This is an adapted version of the sermon I preached this morning, the First Sunday of Advent. The gospel text was Matthew 24:36-44.
Oh boy oh boy oh boy. It’s Advent! And we all know what Advent means. Advent is a season of waiting, and we all know what we’re waiting for. The baby Jesus! It’s the most wonderful time of the year. There’ll be something and something and something else something and waves of good cheer! It’s the most wonderful time of the year!
And so as we wait for the child in the manger, we read this in the Holy Writ:
But nobody knows when that day or hour will come.
Hold on. Wait. We know when it’s gonna come. December 25. What is Matthew talking about here? Umm – let’s see – oh,
Jesus said, “But nobody knows when that day or hour will come.”
Oh, this is Jesus talking. Guess I should listen to it. Hold on…umm…
“the flood came and swept them all away”
“one will be taken and the other left”
“stay alert! You don’t know what day the Lord is coming.”
Hold on! This isn’t about Baby Jesus. This is about *gulp* the end of the world. That’s not the most wonderful time of the year. That’s scary. Is that what Advent is really about? Waiting for Jesus to come back at the end?
Hold on. Why am I suddenly scared of Jesus? Jesus isn’t supposed to be scary. Think, think, think. What was Jesus like? He was a teacher, he was compassionate, he was hopeful, he was determined. Yeah, he wasn’t scary. The only people who had reason to be scared of Jesus were the religious leaders. Wait. Hold on.
Okay, so Jesus is coming. And we don’t know when. And that does scare me. Because I have no idea what it’s going to be like. Except, hold on. Maybe I do. After all, there have been moments when it’s really felt lie God has come to me, times when Jesus showed up in my life.
Like the time at the retreat in Convent Station, New Jersey. I was in my late twenties, and at the time, I was the Christian Education director of a Lutheran church. I’d been doing that almost five years, and I was getting really burned out. I loved the church, and I loved the teenagers that I worked with, but I was getting so tired of the job. I didn’t want to plan one more ski trip. But it felt like I had no other options. Sure, I could have looked for a similar job at a different church, but that wouldn’t have helped. I wanted to do a different kind of ministry with them, not plan field trips. I felt so empty, and so stuck.
But at that retreat something happened. Walking through the labyrinth they had, walking through the little cemetery on the monastery grounds, talking with others, I thought I heard God’s voice speaking to me, saying, “I called you to be a pastor a long time ago. It’s time now to do it.” And I realized that I’d been saying “no” to being a pastor for years. And it was about time to say yes, and see where it takes me. When I said “yes,” I thought I heard God saying, “I will be with you every step of the way.” And God was with me every step of the way. And about two and a half years later, I was ordained.
God became real to me in a new way at that retreat. And I had no idea it was coming. No idea at all. And it was scary. There was definitely some fear involved. But stronger than the fear was the sense that I wasn’t alone. That God would walk me the whole way.
And hold on. That wasn’t the only time it happened. I have had experiences throughout my life when God became real to me in a new way. When Jesus came to me. And I think that in those moments, it was always scary, but more than that, it was always also full of hope. Full of anticipation. Full of potential. Full of grace.
Hold on. Why has this happened to me so often? Why so I feel so blessed by God’s presence like this? Well, it must because I was always destined to be a pastor, to be one of God’s elite chosen prophets in this world. No, no, no, no, hold on. That’s certainly not right. But maybe it does have something to do with that. I’ve always worked for the church, before and after ordination. And maybe because I was always surrounded by scripture, by conversations about God’s mission and God’s will, maybe that’s given me good God-radar. Maybe because I read the Bible so much, and pray so much, you know, because they’re part of my job, maybe I’m just tuned-in to God more. Maybe God hasn’t come to me anymore than God comes to other people, but I just notice it more, because I’ve prepared that way.
I don’t know. Maybe.
But I know this. Whenever God becomes real to me, it’s scary. But it’s also very, very good. And hold on – maybe that’s what Advent’s about. Maybe it’s kind of about waiting for Jesus in the manger, and maybe it’s kind of about waiting for Jesus at the end of the world, but maybe it’s mostly about waiting for Jesus to come into our lives here and now.
I mean, he’s always here, but maybe it’s about waiting for him to show himself to us in a new and deeper way. Jesus said,
Therefore, you should be prepared, because the Son of Man will come at a time you don’t know.
And maybe on way to prepare is to talk about God. Keep God in the front of our mind. Talk about times God became real to us. Times like my retreat at Convent Station. And talk about the future as well, about the promises God has made that haven’t yet been fulfilled. Promises of peace, and justice, and fullness for us all.
And talk about the present. Talk about where God is right now. And where we need to see God right now. Talking about this with each other, talking about it in prayer, talking about it in conversation with daily Bible reading. Maybe that’s precisely the preparation we can do. By keeping God at the front of our minds, we’re always prepared for those moments when God becomes real in a new way. Maybe Advent is about learning how to prepare, and practicing how to prepare. We never know when God’s coming. But practicing every day – well, maybe that makes every day the most wonderful time of the year.
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