Sunday, December 3, 2017

Year B Advent 1 A T-Shirt for Advent and All Y'all

Year B Advent 1, 3 December 2017
St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA
“A T-Shirt for Advent, A T-Shirt for All Y’all”

Mark 13:24-27
Jesus said, “In those days, after that suffering,
the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light,
and the stars will be falling from heaven,
and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.
Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.
“From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
“But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”

“Oh that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence!” [Isaiah 64:1] Isaiah started there, at least in this week’s reading. And sometimes we are there, too.

The days are growing shorter, and the nights longer. But it is not just the nights. When days are dark and nights are cold, it comes back to that.
“Oh that you would tear open the heavens and come down!”
It speaks to our need for a God who Saves, a need to know that we are not alone in a cold dark world spinning helplessly in a colder, darker universe.

I read the headlines today. And I am astounded.
I look at the way people treat each other and I am aghast.
I heard from a friend, “If you are not outraged, you’re not paying attention.” In the parlance of our times, it is called being WOKE. And Jesus is very clear in his admonitions in our reading today, Jesus wants us to be WOKE. His words are “Beware… Keep Awake... What I say to you I say to all: KEEP AWAKE.” The intentions may be slightly different, but the words are the same.

There are signs and seasons to give us clues. Jesus tells us this in our reading. Common Sense tells us this as well. There are signs, I believe, all around us. In fact I saw a sign just a few weeks ago in the most surprising of places.

And that takes us to my point for the day. The sign I saw was simple, powerful and profound. It was about the world we live in. It was about how people treat one another. I say it to each and every one of you. I say it to myself. What was this sign you might be asking? Trust me, all will be revealed.

A friend of mine has a t-shirt. She is a priest in Tennessee. It proudly proclaims, and today I echo and proclaim its sentiments. It is just three words, but it summarizes everything I am thinking these days. Most of the time I would avoid and demur pithy three word sentiments, but I have thought and prayed about it. I have struggled and wrestled with it.

Do I think it to be the truth? Yes, I really do.

Will it offend or cause turmoil? Definitely. I was about to say probably, but I should say definitely.

But will it preach at Advent? Will it preach about the anticipation of the coming of the Lord the first time, and in anticipation of Christ’s coming again? Yes it will. In fact, it is about as Christmas-y a shirt one could get with saying Ho Ho Ho.

In fact, I don’t need much this Christmas, but I do want this t-shirt.

It sums up so much. It comforts the afflicted and it afflicts the comfortable. It brings good news to the poor, and it raises up the broken-hearted. It confronts the Rich, and enlivens the Lowly. It brings sight to the blind, and release to the prisoner.

Now you might be saying to yourselves, that must be some t-shirt. Or, Rock has gone off the deep end. And maybe I have. And if I have, it is only so I could be head over heels in love with this t-shirt.

Now, I will admit, it is not so much the t-shirt as it is the slogan. You would not think that so much could be wrapped up in so little. But it is. Thanks be to God.

It is quite the t-shirt.
I wish I had it to wear when the Republicans passed their budget in the wee hours of the night Friday.
And, I wish I had it when the Democrats were wrestling over their ethics in the recent sex scandals last week.
I wish I had it when the riots were happening over racial  injustice in the summer.
I would wear it to Black Lives Matter events.
I would wear it to Blue Lives Matter events
I wish I had it when people were at odds over the recent past here at St. James the Less.
In fact, I cannot think of a time when I should not wear it, or could not wear it.
It pretty much sums up what I am about.

In fact, I feel like a snake oil salesman almost when I stand up here before you and say I have a one-size-fits-all curative for whatever ails us, but I do.

Jesus even talks about the message of this t-shirt in his words from today’s Gospel, and Isaiah declares it without knowing what “it” was. Over and over again I see, the truth of the words I am about to share.

This weekend I was blessed to be able to be in a room full of people discerning a call to be deacons or priests here in the Diocese. It was humbling and encouraging. Their faith and hope in the call of God was inspiring. And yes, I would even say it to them, these hopeful, faithful people spending a weekend praying, and listening, and sharing. And I would share this t-shirt with all those people, too.
In fact, all the lessons and the ponderings of Advent could be summed up in these three little words.

Are you on pins and needles yet? It all boils down to this, three simple words I saw on my friends T-Shirt:
Every last one of you. Every last ounce of me.
Think about it. What could be more in the Spirit of Advent than these three simple words.

We wait for him to come, like the Israelites waited for the long expected Messiah, for him, to come.

We wait for him to come again.  We are in this post-facto world with the birth of the Christ Child, but we are still awaiting Christ’s Coming Again. And we wait. And wait. And 2,000 years have come and gone, and still we wait.

We affirm, “Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.” And still we wait.

And that is why I think we begin with the ending. We are told the outcome before we begin. Christ predicts his coming again for us. But we should not be surprised. This is a pattern with God, one that elicits from us a call to faith. Moses at the burning bush is sent to rescue his people from Egypt, and in doing so face those that are seeking him for murder. But God says that the words God has spoken will be proved true when the children of Israel come back and worship him on that mountain. Now there is a lot of water expected to go under the bridge before that comes true. And a lot of faith is being asked for of Moses. And there is a lot of waiting that will have to happen. But it does not just ring true, it comes true. God is true to God’s word. Or as I Corinthians put it: “God is faithful…”

In working with groups, one thing repeatedly has rung true: “Past performance is the best indicator to future behavior.” We all say we want to be better, and hope for positive change, but it is so rare and so hard. What happened before, is most likely what will happen again. It can be good, like God keeping God’s word. And it can be bad, when an addict or abuser promises sincerely that “It will never happen again.” For there to be any really change, we must have something break the cycle. We must have something step in, either in ourselves or in our worlds. And I have found it to be repeatedly tried and true, that the one who can break the cycles of sin and shame is Jesus. And that is why I say it again, and I say it to myself as well:
We all need Jesus.

Friday nights are often my favorite night of the week. The family snuggles in on the couch, and we get a pizza and watch a movie, usually something mindless and fun. Entertainment is often just that, entertaining, but my favorite part is just being together, not the movie or the pizza. But it comes at the end of a long week, and often, halfway through the movie when we are all snuggled in and toasty one of us will let out a yawn, one that starts down deep in our toes. When it is one of my daughters, as soon as the yawn is done, she often says quickly, “I’m not tired!” The yawn may draw the movie to a close too quickly, or at least a pause, and she does not want that. None of us do, it is just the length of the day added to the week multiplied by the relaxation, full belly, and togetherness, and it is just a yawn. And then the struggle begins. My daughters fight off sleep, struggling to stay awake and attentive.

And while we wait for Jesus, we do the same. We fight off sleep, struggling to keep awake and attentive. When Jesus comes again, will we be ready? Will we be awake?

When we let out a terrific yawns, we will jump up, and remind ourselves and everyone else, “I’m not tired!”

Be attentive, keep awake. Let the battle for our attention begin. Jesus knew this struggle. He knew human nature. He knew it when the disciples fell asleep in Gethsemane. He knows it about us. He urges us, though, to Beware, to Keep Awake.

When we lag, and when we yawn, may we gently, lovingly, but convincingly remind ourselves and each other, those three simple words:


Or, if you want as Jesus put it: “What I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”

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Blessings, Rock