Sermon for the 1st Sunday of Advent

Isaiah 2:1-5; Psalm 122; Romans 13:11-14; Matthew 24:36-44 (NRSV) (KJV)

The season of Advent, the first season of the new church year, calls the church to look toward the second coming of the Son of Man.

In the stores and the media we don’t have to be reminded of the first coming in what we call Christmas although the festivities in the malls do not include the baby Jesus because that would offend our civic sensibilities.

Instead we are treated to an orgy of spending, spending that sometimes seems an effort to get into the seasonal feelings of joy. We are fortunate at St. John’s to experience the joy and anticipation of our children.

But the church’s take on Advent is to prepare for the sudden coming of Son of Man in all his glory. We do this because Jesus in the gospels warns us that things will happen fast and the faithful need to be prepared.

I was struck by the appropriateness of today’s gospel lesson. It speaks of the suddenness of the coming of the Son of Man and how of two going about the duties of daily life, one will be taken and the other left to stand in shock.

When I woke to the news that the North Koreans had bombarded an island just off the coast of Korea killing 2 Korean marines and two residents, I was reminded just how quickly things can change.

Sixty years after the beginning of the Korean War, the North is practicing brinksmanship and the world needs to pray that cooler heads prevail.

What has changed in the world since Isaiah’s prophecy that a time would come when swords would be beaten into plowshares, spears into pruning hooks and that no one would learn the way of war again?

Some things have changed. Those who engage in warfare are required by law to protect civilians and objects of culture but we know that doesn’t always work as events from Bosnia to Darfur to Afghanistan have shown. Not everyone plays by the rules nor are we anywhere near perfect in observing them when we try.

Yet the important thing for Christians to do is not lose hope and continue to press for humanitarian responses to the problems of the world.

Clearly that has been a challenge to Christians since the beginning as Paul writes to the Christians in Rome—put away reveling and drunkenness, in debauchery and licentiousness, in quarreling and jealousy.

Now as then Christians are increasingly in the minority in a wider society that feeds on all those ills of society.

Because of my pastoral visitations, particularly in hospitals, I see the world portrayed on TV in the soaps and the endless court reality shows and talk shows in a way far removed from the reality I see experienced in the life of average people.

Since the beginning Christians have been exhorted to live life in a way which is often counter-cultural—living, as Paul says, honorably as in the day.

We have the choice to prepare by living as Jesus has called us to in scripture and God’s continuing revelation. We cannot ignore the wider society’s run-up to Christmas with the myriad commercials and newspaper inserts as some try to do but we can work a balance of anticipation and observance that will make a difference.

As we look toward the services of Christmas Eve, know that they will be special in their beauty and music, but there is much, much more to the Christian story than that birth in Bethlehem.

It continues as we live and worship together, as we work to help those who need assistance, as we welcome the stranger and show hospitality to all in anticipation that in God’s time Jesus will come again—now in all his glory with the angels with him. Be ready.