Father Philip Sang: Watching and Waiting

Sermon delivered on Advent Sunday Year B, November 29, 2020 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

Happy new year! If you prefer to listen to the audio podcast of today’s sermon, click here.

Lectionary texts: Isaiah 64.1-9; Psalm 80.1-8, 18-20; 1 Corinthians 1.3-9; Mark 13.24-37.

Happy New Year St Augies! Advent is a season of expectation and preparation, as the church prepares to celebrate the coming (adventus) of Christ in his incarnation, and also looks ahead to his final advent as judge at the end of time. The readings and liturgies not only direct us towards Christ’s birth, they also challenge the modern reluctance to confront the theme of divine judgement.

The four last things – Death, Judgement, Heaven and Hell – have been traditional themes for advent meditation. The characteristic note of advent is therefore expectation rather than penitence, although the character of the season is easily colored by an analogy with Lent. the anticipation of Christmas under commercial pressure has also made it harder to sustain the appropriate sense of alert watchfulness.

Many people have spent some time in decorating for the holidays, one of the best things about the holiday season is enjoying decorations. Last year my boys and I went to Hebron, National trail raceway to enjoy wonderlight Christmas lights, the boys liked and they are asking that we go there again this year. I love Christmas lights. There’s something magical about lights. There is something quite peaceful and reassuring about those little lights of the holiday season.

The preparations remind us that the season of Advent has begun, the start of a new church year, help draw us into the awe and wonder of preparing for Christmas.

The world as Christians know, will come to an end. The old world will die away, and the new world will begin. The real problem is that we all know the story. It is impossible to fool us. We know that Jesus has already been born, lived, died to save us, was resurrected, and will come again. The question is not when the world will end as we know it, but when will God end the world and bring God’s Kingdom in creation as we know it to completion. Advent is a time of waiting and expectation. It is like so many things in our lives. It starts very early when children ask if they can have PlayStation. The answer is often, no, not until. . . fill in the blank. You can have PlayStation after your room is clean, after supper, after you rake the leaves, after. . . Or simply, no, you don’t get play station today. And children view this series of events as unfair. Why aren’t we allowed to have play station when we want it?

Even in today’s world of instant access to almost everything, children still have to wait for their treats. It isn’t that the parents are being mean, or want to intentionally deprive their children of a small joy. It is normally because the parents are trying to do what is good for their child, or teach their children, or most likely, a little of both.

Unfortunately, as adults we face the same problems. We want things now. We want that new television with internet capability. We want that new car. Our lives will be so much better if we can just have. . . fill in the blank. We can have the new TV after we pay off the mortgage.

Our lives will be perfect once we don’t have to wait for what we want. Our lives would be fulfilled if we could just have. . . We want it now.

Is that true with the Kingdom of God? Do we want God to end the world so that the Kingdom of God is complete? Are we prepared to have God tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at the presence of our Lord? Do we transgress because we think God is not around? Have we all become unclean, and all our righteous deeds like a filthy cloth? Isaiah is pretty straight forward and pretty rough. But there is a silver lining to this.

O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are the potter. We are all your people.

(Isaiah 64: 3-9) This is not our time, but God’s time. We say that we trust God, but in our frailty we want God to give us the good without the work. We want the controllers/PlayStation to play before our rooms are clean. The waiting is difficult, but we wait because God knows what is best for us. If we always got what we wanted as soon as we thought we wanted it, then the reward would lack meaning. We would be hard pressed to appreciate those things given us that we don’t deserve. The magic moment is when we realize that we receive something that we don’t deserve.

Advent is a time of waiting and expectation. It is not a time of anxious waiting and anxious expectation. We must stay awake in our minds and in our actions. We do not know when the master of all creation will return. We suffer in the darkness created by our works, yet we have the ability to put on the armor of light. We must all learn to appreciate what we have right now. We are stewards of the Kingdom of God in creation while we await God’s full return. We have been given the instructions for the work that needs to be done. We know that we have to make our beds, clean our rooms, rake the leaves, because by doing the work we have been given, we do the work God has given us to do. If we do our work, we don’t receive a playstation that lasts for few minutes or so, but we will rise to life immortal through him who lives and reigns.

