10 December 2008

Advent 1 - Sermon

Advent 1

November 30, 2008

St. Luke’s Burlington

Service of Lessons and Carols

Preached by Peter Case.

As some of you may know, the English word Advent comes from the Latin word Adventus, which means coming. And so, with something coming, it is not surprising that one of the themes associated with Advent is that of waiting.

It seems that through the ages, God’s people have often been waiting. In Isaiah, the prophet is waiting – and waiting with longing. Chapter 64 opens with Isaiah making an impassioned plea to God. “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence … ” A little further on he says, “From ages past no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you who works for those who wait for him.”

In Luke’s gospel, all the characters appearing in the first few pages are waiting. Zechariah and Elizabeth are waiting. As we heard in our first gospel reading this morning, Mary is waiting. Simeon and Anna, who were at the Temple when Jesus was presented, are waiting. All were living with and waiting for a promise to be fulfilled.

We too are waiting. We are waiting, not just for the celebration of our Lord’s birth at Christmas, but for his second coming.

It seems to me that despite the fast pace of our modern society, we do a lot of waiting and that there are many types of waiting. There is the waiting for the stoplight to turn green or for the traffic jam to clear so that we can proceed to our destination. That seems like such unproductive time to me unless I can learn something by listening to the radio. It is a time of waiting that can be boring and frustrating.

We also wait to see the doctor or dentist. Obviously so much time is devoted to this kind of waiting, that special rooms are devoted to this purpose – rooms filled with old magazines or, in some cases, television screens. This kind of waiting, I also find rather unproductive, but in my case I find it much more anxiety producing than waiting in traffic. As I tell my dentist, I’m the kind of patient that needs an anaesthetic to make an appointment.

There is a third kind of waiting, however, that I think is much more in keeping with and a better analogy for the Advent season. It is the time waiting for guests to arrive – perhaps for a dinner party. In this case, the time spent waiting is also spent preparing. We set the table. The house may need to be dusted and vacuumed. We may inquire of our guests-to-be whether there are any food allergies or aversions and then the menu is chosen and food is purchased and prepared. For some of us, all this preparation may be accompanied by some anxiety. Will everything be good enough? Nonetheless, we make our preparations and do our best to honour the invited guests, to make them feel welcome and to make the dinner a happy occasion. We want the guests to know that we have looked forward to their arrival and that they are special to us.

How should we be preparing for our Lord? How can we honour him upon his arrival? I believe that there is both a personal and corporate response to that question. At the personal level, we can examine our lives to see what attitudes, habits or activities there may be that are not compatible with the life that we are called to. The urgency in the Apostle Paul’s ethical teachings was rooted in his sense of the impending final salvation and judgement associated with Christ’s return. And so, he urged the people to “cast off the works of darkness and put on the armour of light”. Indeed, even in the weeks before Advent, many of our readings focussed our attention on the fact that we are in that in between time – after our Lord’s ascension and before his return – and that we need to be ready, to stay awake and be prepared.

However, as important as it is for each individual to examine his or her personal life and to prepare his heart to receive Christ, we need also to examine our corporate life. We need to examine whether or not we as the collective body of Christ are doing what we can to create a society that honours and is welcoming to our Lord. It is for that reason that I believe that is so important that we listen to our Bishop’s call to work for social justice.

Over the last few years in my daily scripture reading, I have been struck by the number of times the word justice appears. In the NIV translation, the word justice appears 133 times. It appears throughout the bible beginning in Genesis and ending in Revelations. It is used 30 times in the book of Isaiah alone – a book that looks forward to the reign of Christ and that is included frequently in our Advent lections as it was twice today. Related words such as fair or fairly increase the word count.

The word justice is used repeatedly in the context of defending and upholding the rights and the cause of widows, the fatherless, the poor and the innocent. It is no coincidence that one of the most powerful stories of the Bible and a centrepiece of both Jewish and Christian tradition is the story of the deliverance of the Hebrews from poverty, bondage and oppression in Egypt.

There can be no doubt that our God is a holy and righteous God who loves justice. While it is our calling that we all conduct ourselves in a moral, loving and just way, it is also essential that we be alert to structural injustices in our society and that we do what we can to correct them. Are there people or groups in our society who are being oppressed? Perhaps the oppression is not deliberate or even conscious, but are there people who are oppressed nonetheless by social convention or institutions? Ones that we are so accustomed to that we never question them? If so, what can we - both as individuals and as a body corporate - do to rectify these injustices? Challenged by our Bishop, assisted by our Outreach Committee, and with the example of groups such as the Primate’s Fund, I pray and hope that over the coming years we can work to answer those questions.

I am not a naïve utopian. In the end, our efforts may not be perfect or bring all the results that we expect in the time frame that we hope for. Using the dinner party analogy, the beans may be slightly overcooked or the cake may fall. Nonetheless we cannot and must not let that stop us from taking actions to further the development of a just society that our Lord would be pleased to embrace. May this Advent season be a time when we seek to prepare our hearts, our lives and our world for the one who said, “Blessed are the poor, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven”

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