Sunday, November 27, 2016

Year A Advent 1 2016 "Vigilence: a sermon"

Year A, Advent 1, 2016
St. David’s Episcopal, Aylett, VA

Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
In the last few weeks I have found myself waking up in the middle of the night, not knowing if it is nearer to bedtime or nearer to the alarm going off. Sometimes I find myself wide awake halfway, just as far from one as I am close to the other. And it sets me off-kilter. My orientation is out of whack. I have crossed time zones and an ocean twice, and my body is finally settling in to being back home, back to the now, if the Now is Eastern Standard Time.

I ask myself when it is, where I am, sometimes I am still in my dream and very confused. And in all of it, I look for a sign of where I am, and when I am. I seek out the here and now to get a point of view.

That is the point of this week’s readings, to get a point of view. As St. Paul called to the Romans then, and to us now, “You know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep.”

This is the first week of Advent, the first week of the liturgical calendar. There are three years in the cycle of lectionary readings, and this is Year A of those, so of the beginnings, we are starting that cycle fresh, too. And as we look at Advent 1, we look to the coming of Christ. It is also confusing, because we pretend that Christ has not yet come and we speak of the coming of Christ at Christmas, and yet we also speak of him coming again, as we say in the Eucharistic prayer, “Christ will come again.” Which is it? It is like I talked about a minute ago, we are between, Christ has come and we await his coming again. It is different from a night though, now that we have become enslaved to clocks and alarms. In Jesus’ day, we would await the cock’s crow, or the call of the night’s watch to see what time it might be, but alas, we don’t know where we are in this long night awaiting Jesus’ return. We must “watch and wait for the morning, watch and wait for the morning.”

And that is what Advent is about. The word Advent means the Arrival, or the Coming. And for whatever reason we are a disillusioned nation awaiting something to come, a difference, a change, SOMETHING ELSE! No matter the party affiliation or how one voted, the only thing this country can agree on is that we have gotten on the wrong track.

While I was in Liverpool a few weeks ago I spent a day in the city by myself, and was doing alright. I wanted a train back to the station I was going toward to my friend’s house where I was staying. I double and triple checked that this train went through the station I needed, Huyton Quarry. And asked to make sure. I asked, “Does this go through Huyton?” The answer was yes. I saw that the landmarks we passed on the way into town were the same ones I saw on the way out, and I was feeling good. That is until we sped right through Huyton Quarry, and kept going at 80 or 90 miles an hour. You see, I was on the right track, but had gotten on the wrong train. We went THROUGH Huyton, sure enough, and did so rather quickly. I was on the EXPRESS train. I had asked the wrong question, and had to get off at the next stop and run across to take the next LOCAL that would STOP in Huyton. Even when we are on the right track we need to make sure that the train we board will get us where we need to go.

Today I wear purple, a color of contrition. I could have worn purple on the day I got on the wrong train. We wear purple in Lent for the preparation for Easter. We wear the same in Advent, preparing for the Lord’s Arrival, his Advent. This is when we make sure that we are on the right track, and the right train, to get us where we need to be going.

It can happen to anyone. It happened to me, despite my best efforts to get to Huyton, and my mad scramble to get back to where I wanted and needed to go. Biblically, remember the Wise Men, they stopped at Herod’s assuming that the Promised One would be born in the palace, and the scholars even had to look up and see that it was actually in Bethlehem, ten miles or so down the road for the actual prophesied birthplace. The star got them close, but they almost missed their destination.

It can and does happen to the best of us, and that is why the lectionary and the Church in its wisdom gives us four weeks to get our individual and collective acts together before the dawning of this new age. Like I mentioned last week, I feel like I need a mulligan, a do-over for 2016. The year of BLECH, and you can quote me on that. 😄

And not just this year, but every year, we need to make sure that our hearts and minds are ready for the coming of the newborn king. When we were preparing for the coming of my oldest, we did what the baby books called “nesting.” We got our house in order, we painted and got new furniture. We got our 80 year old windows replaced with new vinyl insulated windows to cut down the drafts. We got our house in order.

It was all to schedule and going to plan, but my daughter had other ideas, and showed up a month early. It was such a frantic morning. It was the second day of a new school year, as I was working as a teacher. My wife was convinced that her water had broken in the shower, and I told her, if she was worried, to go and see the doctor. She did. And she had. She called me as they were wheeling her over to the hospital which fortunately was across the street from her ob/gyn’s office. And being the type of person she is, she called the kennel for the dog before she called me so I could drop him off on the way to the hospital. And we did not have our car seat yet. We had it picked out, but I did not get it yet. It was at Target, right next to the kennel, so I stopped there, too, so we could at least take the baby home. When I finally pulled into the hospital, after the kennel, and after Target, Steph looked at me like, “Where were you?!?” Despite all our plans and preparations we were not ready, because no one knows the time and the hour. And that is what our Lord and Savior reminds us. Matthew 24:36 and following: Jesus said to the disciples, “But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. ...Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.”

Whenever I hear some quack tell me that they have heard a word from the Lord, or have read the signs and know when Jesus is coming back, I always go back to this passage in my mind. If Jesus does not know, then why on earth would God the Father tell anyone else? So I do not get worried, but I actually laugh. And then I pray for all the folks who this charlatan will doop. It actually makes me sad. We are warned so that we can be ready, not so that someone can have some special knowledge or power. Sad, very sad.

But understand this,” Jesus continues, “if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.

A story is told about missionaries to a village in Southeast Asia, and they had their houses built on stilts, in case of flooding and so that all the animals they kept could have a place to stay and be easily accessible. It worked for the villagers, and they had lived that way for generations. The American missionaries, however, were not used to it at all, and the nightly dogfights, and clucking, and oinking and hullabaloo was about to put the couple into an asylum, and the sleep deprivation made it so that they were not very able to share the Gospel or even be pleasant.

But one night, they were settling in for a night’s sleep and a quiet settled over the entire village. They couple made note of it as they said their prayers and their goodnights. After the first full night’s sleep in weeks, they woke up as satisfied as they could be. They were so happy that they were almost in tears, and in a few moments those tears became real. The bed they were sleeping in was still there, but everything, EVERYTHING that they owned had been stolen. All their furniture, all their clothes EVERYTHING. Just like the Grinch, they had cleaned house and the well-rested missionaries were dumbstruck. What happened?

They went to tell their neighbors what had happened. The neighbors were shocked and surprised at their ignorance. One even said, “How could you not be ready? We all knew the thieves were coming down out of the hills. Did you not hear the SILENCE?” You see, the roving bandits from the hills had snuck into the village and had slit the dogs’ throats. The very thing these newcomers had despised were their salvation, and they did not even know. While we do not know when the thief will come, there were signs and warnings.

We do not know when Christ will return, but we do know how to be ready and prepare. St. Paul sums it up well, telling us how to live our lives so that we are not caught unaware, and that we are well prepared.  Romans 13:11-14 You know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.

Maybe all this contentiousness that we are experiencing, this overall discontent is because we as a whole and maybe some of us individually have lost our way. We have gotten off the trail, or worse yet, maybe we even forgot where we were trying to get to in the first place. But God gave us today, a new day, a new season, a new liturgical year to turn back towards the light and get on God’s path again. As we heard from the prophet Isaiah(2:5):

O house of Jacob,
come, let us walk
in the light of the Lord! Amen.

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Blessings, Rock