Christ Church on the Common

The Episcopal Church in Gardiner, Maine

Advent 1

Advent 1

December 1, 2019

Christ Church Gardiner

 

This season of the year, these pre-Christmas days, are one of those times when the Church and the culture all around us clashes.  Because for the Church, it is most definitely NOT Christmas yet.  Despite all the Christmas carols you hear being blasted in the stores and on your radio and probably from that smart speaker in your kitchen.  Despite the lights going up all around us and the cars we see heading home with trees strapped to their roofs.  Despite all these glaring signs of Christmas, the Church Calendar insists that Christmas will not begin until sunset on December 24th.

 

The season we dwell in now is Advent.  We begin a new church year on this day.  The word “advent” means coming, and during this season, we await the first coming of Jesus at his birth and the second coming when Jesus will return and bring all things to their perfection, as the story goes.  This time of year when we spend much of our days in darkness, when the air gets brisk and cold and the snow flies–sending us searching for places of warmth and light…during these days, we set about preparing our hearts for the coming of Jesus.

 

We prepare because this is not a season in which we simply recall that past event–the birth of Jesus.  This is a time when we also look to the present and future.  We prepare even though we don’t know when Jesus will come again and when the Kingdom of God will break through.  We prepare by asking these questions:

  1. What can we do as the Church, Christ’s body here on earth, to welcome God’s reign of justice?
  2. What can we do as individuals to reorder our lives in the light of God’s love?
  3. What would it mean to live as a people who believe in Jesus as the Savior of all the earth and who expect him to come again at the fulfillment of time? (From Daily Prayer for All Seasons)

 

I invite you during this season of Advent to turn your hearts to these questions—to make time for them in the midst of these frenzied days. Some particularly observant Christians won’t even decorate their homes or put up their Christmas trees until December 24. For most of us, that’s not a realistic option.  My kids would rebel if I insisted we wait until Christmas Eve to put up their favorite decorations and the tree.

 

But without ignoring all of Christmas that is happening around us, there are ways to carve out a little time and space to reflect upon these Advent questions.  One way to do this is with an Advent wreath like the one we lit here in the church this morning.  The Advent wreath has been used by Christians for centuries to mark this time of year. It is typically made out of a circle of evergreens to signify God’s love that is unending and everlasting.   There are many traditions for the colors and names of the Advent candles.  Some use Hope, Love, Joy and Peace.  Others prefer Prophesy, Bethlehem, Shepherds, and Angels. Our family tradition is to call the candles Promise, Light, Love, and Hope.

 

But whatever we choose to name those four candles corresponding with the four Sundays of Advent, we shouldn’t allow what they represent to become domesticated and tame.   The themes of our lectionary readings for this season are radical.  There is nothing sweet and sentimental about them as we just heard from Isaiah’s prophesy, Paul’s letter to the Romans, or Matthew’s interpretation of the preaching of Jesus.

 

Our readings today, while they may sound frightening and apocalyptic, help us to draw nearer to the mystery of what Jesus meant when he promised to come again.  When he promised the reign of God would someday break through into the broken world that we all know.

 

Each of these readings offers a bit of insight into the mystery of this Advent Season.

 

Isaiah’s prophesy is the oldest of the texts, so let’s start with that one.  Isaiah’s time was more than seven hundred years before the birth of Jesus, but he offered a vision for the faithful that is timeless.  The message he shared with his community after the fall of Jerusalem was powerful because it was both warning and promise. The people of Israel knew war, but Isaiah wanted them to see and experience his vision for peace—this extraordinary vision of nations putting down their weapons. A vision where the people of those nations would even beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.  They would transform their weapons into instruments of farming.  Something productive because farming feeds people. And Isaiah knew there could be no peace in the world if people were not fed.

The Advent insight we get from Isaiah is that we must have a vision of the world at peace.  We must be bold enough to imagine a world where weapons are transformed into things that grow those things that feed us, not our hatred for one another.

 

In Paul’s letter to the Romans, he had a vision for the kingdom to come, and he encouraged watchfulness in those communities awaiting that kingdom.  For Paul, there is a difference between watchfulness and anxiety.  Some Christians, past and present, have spent too much time worrying about whether they will be favored when God’s reign is ushered in or “left behind” as the popular book series of the 90’s warned. But Paul just wanted Christians to live the kind of lifestyle that took seriously the way Jesus had lived and the example he set before us.  To live in the light that Christ brought to the world…to be alert and ready for the dream of the world like the one imagined by Isaiah and proclaimed by Jesus.

 

By the time we get to the context of Matthew’s community, about fifty years after the death and resurrection of Jesus, disciples were likely growing weary waiting for that dream of the world, a new kingdom, that Jesus had proclaimed.  Matthew needed to reassure his community of followers that they were not waiting in vain.  In Matthew’s parables about this coming kingdom, the faithful aren’t waiting idly, but working up until the last minute.  Those faithful represent the first church.  And they, like us, have been transformed by the story of Jesus, and are invited to participate in the transformation of the world still in process instead of waiting passively for things to change.

This Advent season, we should hear Isaiah, Paul’s Letter to the Romans, and Matthew’s Gospel as an invitation to partner with Jesus in bringing about God’s reign here on earth.

 

To close today, I want to share a story with you that offers a vision of how the faithful can work to dream the dreams of Isaiah and transform the world in the here and now.

 

Located in western Mexico, Culiacán, has the highest rate of gun deaths in the country.  The artist, Pedro Reyes, spent time with the relatives of victims of the drug trade in that city and embarked on a project called Palas por Pistolas or “shovels for guns” to turn the city’s weapons into something more productive.

Reyes began by running ads to collect guns in exchange for coupons that could be used in local shops for appliances and electronics. In total, he collected 1,527 guns, which he publicly smashed with a steam roller, sent to a foundry to be melted, and then sent to a hardware factory to be forged into 1,527 shovel heads.

Since 2008, Reyes has been distributing the resulting shovels to art institutions and schools, where they are then used to plant trees.  Reyes believes that his project, “shows how an agent of death can become an agent of life.” (https://www.good.is/articles/artist-transforms-weapons-of-the-drug-war-to-plant-trees)

Has Reyes project completely ended gun deaths in Culiacan?  No.  But lives have been saved and a vision for peace has been shared.  Reyes dared to dream the dream of peace as envisioned by Isaiah.  He partners with God in working toward a new world.

Advent is all about a vision of a new world.  It’s about acknowledging the destructiveness of the world we inhabit. It’s about partnering with God in the “not yet” places.  It’s about holding those Advent questions in our hearts:

  1. What can we do as the Church, Christ’s body here on earth, to welcome God’s reign of justice?
  2. What can we do as individuals to reorder our lives in the light of God’s love?
  3. What would it mean to live as a people who believe in Jesus as the Savior of all the earth and who expect him to come again at the fulfillment of time?

 

Let’s embrace Advent this year before embracing Christmas. As we await anew Mary’s labor and the birth of Jesus, let’s embrace the laboring for new life to be born in us, in our congregation, and in the world.  Amen.

 

 

Christ Church – Gardiner, Maine | A member of The Episcopal Diocese of Maine, The Episcopal Church, and the Worldwide Anglican Communion