It is the coming of God in Christ, this second coming into your hearts and lives, that helps you stay awake and even rest as you seek to be faithful in God’s work and world.
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The First Sunday of Advent, year B
Texts: Isaiah 64:1-9; Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19; 1 Corinthians 1:3-9; Mark 13:24-37
Beloved in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
The problem isn’t that we aren’t awake.
Every Advent we hear, “stay awake, keep watch,” and are encouraged to be about our work as we wait for the coming of God’s Christ. We’re exhorted not to get complacent, to be mindful that we are called to be God’s blessing to this world.
We know this. And frankly, our problem isn’t that we aren’t staying awake. Our problem is that we’re sleep-deprived.
The Prayer of the Day asks Christ to awaken us to the “threatening dangers of our sins.”
How could we be more awake to them? The past sixty years has jarred all of us awake to the interconnectedness of our world, how decisions we make or don’t make can harm people we’ll never meet.
“Sins” used to be only the things we did or didn’t do to people close by. We were harsh, or lied, or didn’t care for those in need next door. We still do plenty of sins like these today. But we know that there are so many more things we do or don’t do that our forebears never had to consider as sin.
Every purchase we make has the potential to support pollution or bad labor practices or corporations that abuse the poor. You can’t just buy something because it’s a good price, not anymore. We know this. We’re awake to this.
If our family is cared for and secure, housed in a good neighborhood, that’s not enough anymore. Now we know that if we’re safe and sound while others can’t earn enough to put a roof over their heads, and others face injustice and oppression that we don’t, but live in the same city we do, we can’t rest. We know this. We’re awake to this.
And we can’t decide whom to vote for every couple years and not think about the government in between, not anymore. Now we have to consider the state of our democracy, the security of the right to vote, the hidden agendas of leaders that work against the good of the most vulnerable without our approval. We have to pay attention all the time now. We know this. We’re awake to this.
Serving as Christ in times like these, with our global connectedness, it’s exhausting to stay awake for everything we’re aware we need to. Everything we want to stay awake for, make a difference in.
Awaken us to the threatening dangers of our sins? When was the last time you took any of this lightly?
Isaiah’s cry resonates deeply with me this Advent.
“O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence,” the prophet calls out to God. “You used to act, God. You used to do marvelous things. Won’t you come down and help us?”
We know that all of us who are in Christ are anointed to serve God in the world. To love God and neighbor and be the presence of Christ to all in need, a part of God’s healing. We know God has no hands but ours, no feet but ours, no arms but ours, no voice but ours.
But with Isaiah we sometimes wonder, “God, when will you come? When will you act? Are we to do all?”
Sometimes, in these days of pandemic and serious social crises, of injustice and poverty and lack of compassion, it feels as if we’re outclassed and overcome. If we could just live for ourselves and those closest to us, keep it simple and let the world take care of itself, sometimes that sounds really good. We know we can’t, and in our hearts we don’t want to.
But it sure would feel better if we knew God was pulling some weight here, too, working alongside us, doing wonders.
We know God’s answer to Isaiah is in the child whose birth celebration approaches.
God tears open the heavens and comes down, but not with earthquake and fire. God tears open the heavens, sets aside divine power and glory, and becomes one of us. In Jesus, we see the Triune God’s answer to our plea to come and save us.
But to see how that helps today, remember that the season of Advent prepares for multiple “comings,” “advents”. One is our preparation to celebrate that tearing of the heavens 2,000 years ago at Christmas. On this First Sunday of Advent in particular, we see another is preparing for the coming of God in Christ at the end of time.
But in between, the second advent, the second coming, is what we need to hear most of all this Advent season. The coming of God in Christ to us right now, in our lives, our hearts, this world.
Today Paul says this coming is your promise.
“God is faithful,” Paul says, “and will strengthen you to the end.” You will not lack any spiritual gift you need to serve your God in Christ.
Far from frightening you with the “threatening dangers of your sins,” Paul proclaims not only the forgiveness of your sins and failings, but the strength you need from God to be blameless before God. The advent of Christ for which you most want to pray in these days, Paul suggests, is God’s coming into your very heart. Giving you the strength, the courage, the hope you need to face today.
You know you’re awake, and trying hard. What you need to remember is that you’re not waiting for the master to return.
Christ has already come again, and lives in you. And in me. And in all God’s children. The mighty acts Isaiah asks for, the tearing open of the heavens to restore this broken earth, will happen. God has promised it. It will happen as Christ’s Spirit fills and strengthens more and more.
God is faithful, and will strengthen you – and even let you rest at times – so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. And through you, through all, God will restore all things. This is most certainly true.
In the name of Jesus. Amen