Rev. Don Beyers, Christ Church, Bolton
Many of you may know that a few of us gather daily to pray morning prayer. It is an ancient practice that has its roots in the Jewish way of marking the hours of the day with prayer. Like our Jewish ancestors, we pray the psalms and reflect on the scriptures. In our Christian tradition, the readings are so ordered that we read through entire books of the Bible over the course of several days or weeks. Such reading allows us to chew on the Word of God and digest it within our hearts.
While the scripture lessons are often inspiring and thought provoking, the readings of the past few weeks have been rather gruesome and disturbing. So much so that it is tempting for us to simply ignore the passages that trouble us and to take only those that we find comforting.
Perhaps you’ve noticed this pattern as well with our Sunday readings. If you followed the Sunday readings you may have been struck by the dire warnings and the talk of the end times. You may have even been disturbed or perplexed by the readings. Perhaps the readings have even caused you concern or made you uncomfortable.
Now you might think that now is the time for a reprieve from such readings and return to those scripture lessons that warm and comfort us all. You might even be hoping that I, as the preacher this morning, will uplift your hearts and tell you all is well.
But I won’t.
In fact, I think it is a good thing the readings make us uncomfortable and uneasy. Truth be told, the scriptures ought to shake us up a little. They ought to because the writers of those text knew something very well: things aren’t alright in the world.
Now if you are worried I might be gearing up to give a hell-fire and damnation sermon, I am not. Instead I invite you to enter into the discomfort of the scriptures and to see the world for what it really is – beautiful, but imperfect and broken.
I imagine some of you might be wondering if I got our liturgical seasons mixed up and instead of preaching an Advent sermon, I am instead preaching a Lenten sermon. Surely Advent is a time of joy, a time of comfort, and a time of wonder. In truth, however, it is much more than those feelings.
Unfortunately we have lost the original sense of Advent and its purpose. Advent isn’t a time to prepare for Jesus’ birth. (Hint: Jesus has been born already.) In fact, Advent has almost nothing to do with Christmas. Originally in the early Church Advent was a season unto itself, a season whereby the Church recalled we are in a time of transition. God has already come among us; now we await for Christ’s coming in glory and the fulfillment of God’s promise. We are in the time of waiting, the middle period so to say. In Christian theology this period is known as the “already, but not yet.” And each Sunday we proclaim this truth when we say, during the Eucharistic Prayer, “we remember his death, we proclaim his resurrection, we await his coming in glory.”
And so we wait. We wait for Christ’s coming in glory, for we are all too aware that things aren’t as they ought to be.
Consider some of the recent headlines. Migrant families tear-gassed at border. California wildfire kills dozens. GM closes Oshawa plant, thousands without job. Toronto murder-rate at an all-time high. 30 civilians killed in US airstrike in Syria. Climate change will kill thousands and shrink US economy. Climate change means more diseases and death for Canadians. And these are just a handful of headlines from around the globe.
While we can placate ourselves and argue the media never features positive news, we need to be honest that things are not alright. It is never a good day when children die of hunger or are brutally attacked at borders, when innocent lives are taken by violence, or when entire natural resources are destroyed by our drive for economic greed and wealth.
Even in our own lives we experience the pain and suffering of broken relationships, disease, poverty and homelessness, and financial fears. Although we are told this is the most wonderful time of the year, for many it isn’t as they wrestle with the death of loved ones or the anxiety of not being able to provide food and gifts for their families.
To be sure, there is much we can do to confront the injustices of this world. In fact, the news of these days reminds us that we must be ever more vigilant in our advocacy of justice for all God’s people and dedicated to caring for the marginalized and the wounded persons of our community, country, and world. Yet we do so knowing full well that it is ultimately God who will redeem and transform humanity and all of creation, not us.
Thus we come to the heart of Advent. Remember those scripture passages that disturb and unsettle us? Those apocalyptic passages foretelling of global wonders never seen before, such as today’s reading from Luke’s Gospel? Well, these are signs telling us that we are to be ready and hopeful for the day is near, for Jesus tells us: “stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near!” (Luke 21)
Christian hope is not the optimism of self-help books. Optimism ignores the things we do not like and focuses on the positive. Hope, on the other hand, sees things as they really are and looks beyond them knowing full-well that God’s promise of redemption will be fulfilled. As the renowned American Episcopal priest, Fleming Rutledge, writes: “The Christian hope is founded in the promise of God that all things will be made new according to his righteousness. All the references to judgement in the Bible should be understood in the context of God’s righteousness – not just his being righteous (noun) but his ‘making right’ (verb) all that has been wrong. Clearly, human justice is a very limited enterprise compared to the ultimate making-right of God in the promised day of judgement.” (Rutledge, Advent: The Once and Future Coming of Jesus Christ)
So how do we cultivate this hope? How do we truly enter into the heart of the Advent season?
The answer to our questions lies both within our readings and collects for this day. Listen to the active verbs used throughout: Be on guard. Be alert. Put on the armour of light. Advent, like Lent, is a penitential season in that it is a time for us to strip away all that blinds us from seeing things as they really are. Ironically, while our work and culture often tells us to party like crazy and “shop until you drop,” Advent challenges us to strip ourselves bare, to sit in silence and listen to the whisper of God’s voice in the air.
And these are healthy things to do. We are already a people overstressed and overwhelmed by our consumerist culture and success-driven society. These things only cloud our vision and numb us. But prayer, simplicity, and denial of abundance help us to see things for what they really are. And as our vision becomes more clear, we are more able to see the injustices in our world and be filled with God’s grace to work with him in preparing the way of the Lord and to make all things new.
Over these few weeks I challenge you to consider ways in which you can be subversive and counter-cultural by not giving into the holiday madness, but take time alone and with your family to pray, to read the scriptures, and live a life of simplicity. By doing such things, we will put on the armour of light, we will be more ready and alert to God’s coming among us, and more dependent upon the grace of God to redeem and restore creation. Amen.