Today is the first Sunday in Advent. Here we are, on this first Sunday, caught between what has been and what will yet be. The first of Advent is always like that – we look back and we look forward. We begin preparing for the first coming of the Christ-child. And we continue to prepare for the second coming of the King in his glory. And… we bake cookies, decorate the house, host parties, go to parties, buy gifts for all those who are dear to us and for some who are not so dear.
In all of our activity, it’s easy to lose sight of what this season is all about – preparation for the advent, the coming of the Christ. Preparation for the coming of Christ, not through cleaning and baking and buying. Preparation through keeping awake to what God is doing in the world. Preparation through making room in our lives for God to work in us and through us.
Jesus knew how easy it would be for his disciples to get sidetracked – sometimes I think the term ‘attention deficit’ is just another term for ‘human being.’ We are easily distracted from the important by the immediate. We are easily distracted from hard work by fun. We get lulled to sleep by the routine of life and we forget to keep our eyes peeled – watching and waiting for God’s future.
Now that we’re in Advent, we have also entered a new liturgical year. So our gospel readings move from Matthew into Mark. Mark’s gospel is the shortest of the gospels. His is the most direct – the least descriptive of the four. In Mark, things are always happening, always moving. But Mark isn’t the only gospeller to include Jesus’ warning that we should keep awake, keep working for the kingdom. We just ended our study of Matthew’s gospel with the last three parables Matthew records which are all on the same topic – living faithfully while awaiting Christ’s return. We enter our readings from Mark at about the same place in the story – very near the end of Jesus’ life, again where Jesus is preparing his disciples to live without him.
So how should we enter into Advent? How can we live into the command to ‘keep awake’ this year?
It will take some discipline, but here are my suggestions:
First, tune out the crazy.
Tune out the crazy because this year, as in almost every year but it seems worse this year, the world is chaotic and contradictory. What should we do about Korea? Or Syria? Should we be arming the Kurds? What should we do about the racial divide in our country? What should we do about the increasing separation between rich and poor? How many people are coming for Christmas? Do we have enough saved for retirement? Will the kids be okay? The news continues to tell us that the middle class is shrinking and more people are going to lose their health care, while at the same time the newspapers and television and radio are full of ads telling us to buy, buy, buy… It’s just too much. And we don’t have to listen. Tune it out. Let it go.
Second, let go of what has been. 2017 has been a year of loss in many different ways for many of us. Maybe you, like me, lost someone you love. Maybe your finances are not what you need them to be. Maybe your health is not what you hoped it would be. Maybe your relationships are not what you had hoped. Whatever the sorrows and losses and disappointments of this last year have been – let them go. Give those losses, those hurts and disappointments to God. God can take what we’ve lost and redeem it. God can take what we’ve lost and bring new life.
2018 will not be the same as 2017. We know for sure that there will be someone new sitting in the office – we don’t yet know who that will be, but we know Karen is retiring. You may love the changes. You may hate the changes. You may love some and hate others – what’s guaranteed is that there will be change. So begin now to let this version of St. David’s go. New life only comes through the death of the old. God will take what we’ve lost and redeem it. God will take what we’ve lost and bring new life.
Tune out the crazy. Let go of what has been.
Last, we must wait patiently for our redemption. The Christ-child will be born, whether we’ve completed everything on our to-do list or not. How much better for us to prepare our hearts and lives for God’s indwelling rather than the distractions of clean houses and perfect gifts. I KNOW the to-do lists are important – my own is long and I DO want to clean and bake and decorate and give good gifts. But the most important work we can do this season is not found on that long to-do list. The most important work we can do is to remember that God longs to dwell in us, longs for deepened relationship with us. Every Advent, every Christmas, God waits for us to make more space in our hearts and minds for our relationship with him. God longs to take our burdens and set our hearts free. God can only live and breathe and work in us to the extent that we allow God into our lives. Our patient waiting involves listening to God’s voice, making room for the Spirit by stilling our own spirits, slowing down the busyness of our lives so that God’s stillness can heal us.
Tune out the crazy. Let go of what has been. Wait patiently for our redemption. When we feel the anxiety and tension rising, let’s take a deep breath. The most important work we can do this season is to listen for God’s voice, make room for God’s Spirit, and allow God’s stillness to heal us. Then Christ will be born anew in us and everything else will take care of itself. Amen.