1 Advent December 3, 2017 Saint Peter and Saint William Churches in Naples, FL
Isaiah 63, 16-17, 19; 64, 2-7 + Psalm 80 + 1 Corinthians 1, 3-9 + Mark 13, 33-37
It took me a long time, as long as it takes to grow up, to figure out what Advent was really all about and what the church asks of us in this season. As a child, I always thought it was a bit odd, this pretending that Christ had not yet come; this long preparation for something that had already happened. Besides, in our house, the tree did not go up at Thanksgiving. We had to wait till the last candle of the Advent wreath was lit. It meant a lot of waiting during which we pretended that a baby was going to be born in Bethlehem, a baby whose story I already knew, and whose death and resurrection had already been celebrated in the spring. It was just all a lot of pretending, and I just didn’t get it for a long time.
Then as I began to listen to the readings of Advent, they became more and more familiar, and then year after year the cycle of those readings began to be less of a repetition of the same old thing and more of an invitation to get a little deeper into this mystery. Because, every year, the presence of God in my life was a little deeper and a little more real. Every year I began to notice how the presence of God was more obvious and more personal. Every year there were more stories I could tell about God’s presence being recognized in some experience of the previous year; and how the hand of God seemed more real and more dependable. There was just more to my life and to my faith than there was the year before. So, when I hear the words of Jesus in Mark’s Gospel today, I no longer hear a warning about the end times, but I hear an invitation to live in the present; to be attentive to the time at hand. I hope it is the same for you.
All of us live with a certain amount of denial. It might just be our chosen survival technique, and consequently, we get really good at postponing things. If that’s not our method, we get good at blaming, insisting that everything that is wrong or out of place in our lives is someone else’ fault. We are just innocent victims. We have made a science of escape, and because we deny and postpone, the future gets loaded down with the things we ought to do, should do, and will get around to one of these days. To this thinking, Mark’s Gospel says, “This is the day.” Now.
The best example of how we postpone or blame is our use of or our approach to confession. People living in denial do not have sins these days. In fact, they never use the word. Now, they have “issues”. Some may say that they have a “few rough edges”, but it’s all the same. It is denial. Denial will not allow us to call this what it is, sin. In fact, the first thing people in denial will deny is that they are in denial. When the denial gets to be too much, then we shift to postponement which is a lot easier than repentance, because repentance requires change. In the midst of this mess, our best hope is that sooner or later, if we live long enough, another Advent will come around with its real message, and maybe this year we will “get it.”
The theme of Advent is not “let’s pretend”. It is “get real.” Now. Advent suggest that we live in the present, not in a future too crowded with the stuff we have postponed. For most of us that the future would never be long enough to get all the stuff done we have panned for it. Advent really insists that we get real and live today with the truth of God’s presence in our lives and in this world. It’s not about something yet to come. This Advent is an opportunity to once again experience the Word of God taking flesh in us today. Having allowed God such profound and real entry into our lives, we may find ourselves giving birth the Word of God in our world, in our families, and in the relationships, that still, because of God’s gifts bring us joy and offer us the promise of peace.
The sum of this Gospel today is really quite simple. Get real and live in the present, because today is all we can be assured of and the night is coming. That doesn’t have to a frightful warning. It is just a nice way of saying that we believe and have evidence in our own lives that God is faithful, merciful, patient, and just; or to put it even more simply, God is Good!