Year A, Advent 1
December 1, 2013
The Reverend Dr. Brent Was
“But about that day and hour, no one knows…”
Welcome to another Advent. The Christian calendar resets today. And it starts, not with a celebration, not with confetti and champagne, but with quiet, with a calm, pensive time; a time of waiting and preparation. It is odd, we start a new year by preparing; we start something new by waiting. Advent, this whole season, it is a prelude to what is about to come… “Therefore you must also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”
We’ve been talking a lot recently about waiting, holy waiting. What is the fancy Greek word for it? ____ Parousia. And that is what this whole season of Advent is about. Preparing, waiting… but for what? Now there is the question. What are we waiting for in Advent? What are we preparing for?
There are at least two major tacks we can take on this question. And interestingly, it mirrors the quintessentially Anglican Eucharistic theology found in our Book of Common Prayer. The ritual waiting of Advent is akin to the more Protestant theology of Eucharist: anamnesis, holy memory, a memorial of Christ’s final meal with his friends, a divinely empowered recreation and memory of the Paschal mystery of Christ’s death, resurrection and ascension. And in reliving the memory each week, in remembering, putting back together the coming of Christ each Advent, we are drawn closer to God. And this is memory, not history. The holy memory of generations of the faithful can be recalled anew in this and every generation. Great is the mystery of faith. In this season, like on each Sunday, we pause in a holy light, relive it as “the moment for you to wake from sleep” as Paul writes to his people in Rome. It is a whole complex of ritual, hymnody, candles and memory. Advent, like our Eucharist, is powerful this way, very powerful. It grounds us in our story together, clearing space for God to act within each of us, and in turn for us to act on behalf of each other, in particular the least of these.
There is a second theology of Advent and the Eucharist that is just as compelling, just as powerful, and a touch more catholic. It is not about memory, it is about the eternal and actual reality that we encounter each Sunday at this table, each year in this Season. “Be for us the Body and Blood of your Son Jesus Christ, the Holy food and drink of new and unending life in Him…” That is how Eucharistic Prayer A goes. Not memory, not “treat it like it is that,” but “Be for us…” What actually happens to that bread and wine? Again, great is the mystery of faith. I don’t know, nobody knows, but something happens. Something changes, something changes so powerfully as to be compelling to billions of people in every corner of the world over the past two thousand years. Something eternal and actual happens at this table each week, as it does, as it can in Advent each year.
So we can ritually remember, symbolically reenact the waiting for the arrival of Christ. We can also actually do it, we can actually practice, practice parousia, practice waiting. But what is it we are waiting for? Is it the reference to the rapture-like vision of St. Matthew’s gospel, two in the field and one will be taken? Two women grinding meal and poof! One of them is gone? It could be that that is what we are waiting for. Is it being prepared for a second coming? Jesus is pretty clear, “…you must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.” Actually waiting for an actual dues ex machina. Could be that, too. It could also be that whole process of active being we spoke about last week, about being like Merton on the cushion, Gandhi at the spinning wheel, Berry behind a plow, the monumental being that heralds the eternal and actual reality of the Kingdom of God, a kingdom that is at hand if we only have the eyes to see it, the ears to hear it, the tongue to proclaim it.
I approach Advent much like I do the Eucharist. Number 1: I do not know exactly what is going on, I doubt anyone does and am suspicious of those who claim certainty. Approach 1: Existential humility. Number 2: Eucharist and Advent mark a moment in time and space for us collectively gather in the face of mystery, to collectively try to experience God; Ground, Word, Life, all of it. Approach 2: Ecclesia, the beloved community, we can’t do this alone. Number 3: in observing these rites and rituals together, practicing being the people of God that we feel called to be, we will become the people we are called to be. Approach 3: Practice makes perfect. In short: Humbly, together, we are God’s people in God’s kingdom. Humbly, together, we have been given great power by Jesus Christ to make real the Kingdom of God. Now that is a vision of the Kingdom I seek citizenship in. That is the kingdom that this church serves as an embassy of. That is what I am practicing being again this year.