Advent calls us to slow down, to take a breath, to watch and wait. I know that it isn’t easy. Waiting is not easy. But Advent calls us to develop an attitude of watchful expectation, an attitude of hope. Christ has come once and Christ will come again. Heaven and earth will pass away, says Jesus, but my words will not pass away. God is faithful. God’s promises are true.

Advent is a reminder that God shows up in human lives, in human history, in the most unexpected of places.

Advent calls us to be alert, to watch and wait. And to look for what God is doing here at St Augustines, To look for what God is doing in our town, in our work places and play places, in our homes. To look for what God is doing in your own life, your own most precious life.

The passage we read from Isaiah, falls under what most scholars refer to as “Third Isaiah.” (56-66) Like Second Isaiah, these passages take place after the exile, but these chapters occur at a later date after the people have returned to their ancestral land. The prophet recognized that the hope for the people to change their ways, that they would recognize God as the true king in their life, have faded. The people have turned back to their old patterns and have forgotten God. Isaiah cried out for God to respond like in days of old, to rip open the heavens and come down the mountains, like God was present with Moses when the people went astray. Isaiah longed for the people to remember God’s ways, to pay attention to God. However, Isaiah also asked God to forgive the people, and to not remain angry, for they were still God’s people. This is what our prayer is even today The psalmist calls upon God to save the people from their enemies, to save them from suffering. The psalmist calls upon God to restore the people, to save them from their destruction. The psalmist seeks God’s presence through their “right hand” to be present with the one who will lead them—a hope of a new king. If the people are spared, if they are delivered from their enemies, they will not turn back from God. God is the only one who can restore and save them.

Jesus spoke of the coming of the Son of Man, the Day of Judgment in today’s gospel. The Son of Man would come to establish the reign of God on earth. The Son of Man would gather people from all parts of the earth together. Jesus insisted that no one can know when these things would come to pass, but urged his disciples and other followers to stay alert, to be ready. Look at the things in the world that tell you what is coming next, Jesus said, using the fig tree as an example. When the fig tree sprouts leaves, you know summer is near. But one does not know when the Son of Man will come, so be alert, and not like the servants of a man who left the house, and the servants were asleep instead of keeping watch like they were supposed to be. The phrase “keep awake,” refers to living as Christ taught us to live, and not going back into our old selfish ways.

Advent is the season of preparation for Christmas, but it is an active watching and waiting for the arrival of Christ in our world and in our lives in a new way. We read these passages pointing to the day of judgment and Christ’s return to remind us that we are still actively waiting, alert and awake. Because of the Nativity story, that Christ came to us in a completely unexpected way as a newborn child, so in these days we must be ready for Christ to enter our world, our lives, and our hearts in an unexpected way. How do we live faithfully in times when our faith might be tested? When the world isn’t as we hoped it would be? Where can we find signs of God’s faithfulness in our lives, in the world around us? Let’s be on the watch as we wait with hope the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ In the name of God, the Father, the son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Advent 2020: Bonhoeffer on Advent

A prison cell like [the one I’m in] is a good analogy for Advent. One waits, hopes, does this or that—ultimately negligible things—the door is locked and can only be opened from the outside.”

—Dietrich Bonhoeffer, letter from Tegel Prison, November 21, 1943

What did Bonhoeffer, who ultimately lost his life to the evil of Nazism, mean by this? We wait in the darkness of our world and personal lives for the darkness of Evil, Sin, and Death to be finally and fully overcome. We are powerless to bring about this victory. Only the power of God is capable of such a mighty feat. That is our Advent hope as Christians. It is a hope based on the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus and his promise to return to consummate his initial victory won on the cross and in his resurrection. Such a hope requires faith as we await the Master’s return—the focus of Advent. But It is the only hope that can fully satisfy because it is the only hope that addresses the evil of Death in bringing about God’s perfect justice. Is this your hope? If not, why are you wasting your time on a lesser, false hope that must ultimately fail you?