Sunday, December 1, 2019
First Sunday of Advent
After our father’s death, if you asked who was the fisherman in our family, my three other siblings and I would all agree that of the five of us, it was our youngest brother. He was the one who could “throw net,” “poke fish,” and “deep dive at night.”
I remember lamenting on one occasion about the state of the world and wondered what would happen to us if the Matson container ships that bring in over 90% of the food we consume would suddenly stop. My brother was quick to say, “Ah, I just going go fishing.”
I do not know if my brother would recall what I am about to tell you in the same way that I remember what happened one day. They had gone down to the shoreline to “throw net.”
Some days it would be for uouoa or mullet; most days it would be for manini known for its black and white stripes. But on this particular day, it was for manini, a fish that my mother favored for a meal above all else. This is my version of the story.
My brother watched dad and in watching him, he would learn how best to approach the water’s edge, what to look for and when it was best to cast his net over the water. “Yeah,” he said, “We would always go dad’s favorite ‘spots.’”
Dad would always crouch low to the ground and just watch the ebb and flow of the tide. At first, it wasn’t quite clear what he was looking at or what he was looking for. But over time, we knew he was watching where the fish were feeding and how close to the shoreline they were.
Somehow, he could see the fish below the surface of the water. When a wave came in pushing the fish closer to the shoreline and he could see the shimmer on the scales of the fish aware that they were attempting to feed while at the same ride the currents generated by the waves, he would quickly stand up and in one continuous motion cast his net.
Dad was patient in his watching when it came to fish but a little less so when it came to people. On one of their expeditions, they went to an area that was relatively isolated and not often frequented by others.
My brother noticed a group of visitors at one end of the bay. They slowly made their way to where they were.
One of visitors approached our dad – who up until that moment was oblivious to the man’s presence – as he came up and stood behind him. Thinking he had an opportunity to make conversation with our dad asked, the man “What is it that you are looking at?”
We all knew in that moment that the fish had scattered and run off into deeper water. It wasn’t that one disappeared and one was left behind. The entire school disappeared and it wasn’t so much that his voice caused the fish to scatter but the fact that as he stood next to our dad and leaned over, he cast a long shadow over the water, startling the fish.
Dad politely answered, “We are watching and waiting for the fish!” knowing full well that the opportunity for a catch – in that spot – had been substantially reduced. After the man left with his companions, dad maintained his posture and peered into the water watching for signs that the fish might return, a bit of a “second coming” if you will.
Today is the First Sunday of Advent. We might be tempted to think that Advent is a time of “Christmas preliminaries but [it is] a season in itself.” Advent proclaims the coming of the Lord, but that is not the same as saying that Christmas is coming” (Preaching Through the Christian Year A, Craddock, Hayes, Holladay & Tucker, Trinity International Press, Harrisburg, PA, 1992, page 9).
The biblical texts for the first Sunday of this season are not all associated with the birth of Jesus. Instead, they are pointing to the “Second Coming” of Jesus. But whether we think of the coming of the Christ Child or Jesus’ “Second Coming,” all Scripture affirms that “our God is the one who comes to the world” (Op. cit.).
Our reading from The Gospel According to Matthew is drawn from other writings about the nature of the Lord’s second coming (Mark 13:5-37; Matthew 24:4-36; Luke 21:8-36). There is a call for watchfulness (Matthew 24:37-44).
The reading consists of two statements that include: the uncertain time of the Lord’s coming (Matthew 24:36) and the behavior of the faithful in view of that uncertainty (Matthew 24:37-44) (Op. cit.)
The call to watchfulness includes three parts with different images and emphases. First, there is the analogy of the flood, a reminder that there will be natural disasters of many kinds. However, it must be said it is not the wickedness at the time of the great flood recorded in The Book of Genesis (Matthew 24:37-44, Genesis 6:5-7, 12-13), that is of concern to Matthew, but rather the lack of being prepared that mattered most.
Second, there is the theme of an all-encompassing destruction that is dropped and replaced by the image of how one person is taken and one is left behind (Matthew 24:40-41). Third, the call to watchfulness takes on the form (Matthew 26:42-44) of a parable. The image used here is the “one of thief coming in the night” (1Thessalonians 5:2-9 and Revelation 16:15).
So our Advent season this year begins with a flood, a kidnapper, and a thief. These are “sharp, intrusive, disturbing images” with which we begin the season as we are called to stay awake, to be watchful for “The Lord is coming.”
“Many in the early church were preoccupied with the question of when exactly Jesus might return” (Connections: A Lectionary for Preaching and Worship, Year A, Volume 1, Green, Long, Powery, Rigby, Sharp, Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky, 2019, page 12). Like those in the early church, generations following also watched for signs of the end times.
Daniel Smith Christopher, a Professor of Old Testament at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, California points out that our “‘watchfulness’ has nothing to do with obsessing over numbers, signs, and meanings. Rather, it has to do with living in the expectation that the teachings and example of Jesus are the norm!” for how we are to live in the world (Op. cit.); of how we are to care for one another; how we are to love one another.
Our dad knew how to live in the world. He watched for signs in the water and in the sky. He watched for the change in the ocean current and winds that came up during different times of the day. He was watchful and in his watchfulness he was able to take care of our family and put food on the table and for that I am grateful.