1 Advent, Year C
The Rev. R. Bingham Powell
Jeremiah 33:14-16; Psalm 25:1-9
1 Thessalonians 3:9-13; Luke 21:25-36
Happy New Year!
Now, after a greeting like that, you might be saying to yourself: Has Bingham totally lost it? In fog of sleepless nights raising that new baby, has Bingham completely forgotten what day it is? New Years isn’t for another month!! The short answer is: No. Today is the first day of the New Year. There are lots of New Years depending on which calendar you use. The standard western calendar starts on January 1st. The Chinese New Year is in late January or early February. The Jewish New Year is in September or October. And the Church New Year starts today, exactly four Sundays before Christmas, on the first Sunday of Advent.
Advent is a season of preparation: We are preparing our hearts and minds for Christ’s coming. There are three comings of Christ that we prepare for during Advent. The first coming we prepare for is Christ’s coming at Christmas. We prepare to remember and commemorate his birth 2000 years ago in the manger. We hang the greens, we put up the tree, we put out the crèche, we sing carols, and we buy gifts to share with one another. We prepare to celebrate the coming of the “righteous branch” as Jeremiah puts it this morning.
This first preparation for Christ’s coming looks backward, it looks to the past. The second coming of Christ we prepare for looks forward, it looks to the future when Christ will come again at the end of time. This one isn’t quite so popular with the world around us: nobody exchanges presents to celebrate this coming. Our Thessalonians reading talks about this coming when it mentions Christ coming with all the saints. And the Gospel of Luke talks about the wars and natural disasters that will occur before Christ returns on a cloud with great power and glory. How literal or metaphorical to take this coming has certainly the debate of the ages. Jesus says in the Gospel: “Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place.” And yet, that generation has passed away, forcing us to understand this passage more deeply. We do understand that there is some future-oriented sense in which Christ will reign, but the details, we leave to the future. Christ will come again in the mysterious fullness of God’s time, and we prepare for that second coming this Advent.
While our first preparation of Advent looks back, and our second preparation looks forward, our third and final preparation stays right here. Our final preparation is focused on this moment, the here and now, as we prepare for Christ to come into our hearts and minds today and every day. Be on guard, stay alert, don’t be caught unexpectantly, Jesus says in Luke’s Gospel. The conversation about Christ’s future coming in the mysterious fullness of God’s time leads us back to the present, back to this moment. The Gospel reading is usually understood to mean that the kingdom of heaven will eventually come, will eventually be near, but Christ had already told us earlier that it was near, that the kingdom was even among and within us. If we take Christ at his word, the disciples who originally heard those words must have experienced Christ’s coming again into their lives within their lifetime. Christ had returned again to them. And Christ returns again to us. Every day, we have the opportunity to welcome Christ into our lives. We do this by opening our hearts in love to God and to our neighbor. As Paul encourages the Thessalonians, and as Paul would encourage us, we welcome Christ by increasing and abounding in love for one another, and for all.
I see that love abounding all the time around here. One of the many joys of my job is that I get to spend a lot of time here at St. Mary’s and with the people of St. May’s, so I get the privilege of seeing hearts open every day. I see that love abounding in the freezer full of turkeys a few weeks ago to help feed the hungry this Christmas, and in the Ho! Ho! Ho! stockings getting filled to make a child’s Christmas a little more joyful. I see that love abounding in people caring for a sick friend, either at home when hospice comes or in a medical emergency that lands someone in the hospital, and in the stitches knit into the prayer shawls, and into the hats and scarves to send to Lillian Vallely School. I see that love abounding in meals served at Saturday Breakfast, and in hospitality extended to our guests at the Interfaith Family Shelter. I see that love abound every day. People are opening their hearts in love every day.
It is traditional on New Years, at least for the secular January 1st one, to make resolutions, ways that we can improve ourselves in the coming year. Perhaps, we should, too, for this New Years. Advent is the perfect time. We can resolve ourselves to welcome Christ in all of his comings. We can resolve ourselves to open our hearts to the love of God, and share that love with one another. We can resolve ourselves to be Christ to this world, by bringing his kindess, love, mercy, grace, and joy, to all of the hurting places that we find.
My sisters and brothers in Christ, I encourage you to live fully into your role as a member of the Body of Christ, opening your heart in love, and shining forth the love and light of Christ into this world. Amen.