“…they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war no more. O house of Jacob, let us walk in the light of the Lord!” Sing it Isaiah, that’s what I am talking about. “…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…” preach it Brother Paul, preach it. “The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed; like yeast mixed into flour; like a treasure hidden in a field; like a pearl of great price…” Amen, Lord Christ, Amen.
Of all the gifts bestowed upon us by our creator, the greatest of these is our ability, the divine power given unto us by God as a birthright to make real the Kingdom of God. You can do that. It can happen in the power we have to give new life to the world. It could come in the form of a baby, of caring for a plot of land, tending a family, a community, of giving life to the already living, giving life, it is a kingdom power each of us possesses. Amen.
The other desperately important power we have to make real the kingdom of God is simply living like the Kingdom of God is real. Someone strikes you on the left cheek, offer the right cheek, too. Someone asks for you coat, give them your cloak, too. I am totally serious. These are not platitudes, these are actual formulas, detailed practices for making real the kingdom of God given to us by Jesus Christ. The Kingdom of God is made real in a very simple act: acting like it is real. This is exactly what I hope we are all able to practice this Advent together. Amen.
It comes back to fear. If we are afraid we don’t/wont have enough for our selves, we are less generous. If we are afraid of losing face, we won’t back down. If we are afraid of our enemy, we won’t beat our swords into ploughshares, we’ll sharpen them, and invest our endowments in defense contractors. Fear. In Jesus Christ, there is no fear. In the Kingdom of God there is no fear.
So I am going to take advantage of this pulpit, and I am going to theologically prepare us for a conversation happening after the 10:30 service. The Egan Warming Center is in a pickle. They have lost some coverage at a time of record, over-capacity need. Several hundred of the least of these gather in church basements for simple survival shelter when the temperature dips below 29, or when the misery quotient dips to unseemly levels, like 32 and wet snow as predicted for Monday night. Unless more space is found, they will not open on Thursday or Sunday nights. The national weather service predicts this Thursday night to be 19 degrees with freezing fog. We have been called to help.
We don’t have enough space. I don’t know how we’ll juggle choir and AA on Wednesdays. Godly Play stuff is moving upstairs anyway so that is fine, but the Home Starter Kit and Piecemaker stuff is hard to secure. We do have carpet downstairs; that makes me shudder a bit. But we also have a couple of thousand square feet of warm, dry floor-space and there are officially 1700 people on the street in Eugene. It is going to be 13 degrees this Wednesday night, with freezing fog, 50 of that 1700 could sleep safely here.
We will not do it, not host Egan if we are afraid we do not have enough… enough space, resources, people… we will not do it if we fear that our stuff will get broken, stolen, thrown-up on or just used hard and put away wet. It might be incredibly foolish for us to take this on. There is foolish generosity, but aren’t we called time and time again to be fools for Christ? Is there such a thing as being overly generous, too kind, excessively compassionate? Do not fear being foolish, or thought to be foolish. Do not fear being generous, being overly generous. Most importantly, like we said last week, do not fear. Fear is the mind killer. Fear is the spirit killer, the killer of community and love and relationship. What Jesus Christ offers us is a hand on our shoulder saying time and time again, be not afraid. Do not fear, I am with you. Fear not, the kingdom of God is at hand. And while hosting Egan beginning in this newly arrived Advent could turn out to be a complete and foolish debacle, it would be a complete and foolish debacle that smacked of the Kingdom of God in all of its rough and tumble, chaotic, somewhat smelly glory. Our pragmatic and fiscally responsible society makes no room at the inn for these neighbors of ours. Maybe we can? If the end is near, or the memory of it is, if we are practicing the advent of the Kingdom of God, can you imagine a better way to usher it in, fearlessly? AMEN.