Year A — The First Sunday of Advent

Commentary for November 28, 2010

Isaiah 2:1-5

You’ve got to love an “Aussie” translation of the text, by Nathan Nettleton at laughingbird.net:

Come now, all you people of God,
……..let us stick to the tracks that the LORD lights up! (Isaiah 2:5)

Images of longing for a better day dominate this opening reading for the first Sunday of Advent. We long to be taught things that really matter, to walk in paths that lead to safety and contentment. We wish for a way to resolve the disputes that too often arise between neighbors — both down the street and across the world.

“Swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks” still rings true in some primal recess of our spirits, doesn’t it? No swords, no war — far fewer funerals, more money for nutrition, education, health care for all. It is a brilliant way that the Lord is lighting up amongst us!

Psalm 122

Praying for the peace of Jerusalem is a good thing to do, regardless of your Zionist sympathies (or lack thereof.) Imagine the possibilities for peace to break out if the world’s Jews, Christians, and Muslims (approximately 60% of the world’s current population) could agree to sit together simply to pray for the peace of Jerusalem!

Romans 13:11-14

Jean Valjean, the protagonist in Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schoenberg’s musical adaptation of Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables, sings:

“One day more! Another day, another destiny….
Tomorrow we’ll discover what our God in Heaven has in store! One day more!” (full lyrics here)

He might well be singing the heart of the Apostle as he writes, “The night is nearly over, the day is almost here.” An appropriate sentiment for this season of light shining forth in the darkness. Christ calls us to live in the light each day, day after day…one day more!

Matthew 24:36-44

God never gives us a timetable for living in God’s will. “Just do it,” is the implication of this apocryphal message from Evangelist Matthew. Don’t  try to figure it out, don’t over-think it…just live today as if it were the day the Lord will come again.

Maybe easier said than done, but sound advice nonetheless. As the old saw goes, “Live every day as if it were your last — because one of these days you will be right!”

Sermon
by The Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

“Are You Ready for Christmas?”

I’ll come right to the point. Today’s Gospel lesson is an extremely odd way to start our celebration of the Christmas season. Here we are all decked out in Advent blue, we’ve lit the first Advent candle, many of us are getting ready for our first Christmas party.

There are announcements in the bulletin about Christmas poinsettias and the Christmas parades and the Children’s Christmas program and the choir cantatas.

One thing’s for sure, we’re ready for Christmas, but the Gospel lesson isn’t about Christmas.

It’s about Noah and the flood and people dying and thieves breaking in and stealing and we have to wonder:

WHAT DOES ANY OF THIS HAVE TO DO WITH CHRISTMAS?

Well, if by Christmas you mean the Mid-winter American festival of excess and partying and gift-giving, the answer is practically nothing.

Don’t get me wrong; mostly I like that Christmas is kind of fun. I like bright colored lights and shiny Christmas trees and Lord knows I like to get presents. I like parties and I like singing Christmas carols. Heck, I even like singing, “Grandma got runned over by a reindeer.”

But almost none of that has anything to do with the Christmas we celebrate in the church. That’s the world’s Christmas, the secular Christmas, but it is most definitely NOT the Mass of Christ, the Feast of the Incarnation.

The Mass of Christ is a time to celebrate the fact that, in the words of St. John, “God so loved the world that he sent his only beloved Son.” (John 3:16)

And in the words of the Nicene Creed, “For us and for our salvation, he came down from heaven.”

If we’re talking about the Christmas that is the celebration of the coming of God to Earth in human form, then our Gospel lesson is a perfect guide for our preparation.

One of the problems with what we can call XMAS, the secular celebration, is that it is focused primarily on the past and on the present without any thought to the future. We see the distant past, “The First Noel,” that long ago night when Christ was born, through the misty lens of our personal past. We struggle to recreate family traditions, we get all muddled up in images of real stables and hay bales and plywood in the sanctuary, between real shepherds and five-year old boys in bathrobes.

We focus our energy on evoking the Spirit of the Christmas season, as if by faithfully observing the right rituals, singing the right songs, sending the perfect card to just the right perfect people we can somehow make ourselves feel warm and fuzzy and right with the world.

And what gets lost in all this is the sense that we are waiting on God; that we are not just thinking about the past, we are looking for God to DO something NEW, again. Instead of expecting God to come suddenly, we have tamed God, domesticated the deity.

We know when God is coming, one minute after midnight, December 25. We have just so many more shopping days ‘til Christmas. God’s coming is within our control, we can schedule it, plan it, orchestrate it, organize it; and if we can just get everything just right, it’ll be the best Christmas EVER!

Somehow, we have allowed ourselves to reduce the greatest miracle in the history of the world to a matter of guest lists, recipes and the correct display of gaudy colored lights.

AND OUR GOSPEL FOR TODAY IS A STARTLING REMINDER TO US THAT GOD ALWAYS REFUSES TO PLAY BY OUR RULES.

For, while Christmas is, quite appropriately, the celebration of that night 2000 years ago when Christ was born, it is more than that. And though Christmas is — again, quite appropriately — a time when families gather and we remember Christmases past with fondness and affection, it is also something more. And the season of Advent is designed to remind us of that Something More.

Advent is the season of Hope, a time when we are called to look to the future with confidence, a time to prepare ourselves for the new miracles God will work in our world. It is a time to get ready for the NEW movements of God’s Spirit in our lives.

In our Gospel lesson, Jesus uses three illustrations to help us realize the suddenness and unpredictability of God’s activity in the world.

First, he cites the familiar story of Noah and the flood, pointing out that the other people went about their normal business, ignoring God until it was too late.

Second, he gives twin examples about how some, even in the midst of their normal business, are ready to drop everything and go when Jesus calls.

And third, Jesus makes reference to the age-old problem of burglary, and makes the simple point that if you know when the bad guys are coming, you can be ready for them. But you don’t, so you have to be ready all the time.

And that’s the way it is with God; you never know when the God-moment is going to show up, so you have to be ready all the time.


This readiness is not a matter of hanging decorations and baking cookies and sending Christmas cards and going to office parties. This readiness is tenderness in the heart, a willingness of the spirit to hear God’s word and to go God’s way.

To be ready for Christ to come into our lives and into our hearts, we must beat our personal swords into plowshares and our private spears into pruning hooks.

We must make peace in our families and in our churches and in our workplaces before we can make peace in the world. For us to be ready for Christ to come, we must lay aside all the works of darkness, we must put on the armor of light. We must examine our lives, and repent of our sins, and commit ourselves to acts of charity and goodness, to lives of love and generosity.

Advent is a time to Wake UP, a time to prepare ourselves to receive God into our lives. And, as you know, God has a habit of sneaking up on people. God tends to make appearances in unusual ways, through unlikely people, in unexpected places.

2000 years ago, it was a little baby, the child of an unwed teen-age mother, in a dirty smelly cow-stall, on the other side of nowhere.

Who knows who, or when, or where it might be next time?

Who knows? It might be you! Now! Here!

Get Ready! Wake Up! God’s Coming! The future is upon us.


Amen and amen.

2 thoughts on “Year A — The First Sunday of Advent

  1. Pingback: The First Sunday of Advent (December 1, 2013) | The Lectionary Lab

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