Sermon for Advent 1 2018

+In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and upon the earth distress of nations in perplexity at the roaring of the sea and the waves, men fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world; for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.

These are not particularly cheerful words during a season in which the culture-at-large tells us that it’s time to start celebrating Christmas. I’d guess that most of you here have been more-or-less successfully catechized to know that there is a difference between Advent and Christmastide, a distinction which the church continues to maintain despite the fact that it seems that Christmas in the secular culture seems to keep expanding to envelope about the last quarter of every year. As jaundiced as I can be about this sort of thing, I am still always surprised when I see Christmas stuff in Walmart well before Hallowe’en.

All this is well-trod ground for us anyway, but I think that sometimes we say there is a difference between Advent and Christmas, but we don’t quite acknowledge what precisely the distinction is, or, more to the point, what Advent is really all about. We sometimes say that it is to prepare us spiritually for Christmas, a sort of fast before the feast in the same way that Lent prepares us for Easter. This is true to a certain extent. Advent is a season of penitential expectation, which we refelct in the way in which our liturgy changes. But there is a whole other theme in Advent which we sometimes shy away from: namely the second coming of Christ.

It should be no surprise that we tend to forget this part of the story, but it’s unfortunate nonetheless. We in the Christian mainstream have basically ceded this topic to fundamentalists, and that’s too bad, because there is a great deal of hope to be found in scripture’s account of the second advent of Christ. It’s not just weird, scary stuff.
Remember that seeming;y scary passage from the Gospel reading with which I opened the sermon: the nations are in perplexity, people are fainting with fear, the seas roar, and the heavens shake? Here’s what comes next.
And then they will see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, look up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.

We get caught up in the nasty bits and we forget that the Gospel is Good News. We forget that it’s not about God inflicting turmoil on the world, but about God coming to us in the midst of turmoil and, through Jesus Christ, setting all things right.

What our Lord is on about in this morning’s Gospel is that when things seem to be absolutely as horrible as they can possibly be, God is there ready to step in and establish justice and peace, to bring about the Kingdom of God. Our Old Testament lesson from Jeremiah is about the same thing. Prior to the lesson we hears, Jeremiah speaks of the desolation of Israel and Judah, but it ends up in what we heard this morning- the fulfillment of the promise and justice and righteousness abounding in the land.

We do pray for this every week for heaven’s sake: thy kingdom come. We pray for it because it’s a good thing. Please permit me to take a liberty and just suggest that there are some things not worth worrying about (if I explained why in detail it would take longer than anybody here wants to listen to a sermon), and perhaps we can delve into it more during an adult Sunday School session or something: Don’t worry about some people getting raptured up and others left behind. Some very poor biblical scholars basically invented that idea in the nineteenth century. Don’t worry about the wrath of God coming down to give you your just deserts for saying a cross word to your kid or accidently swallowing your toothpaste before Mass. This religion we’re a part of is about grace, not judgment. Don’t worry too much about the whole world going to hell in a handbasket (unless you’re specifically worrying about premature Christmas decorations, I guess). I don’t mean to say “don’t worry at all” or “don’t work to make it better.” That is certainly our call. Even so, scripture promises that just when things seem most bleack, God is near at hand. God will, at the end of days, come and sets thing right.

So, that’s really the upshot, here. Don’t freak out. “Keep calm and carry on” as that old English poster from the Second World War put it (there’s one in my office and it inspires me frequently). God is on our side. God will keep us safe. God will establish a kingdom without end. Watch for it and pray for it.

+In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.