Sermon for Advent III
Dec. 13, 2009
(Isaiah 12:2-6; Zephaniah 3:14-20; Phillipians 4:4-7; Luke 3:7-18)
Lord, we have come to you to hear your word and learn to live by it; prepare our hearts, minds, bodies and souls to receive what you have for us today. Amen
One year at Christmas there was a particular present under the tree for my brother. He was beside himself trying to figure out what might be in it. He couldn’t wait to open it. Every time he walked by, he would pick it up, turn it over in his hands and then give it a really good shake. When my mother questioned him on what he was doing, his reply was generally “Nothing “ If I asked him what he was doing he replied, I can’t figure out what this is and I can’t wait to open it!” We were always allowed to open one gift on Christmas Eve, and on this particular Christmas, you can imagine which gift he chose to open. It turned out to be a model airplane kit, and all the rattling and shaking that he had heard were the pieces which would eventually be made into an airplane. His anticipation and waiting were rewarded with a very special gift.
When was the last time that you were filled with so much anticipation that you thought you would burst waiting for the event? Do you remember a time when you were expecting a visit from an old friend or a gift from someone special. Perhaps you recall a time when you were so proud of your selection of that perfect gift for someone who had everything that you couldn’t wait until you presented the gift. How many times do our children count down to a special event by the number of sleeps that are left? (And just so you know, there are only 12 more sleeps until Christmas!!!)
These experiences often describe time as slowing or almost standing still-far from the reality of time moving forward. I am reminded of a phrase in a song “Anticipation is making me wait.”
Perhaps the best example of this is when you were a child or had a child travelling with you. One of the key elements of that journey was the inevitable “Are we there yet?”
Then there are those that have chosen to stuff so many things into a given space in time (or place) that there is barely room to breathe let alone notice details of life surrounding them. People take a vacation and then fill every waking moment with so many activities, trips, and tours that they never have time to relax. These might be people whose experience of time is that it flies—it is out of control and passes by without them noticing what is in the space. These experiences might make them see that time is the enemy because it prevents them from doing things they would like to do at their desired pace. There just isn’t enough time. For others time might also be the reason or the excuse for leaving things undone.
And yet, time does pass every day with the tick of the clock, the pages being turned on the calendar, the rising and setting of the sun, and the path the moon and the stars. The seasons, through their cycles of growth and rest, and life and death become a part of our lives through the clothes we wear, the sports on television and the activities we take part in rather than through a real connection with the earth’s cycles which contain the mighty nature of creation.
Then there are the church seasons marked by biblical and liturgical events that provide us with that sense of connection to our spiritual life and our relationship to God and our communities. The seasons of the church are times of remembering with acute awareness the events of our tradition and history. They form our identity-it’s the fabric of our nature as Christians and people of God.
We are well into the season of Advent now: the time in which we have been waiting and preparing. This is the season that marks the beginning of the liturgical year in the church and anticipates the birth of Jesus. So, how do we know it is the season of Advent? Is it the Advent wreath and its candles that we light? Is it the prayers we say around the wreath? Is it the music we sing? Is it the change in our liturgical colours? For some, these may be the only signs that the season has changed or that today is the third Sunday in our waiting period. Yet, these signs alone may not be enough to give us that sense of anticipation for the great event of the birth of Jesus because we find ourselves distracted by Christmas shopping, decorations, malls and holiday parties.
Our lessons today remind us that God is with us and that what we are waiting for is the renewal of the relationship with God through Jesus. Consider a couple who are expecting a baby. Their journey begins nine months before the birth, but each day they are conscious of its life already. They know because there are changes in mood, attitude, where they live and how they create a calm and welcoming environment. There are changes in clothes and sizes as the body changes to accommodate the developing child. They begin examining their lives and priorities around this life changing event and they take those changes into consideration when preparing for their new roles and identities.
But during the pregnancy, their wait includes a real knowledge of the life they are bringing into the world. It is they who need to change to make room for this child. It is their identity which is being molded. This is the perfect image of what Advent is: waiting for the time when we have prepared for the birth of Jesus into our lives. It may also help us to understand today’s readings. These lessons may sound harsh and foreboding: John’s reference to a “brood of vipers”, or the imagery invoked by the axe laying at the base of a tree ready to be cut down if it does not produce. But the context of time and waiting takes us into a different place. Maybe, like the people in our gospel we are ready to ask, “What then should we do?” The Lord we await in Advent is a Lord who makes a difference and who changes things. He is a Lord who offers both new life and new responsibilities and who offers them together and simultaneously. We know he is coming, and we await our new responsibilities with great anticipation, but we also take our “waiting responsibilities” seriously too. That is part of the preparation. Perhaps the readings of today and indeed of the last two Sundays are inviting us to use this time to let go of the things that keep us from knowing God in every moment, to see “forgiveness of sins” and repentance as the removal of those constraints bringing us closer to the new birth and the new knowledge of the saving grace which accompanies the birth of Jesus. This birth changes everything including us.
If we are to go there, then we have no choice but to acknowledge that repentance is more than feeling sorrow for our sins; we are called to action—renewing our covenant with God through each other. We are being called to shed all the blinkers that come with our busy world, busy life and a busy attitude and replace it with nothing. Nothing but the space to see the world as God would have us see it. By doing this we will transform the way we hear the Christmas music already playing on the radio, the way we see people who pass us in the street or in the mall, our prayers and the focus of what is really important.
Several weeks ago, Stuart made reference to a bumper sticker that he had seen. “Jesus is coming. Look busy.” So now, as we reach the third Sunday in of Advent and we spend time preparing and waiting
in anticipation for the birth of Jesus, our bumper sticker could read: “Jesus is coming: are WE there yet?”
Thanks be to God.