St. Catherine’s Episcopal Church
Sunday, December 2, 2018
The First Sunday of Advent (Year C)
First Lesson: Jeremiah 33:14-16
Second Lesson: 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13
Gospel: Luke 21:25-36
Now, O Lord, take my lips and speak with them. Take our minds and think through them. Take our hearts and set them on fire for your Gospel. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
A few days ago, I came across an article on social media from the Episcopal Café, an independent website that publishes news and articles having to do with the Episcopal Church and the Anglican tradition. Knowing that the First Sunday of Advent was quickly approaching, the title of the article immediately caught my attention. It was entitled, “The Waiting,” and it was written by a priest from the Diocese of Missouri named Leslie Scoopmire.
In the article, Leslie describes an experience that she recently had while waiting in traffic for fifteen minutes in order to get to a meeting at her church. She describes those same feelings of frustration and impatience that we all get while waiting in the car to get to our desired location. As I was reading about her experience, I could actually feel myself tensing up and getting anxious as if I was in the car with her. Those of us who have lived in the Birmingham area for even a short while know exactly what I’m talking about.
We know very well what it’s like to sit and wait in traffic, don’t we? We know what it’s like to yell at the person in front of us who won’t speed up and go as fast as we want them to. We know what it’s like to get angry with the person who cut in front of us in order to get ahead in traffic. We even know what it’s like to get frustrated when cars are backed up on holiday weekends as people are trying to make their way out of the city or when there’s an accident on Hwy. 280, knowing that our time sitting in traffic will be even longer than it normally is.
In her article, Leslie reflects on the frustrations that she felt while waiting in traffic and the gift that she found in the waiting. She writes, “The irony of the fact that I spent a good part of yesterday submerged in Advent liturgy was not lost on me. It’s only a few days after Thanksgiving, but the Christmas season has descended upon us with a throb and clash of activity. Yet we Episcopalians stubbornly push back against the headlong leap into Christmas for another full month, observing instead the subtle discipline of waiting, of anticipation and patience in the face of instant gratification.
I love that phrase that Leslie uses, “the subtle discipline of waiting.” To me, it captures so perfectly what the season of Advent is all about. It’s about being intentional. It’s about waiting in hopeful expectation as our celebration of Christmas draws closer and closer. It’s also about preparing for that great day when Christ will return to be our judge and finally bring to fulfillment all of God’s creation.
The season of Advent is a wonderful gift, and through it, we’re invited to practice “the subtle discipline of waiting,” but waiting is hard, isn’t it? I think it’s especially difficult for us to wait because it seems so counterproductive to what society says we should be doing, especially during this time of the year. Think back to a little over a month ago, on the day after Halloween. Stores were already busy advertising for Christmas and stocking their shelves with holiday items and decorations. Last week, before Thanksgiving Day was even over, stores around the country were opening up early to welcome eager, holiday shoppers searching for the best Black Friday deals. Now, I’m not trying to suggest that these things are right or wrong, and I’m not saying that we shouldn’t celebrate the holiday traditions that we’ve come to know and love. What I am saying is that it can be difficult for us to see the benefit of waiting when our culture teaches us that there’s really no need to wait, that we can and should have everything we want, whenever we want it.
As Christians, we’ve learned a thing or two about waiting. It’s become part of who we are. The earliest Christians expected Jesus to return soon after his ascension into heaven. Yet, here we are. We’ve waited for almost two thousand years for Jesus to return, and we’re still waiting.
In our lesson this morning from the Gospel of Luke, Jesus speaks to the crowd gathered in the temple about the day of his return. He says to them, “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
This isn’t the Gospel lesson one would expect to hear on the First Sunday of Advent, is it? As the world around us is already singing “Silent Night” and “Joy to the World,” we’re sitting here in church talking about the Final Judgment. This section of Luke’s Gospel is full of terrifying images and warnings from Jesus for us to “be on guard” and to “be alert at all times.” As one author writes, “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.”
Our Lord’s description of the Final Judgment isn’t meant to scare or intimidate us. It’s meant to inspire us and fill us with the hope of his return. It’s a reminder of God’s love for us. It’s a reminder that God will never leave us and that one day, all of God’s creation will be restored.
Until that day, we wait, but we don’t wait for Jesus to come and fix everything for us. We use the gifts that we’ve been given to prepare for his return. We continue to do the work that God has given us to do as the hands and feet of Christ in the world. We continue to work for justice and peace for all people and to respect the dignity of every human being. We wait in hopeful expectation, keeping in mind that the Christ we find in the manger at Christmas is the same Christ we find in the homeless person on the street or in the refugee from a far-away land seeking freedom from violence and oppression.
Yes, waiting is difficult. Like the frustrations we experience while waiting in traffic in order to reach our desired location, it can be easy for us to get frustrated while waiting for Jesus to return. We don’t want to wait any longer. We want so desperately sometimes to jump ahead to the ending, don’t we? How many times have we turned on the news and asked ourselves, “How long, O Lord, will you wait to come back?” How many times have we said, “Come quickly, Lord Jesus”?
But, there’s a gift to be discovered in the waiting- the gift of time. We’re given the gift of time on this earth to join with Christ in his redeeming work, to become co-builders with Jesus in the building up of God’s Kingdom and heirs of his eternal throne.
So, my friends, let us be patient in our waiting, eager to discover the gift that lies beneath the frustrations. Let us use this time in Advent to think about our calling in Christ as we prepare to welcome the newborn King at Christmas, and let us look ahead to that great day when Christ will come again to reign over all the earth. Amen.
Click here to listen to an audio recording of this sermon.