Saturday, November 26, 2011

1st Sunday of Advent - 2011

Mark 13:24-37

Advent, from the Latin “adventus” which means “coming”, can be an awkward time for worship planning because many of the Christmas hymns and songs we are familiar with and love to sing speak of the "baby" Jesus, His birth, and all the joyous and hopeful emotions that wondrous event should bring.  The Incarnation of the Christ is among the holiest of Holy Days on the Church's calendar - and rightly so.  We think of the Almighty God, King of all creation whose face even Moses was not allowed to see, and yet this same Almighty God humbled Himself to share in our humanity through Christ so that we may dare hope to one day share in His divinity.  Our journey of faith leads us to that Day.

That Day has yet to be, however.  That is the Day Advent calls us to prepare for.  Indeed, how much preparation do any of us put into getting ready for an event that has already taken place?  How much preparation is required, for instance, in getting ready for a junior prom when one is a senior in college?  How much preparation is necessary for a parade that has already passed by?  How much preparation does it take to get ready for a "sweet 16" birthday party for a child who is about to turn 25?  Advent compels us to remember a glorious past, of course, but Advent also calls us to something wonderful which is still ahead - and THIS, my dear friends, is what Advent calls us to prepare for - not only for the Holy Day of Christmas but far beyond! 

So none of this is to say we should not always - ALWAYS - be mindful of that Glorious Day of Incarnation when the Lord was revealed to us in such a humble way, but that event will not repeat itself except by how we reveal our own faith and joy to the world by what we do as a testament of what He did. 

So - we are called to look ahead for what is to come. St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians: "... in every way you have been enriched in Him, in speech and knowledge of every kind - just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you - so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ.  He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the Day of our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Corinthians 1:5-8). 

The "Day of the Lord", clearly beyond the birth of the Holy Child, the Day which has yet to be revealed but is just beyond the horizon of our journey, an "end" we cannot see and cannot know - and yet we dare to hope as we are commanded by Christ to that "End" to "keep awake!"  In other words, WATCH FOR IT and EXPECT IT as if it will be tomorrow – because that time is imminent!

The speech Mark shares with us follows Jesus' departure from the Temple.  As Jesus and His disciples were leaving the Temple, we are told that "one of His disciples said to Him, 'Teacher, see what manner of stones and what buildings are here!'  [This disciple was surely amazed at the sheer size of the stones themselves, not to mention the structures these stones created!  That, or he was trying to see how impressed Jesus might be.]  And Jesus answered and said to him, 'Do you see these great buildings?  Not one stone shall be left upon another that shall not be thrown down" (Mark 13:1b-2).  In other words, as great and as magnificent as they were they would not last, so don’t get too attached – and don’t be too impressed.  But the Temple must also not be left standing as if it were a meaningless monument.  

It occurs to me that even as we look at what is right in front of us, we can often be trapped in the past by the accomplishment of what we see.  This particular disciple was awed by an accomplishment of man, but he seemed to be confused with the difference between “the end” and “the means” to an end.  We can only imagine the colossal structure the Temple must have been just as we see great buildings even today, including some really magnificent churches.  Sometimes when passing through Little Rock, I take a gander at that great, big, impressive Immanuel Baptist Church which sits right off the interstate in Little Rock or the equally impressive Pentecostal Church that sits right off the interstate in North Little Rock and wonder at the resources spent to make those churches possible as I marvel at the structures.  And yet “not one stone will be left upon another”. 

Like many who have expressed such sentiments, I also cannot help but to think of the hunger and homeless issues that could have been addressed with what was spent - and continues to be spent - for maintenance and utilities alone!  At the same time, our human minds can think of no better way to show the world the majesty of our Lord and create a place worthy of Him because when we enter into the sanctuary of the Lord, "awe" should be foremost in our minds and hearts.  Nothing less will do.

Yet Jesus seems to indicate there is a risk for us with such structures, these man-made monuments to our own desires and visions even if the intentions are noble; just as there is great risk when we continue to engage in such things and practices that celebrate the past instead of anticipating the future; seeing the past as “the end” rather than as a “means” to our future – learning from history so that we may continue to journey forward.  It is as Helen Keller once expressed so well: "When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look back so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened [ahead of] us."   

We tend to get stuck in “remembrance” in spite of Jesus Himself calling us forward into an active state of "anticipation"!  But how can we see and actively anticipate the future if we are stuck in the present?  Or worse - in the past?  How can we actively anticipate and celebrate the coming of the Lord - that Day which has yet to be - if we do nothing in preparation for that Great Day but instead choose to spend time in the moment, in the present while remembering the past?  How do we give due diligence to all that Advent calls us into if we allow it to end according to a date on a calendar? 

Throughout this great lesson Mark records for us, Jesus does nothing to glorify the past – but He does use the past to challenge us to move forward!  And it should not escape our notice that He does not mention His birth as a festival of any kind - OR - an event to be embraced!  Yet we do celebrate that Glorious Day because we recognize the HOPE that has been given to all of humanity in His birth: "God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved" (John 3:17).  So we were given that great gift of HOPE by the Incarnation, that time when we would actually come face-to-face with Heaven's Glorious Prince.  And as He walked among us and taught us and healed us and blessed us and fed us, He did so to strengthen and equip us for the Journey which is ahead – not exclusively as a remembrance or celebration of the past. 

If the theme of the first Sunday of Advent is “hope”, then our hope must extend beyond “hoping” this Christmas will be better than the last one.  Our “hope” must carry us beyond December 25 because Christ our Hope calls and leads us beyond December 25.  Our “hope”, dear friends”, is the “hope” of that which is yet to be revealed.  It is the “hope” that heals and encourages and feeds and teaches and motivates.  The Hope of the Holy Church is not behind us – God save us from our past!  He is ahead of us, leading the faithful to His Glorious Future … into Eternal Life.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Well said. Thank you, I needed to read that.