readings each weekend. Today we begin the Gospel of Mark. Mark packs his Gospel with action. Blind beggars, sick children, grieving parents and demon-haunted madmen take center stage. As Jesus responds to each one, we see revealed a Savior who brings a different kind of power into the world.
This message is suited Mark’s time, a period of chaos in the Roman world being threatened by power. The year is approximately 70 C.E. Assassins kill the emperor Nero. Incompetent emperors follow. People rise up against Rome. Titus is sent to clean up the last resistance, destroys the walls of Jerusalem, sacks the city and destroys the Temple.
For all the people at that time, their spirit was severely broken. Christians, in particular, felt an acute need for rescue. They knew Jesus had come and they believed God was at work to save them, but they did not know what form their rescue would take.
And, although Marks’s historical perspective was incorrect, his message is just as relevant today as it was then asking: what does God’s coming look like in our world today, and how alert are we to God’s arrival?
People like Jim Wallis from Sojourners speaks of “a creeping kind of idolatry” in today’s society that we simply cannot ignore if we wish to preserve the soul of our nation. Wallis reminds us that historically all church renewal traditions were based on simplicity in living, integrity in relationships and servanthood in leadership.
The Advent Conspiracy movement is similar in its challenge for repentance in this Advent season when it gives us four tools for Advent renewal: 1.) Worship fully; 2.) Spend less; 3.) Give more; and, 4.) Love all.
The Advent Conspiracy challenges us to confront the “more is better” marketing routine that spending money is the best way to express love, and that the “new normal” of our Christmas routine is to be devoured by Christmas frenzy. Might voices such as these be our call to Advent watchfulness?
If I could loosely quote the epic movie director, Cecil B. De Mille: “If you start with an earthquake, there must be something important coming.” Today we begin Advent with an earthquake in Mark’s Gospel, and so what is important coming is a new, keener awareness of finding Christ, recognizing Christ , being challenged and forgiven by Christ during this season of Advent.
This section we hear from the thirteenth chapter of Mark’s Gospel is often called “the little apocalypse.” Apocalyptic images are difficult to figure out most of the time, but my best explanation is to think of the image from “the Wizard of Oz” where Dorothy, the Scarecrow, Lion and the Tin Man all arrive at Oz, and they go inside the castle only to hear the loud booming voice of Oz. And then, remember the scene when Toto, then goes and pulls back the curtain to reveal the man behind the curtain. That’s how I think of apocalyptic images as we just heard in the Gospel text.
In the three images—fig tree, man going on a journey, cosmic signs—there is a calling to pull back the curtain, to look deeper beyond what we may be seeing and experiencing in the present moment, to hear the Christian story that Christ has come; Christ is coming; Christ will come again. The longing of Advent is the same longing we have in our hearts in difficult times—to experience the coming of Christ.
As we begin this season of Advent, we are being offered this time to open ourselves as to how God wishes to shape our faith as a potter shapes clay, reshaping our longing, our vision to see God in the burdens and frenzy of our lives, and to repent all which is not rooted in love.
We are called at the beginning of Advent to reclaim the very heart of the Christmas story as a story of God’s love for the world, to reclaim the God who assures us that “I will walk with you on life’s journey regardless of where that journey takes you, and I will watch over you– because you are my beloved children.”
I pray that we might claim and be alert to this story of God’s love as the “new normal” during this Advent season!
“Jaxon, it’s not Christmas yet!” “Grandpa, yes it is, today is Christmas!”
Already/not yet! Amen.