First Sunday of Advent
Sunday, December 2, 2012
The Rev. Kealahou C. Alika
Today is the First Sunday of Advent. We begin the Christian year in anticipation of God’s reign coming in fullness with the coming Messiah. It is a time of preparation.
If you were out on Front Street in Lāhaina on Halloween and if you were out shopping on Gray Thursday or Black Friday or both before you were able to consume all of the turkey and pumpkin pies served up on Thanksgiving, Advent never came. All the signs of the 12 days of the Christmas season began over 30 days ago.
Christmas decorations were up in store front windows and in shopping malls competing with pumpkins and pies, goblins and ghosts, turkeys and treats. On the television and radio and in film and on stage, things Christmas began appearing everywhere.
The start of the Christian year has been usurped by men in red suits with white beards. We have been convinced that the retail year marks the start of the season of Christmas crèches, cards, carols, and cakes and Christmas gifts and Christmas trees. Advent! Who cares about Advent?
There’s no Santa Claus for Advent. Even here at church we have succumbed to a bit of Christmas cheer. Our trees and poinsettias are already up on this First Sunday of Advent.
Most of us are ready to experience the joy of Christmas – a smiling Mary, a cooing baby Jesus, excited shepherds and singing angels. We are eager to hear the word of God.
Unless of course that word may cause us some disappointment and dismay. The Rev. Kathy Beach-Verhey, a Presbyterian minister, would say that that is the case with the reading that comes to us this morning from The Gospel According to Luke. (Feasting on the Word, Year C, Volume 1, Bartlett & Taylor, Westminster/John Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky, 2009, page 21) There is no word glad tidings and good cheer to all.
She writes: “This section of Jesus’ speech from the temple in Jerusalem is full of frightening images, confusing metaphors, and shocking admonitions. We do not encounter the sweet baby Jesus people wait for during Advent this first Sunday, but the stern, adult Jesus, picturing the whole universe being shaken and turned upside down.” (Op. cit.)
Yikes! Most of us would rather get on to Christmas already. How about a little “Silent Night, Holy Night”!
Even Macy’s and WalMart are spreading their Christmas cheer with steep discounts in Christmas decorations. Glitzy catalogs from L.L. Bean, the Smithsonian, Pottery Barn, and many other retailers beckon our attention insisting that we must plan ahead and if not they will guarantee a Christmas delivery if a purchase is made by December 20th.
But the season of Advent demands a preparation unlike what big box stores and catalogs recommend. On this First Sunday of Advent we are confronted with a text that sets a very different tone than what it is set in the marketplace.
Luke offers frightening images of nations in distress and the signs in the sun, the moon and the stars that point to a natural world in upheaval. While we want the glitz of Christmas, Luke actually reminds us of the reality of the world in which we live.
Nations are in distress. The civil war in Syria is spiraling downward. The crisis in the West Bank seems to have driven the Israelis and Palestinians even further apart from resolving their conflict. The euro debt crisis has not abated and the U.S. is struggling to keep itself from falling over a fiscal cliff.
As for roaring seas and waves, Hurricane Sandy remains fresh in the minds of many throughout the Caribbean and along the Eastern seaboard of the United States and Canada. Luke seems to offer words of little comfort. Instead he seems hell bent on offering us words of fear and damnation.
Yet despite the frightening images, the Rev. Kathy Beach-Verhey, insists: “Luke offers not fear and damnation, but hope and expectation. God in Christ is coming because God loves us – because God wants to redeem us.” (Ibid., page 25) Our redemption is drawing near.
So in the midst of what seems to be the end of the world, Jesus calls us to stand up and raise (our) heads. (Luke 21:28) Many if not most of us may not live on the margins of society in a world plagued by disease, drought and despair.
Nevertheless we face our own worries - our sorrows, our pain, our losses. We know our own measure of hurt, anger, jealousy, and bitterness. Yet we are able to find hope because Jesus calls us to be constantly alert and to pray for God’s kingdom to break through into our lives and our world. (Luke 21:36)
The good news of Advent is not only that Christ is coming, but that his coming means we can hope, despite all that may be falling apart in our own lives, in communities and in the world around us. (Op. cit.) Jesus offers us that word of hope through the parable of the fig tree.
The leaves on the fig tree that appear in late winter offer a sign summer is near. (Luke 21:30) So it is that God’s word, in Jesus, offers us a sign of the promise that the kingdom of God is near.
Yes, it is true that war, famine, drought, and disease still plague our world and that people struggle with all manner of challenges but we need not fear. Advent, again, is a time for us to prepare for God’s kingdom to break into our lives and into our world. We do this in ways watchful and alert, prayerful and humble, trusting in God’s redeeming love.
May this season of Advent then be a time of preparation as we await once more the birth of the One who will bring new hope and new life into the world. Thanks be to God. Amen.