Sermon for the First Sunday of Advent

SEEKING CHANGE (Isaiah 64:1-9, Mark 13:24-37)

I don’t know about you, but I don’t much like change. As I said in another sermon, I grew up in the Foreign Service, traveling around the world, living in seven different countries by the time I went to college, then in college, then with a Korean community in LA, then another church on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, then 18 years in Ossining, then here.

I think joining the Episcopal Church my first year in college was a part of resisting change. The church I attended had a liturgy that must not have changed much since Roman times. I found it very comforting.

I stayed with that vision of the liturgy and the church for many years. Everything else might change, but the church would stay the same.

But now I find that is no longer true. And I find it is not meant to be true. The church is the heart of change. The church is where the movement at the heart of the universe becomes incarnate in Jesus Christ, whom we worship. The church is where we invite those who want to make sense of their lives. Their first reaction is, perhaps, ‘ah here is the church of my childhood where I need no longer fear change.’ But the real reason the church is a place of peace is because it brings us into alignment with the God of the universe, who is changing and making other things change all the time.

Jesus lets us in on this secret when he prophesies that the end will come. He welcomes it. He says people should look forward to it the way they look forward to summer when they see the new buds of spring on the leaves of the trees.

That is a strange thing, for one would think that the end of the world is a bad thing. But that doesn’t seem to be what Jesus is saying. In saying that the planets and stars will fall from the sky, perhaps he is saying that the old gods of the planets, and the old gods of the stars, will fall from the sky. They will no longer rule. Astrology will no longer hold sway. We will be free of it, and free to give our most basic and deepest allegiance to Jesus Christ our Lord.

He will stand at the center of the universe, no longer a distant Creator but the Incarnate Son of the Creator God at the heart of it all, telling us of the end of things, but not the beginning of things.

All he tells us of the beginning of things is that we should come and follow him. Like the fishermen who became disciples, we should leave our nets and follow him. We should leave our predictable ways of life and find new ways, where the law of love replaces all other laws, and where the law at the heart of the universe becomes the law at the heart of our lives.

I know that this change in focus has made my own life very difficult. I have struggled with depression. One thing I’ve learned about depression is that it happens when growth is resisted. The poet Mary Richards once said: “We have to realize that a creative being lives within ourselves whether we like it or not, and we must get out of its way, for it will give us no peace until we do.”

Well, the real you is struggling to get out of you too, and it will give you no peace until you let it.

But do not fear. Do not fear for we are in the hands of a loving creator, who yearns to create us and recreate us for new challenges and new challenges and new challenges

The earth and stars and planets in your personal universe may fall to the ground. The old gods you prayed to may fall to the ground. The old customs may stop working. But there are new customs yet to come, and a new God in the sky, revealed to us in Jesus Christ.

You know, there is a place for good liturgy. And there is a place for doing the same thing in and out of seasons. And that is so that everything else can change – particularly in the Episcopal Church. Our liturgy stays roughly the same week in and week out so that our theology can change with the times. Our forms of prayer stay the same week in and week out so that the hearts we lift in prayer can go freely up to God, unfettered by having to remember different words at different times. Freed from that need to concentrate on what we’re saying, since we have it almost memorized, we can lift our hearts freely to God.

We do make some changes from liturgical season to season, so we can more accurately bring into our hearts the meaning of that season. So on this first Sunday of Advent we change the Prayers of the People from Form VI to Form I, which asks for mercy as Advent does. And we change the Eucharistic Prayer from B to A, which more completely focuses on the person of Christ who comes at Christmas.

So every week we focus on the same, ever present Jesus. Every week we focus on the same Lord who blesses us. Every week we focus on the Lord who teaches us. We focus on the Lord who heals us. We focus on the Lord who bids us follow him out into the world.

And what that Lord does is stop every day for dinner, and stop every day for prayer, and stop every day to teach and heal and love.

And so we stop every week for teaching and loving in our fellowship. And that is why I want you to sign up to do coffee hour for that is how we love everyone else in our fellowship and the newcomer who comes by too. And that is why we pledge, so we have a place for this fellowship and a leader who will remind us that, in the heart of the storm, when the old stars and the old ways are falling to the ground, there is this place for the new laws of love and fellowship and mission.

As a prayer for evening says, a prayer taken from the Road to Emmaus where Jesus started as a stranger and then was recognized as who he was while having dinner with the disciples, we pray:

“Lord Jesus, stay with us for evening is at hand and the day is past. Be our companion in the way, kindle our hearts and awaken hope, that we might know you as you are revealed in scripture and the breaking of the bread. Grant this for the sake of your love.

So we come every week for the apostles’ teaching, for the breaking of the bread and the prayers, as we promise in Baptism and Confirmation, so we might experience the old Christ in a new way every time, and so that, as our own lives change, we might keep up with the same Lord who changes too – who wants us to change, in the context of those old familiar forms – the Lord who created this ever changing, evolving universe.

It is a safe place to be, in Jesus’ hands, a safe place to be, but dangerous too; dangerous because when he no longer has a use for us as we have been, he will break us to change us into what we might be; safe because he will be able to do it without losing any part of us.

He is a potter, and when you have an unfired pot that has just been allowed to dry until it is ready to be used, there is a way in which you can change it into a new one.

You break it. That is right, you break it – you break us. Then you immerse it in water – you drown it and us for a long time, again like in baptism – until the clay has softened again and returned to its pre dried out form, before it was that beautiful and useful pot, before you were a beautiful and useful person.

Then you take it out of the water and mash it together and make it into something else that you really need now; a pitcher perhaps, or a plate instead of a bowl at all.

This is what God does from time to time to time in our lives; and he doesn’t care if it is convenient to us. He cares if it is necessary to the world.