How Do We Live in This Time of Waiting?
Homily by The Rev. Marcia McRae
St. John’s Episcopal Church, Bainbridge, GA; 1 Advent, 1 Dec. 2013
Year A RCL: Isaiah 2:1-5; Psalm 122; Romans 13:11-14; Matthew 24:36-44
Something is different here today: We see purple candles, purple hangings & vestments, so we know this Sunday is different from recent Sundays when we have had fewer candles & green accoutrements.
With our color-coded worship,1 even if we lose track of time, we have visual cues in church to remind us of the season of the year. Today we mark the 1st Sunday in Advent. Advent is our annual countdown to Christmas and the start of the new church year2.
So: Happy New Church Year!
Like any new year, Advent gives us a chance to reflect on the past, anticipate the future, and make a resolution for change. Most of us make well-intentioned resolutions for the new year that may last a bit of time. When we forget or fail to follow through, we can get discouraged and drop our failed plan.
When we decide to do something different, something new, we can be more successful if we give ourselves room to experience the change: do it for a while, then reflect on it.
What worked? What didn't? Why?
How can we adjust it as we do it again but differently?
So we do it, we reflect on it,
& we do it anew.
So you want things clean & presentable, right?
What is something to do differently this year in Advent & Christmas & beyond that will help us to grow closer to Jesus? What will help you to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ”? as St. Paul writes to the Romans.
Advent's purple color reminds us of the purple we use in Lent, the season of penitence3. It is good to be reminded that we have aspects of our lives that we can improve & may need to confess to God to ask forgiveness.
This can help us do something differently
& live in a new way.
Advent's purple is a royal color4 that reminds us Christ the King will come again.
Jesus tells us in our Gospel: the day & hour will come unexpectedly, like a thief in the night.
What an interesting contrast Jesus gives us:
he will come like a thief in the night!
Jesus says, a person who stays awake can prevent a thief from breaking into the house. When Jesus comes, I want to welcome him into my house. If I am asleep, I hope he breaks in & wakes me up!
Advent gives us time to consider the future.
- What can we do that will make God's kingdom of peace more accessible to others?
- What can we do – where we are – to reach out as Jesus' hands & heart to individuals who do not know Jesus?
- What can we do to help people beat swords into plowshares? To help them learn violence – & war – no more?
- How long does it take people to learn something? How long does it take us to unlearn an old habit? How can we learn to live in peace?
According to the Jewish Study Bible, Jeremiah “does not imagine a future without borders or distinct nationalities.”5 “International conflicts will still occur, but nations will no longer resolve them through warfare. Instead, nations will submit to the arbitration at Mount Zion. The Temple will become the headquarters of a divine Security Council with the membership of one [that one being God!] & (with) unsurpassed ability to ensure compliance.”6
God will ensure the peace that surpasses all understanding.
How long will this take? We do not know. As author Luke Timothy Johnson says:
“God's time seems long to us.”7
We are like children waiting for Christmas: it takes so long!
As we have pondered here recently, our perspective of time is so different from God's. I remember a perspective on time in a favorite book of mine, Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar...8 (& I adjust the text in parts)
A person prays to God: “I would like to ask you a question.”
God says, “Go ahead.” The human says,
“Is it true that a million years to you are but a second?”
God says: “Yes, that is true.”
The person asks:
“Well, what is a million dollars to you?”
God says: “A million dollars to me is but a penny.”
“Ah, Lord,” the person says, “may I have a penny?” God replies:
“Sure! Just a second.”
God lives in eternity. We live in clock-watching time. We can get impatient & confused when things don't happen with the timing we expect.
Right now we live in Advent that gives us time to prepare for Christmas & anticipate Jesus' coming again in God's good & perfect time.
In perfect time, we will see the fulfillment of what Isaiah tells us of the time of peace:
we will see peace in its fullest sense –
justice, absence of war.
Advent offers us time to pace ourselves differently. We can slow the hectic pace of this season with simple things, like making time for a brief reflection on scripture & a quiet time to pray to God.
Whether you live alone or with family,
this can be a gift to yourself.
Many of us use an Advent wreath to help us focus on a daily time-out. Lighting the Advent wreath candles gives us specific time to thank God.
In this time we can take time for a much-needed deep breath to slow our hectic pace.
This helps us make room for peace
in our hearts & minds.
With peaceful hearts & minds, we can be more attuned to the needs around us. Needs can be simple. We may give a smile or kind word to a harried store clerk or offer a hectic shopper to move ahead of us in the check-out line.
Jesus says: My Beloved Brother, My Beloved Sister, when you do this for the one of the least of these, you do this for me.
Can you give Jesus that much-needed smile or kind word?
Can you let Jesus break in line in front of you?
Cathcart, Thomas. Daniel Klein. Plato and a Platpus Walk into a Bar...:Understanding Philosophy Through Jokes. New York: Books. The Penguin Group. 2007.
English, June A. Anglican Young People's Dictionary. Harrisburg: Morehouse Publishing. 2004.
The Episcopal Handbook. Church Publishing. New York: Morehouse Publishing. 2008.
Holy Bible with the Apocrypha. New Revised Standard Version. New York: Oxford University Press. 1989.
Jewish Study Bible: Jewish Publication Society TANAKH Translation. New York: Oxford University Press. 2004.
Johnson, Luke Timothy. The Creed: What Christians Believe and Why It Matters. New York: Doubleday. 2003.
Lectionary Page. http://www.lectionarypage.net/. Accessed: 20 Nov. 2013. Publications. 2007..
Levenson, Jon D. Sinai & Zion: An Entry into the Jewish Bible. Minneapolis: A Seabury Book. Winston Press. 1985.
The New American Bible for Catholics. South Bend: Greenlawn Press. 1970.
New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocrypha. Eds.: Herbert G. May, Bruce M. Metzger. New York: Oxford University Press, Incorporated, 1977.
Wall, John. N. A Dictionary for Episcopalians. Chicago: Cowley Publications Book. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc. 2000.
1 The Episcopal Handbook. Church Publishing. New York: Morehouse Publishing. 2008. P. 51.
3 Wall, John. N. A Dictionary for Episcopalians. Chicago: Cowley Publications Book. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc. 2000. P. 2.
4 English, June A. Anglican Young People's Dictionary. Harrisburg: Morehouse Publishing. 2004. P. 2.
5 Jewish Study Bible: Jewish Publication Society TANAKH Translation. New York: Oxford University Press. 2004. P. 788.
7 Johnson, Luke Timothy. The Creed: What Christians Believe and Why It Matters. New York: Doubleday. 2003. P. 501.
8 Cathcart, Thomas. Daniel Klein. Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar... P. 173. Note: I have paraphrased parts.
9 The New American Bible for Catholics. South Bend: Greenlawn Press. 1970. P. 622.