December 3 sermon: Advent is about the Lord’s coming

Sunday, December 3, 2017
First Sunday of Advent

Isaiah 64:1-9; Mark 13:24-37

Maranatha, come Lord Jesus.

end is near Homer Simpson

This beginning, this Advent is a vivid shake it up time.


You may think you are going to settle in under the covers but no, they get thrown off before the heat kicks in and you are awakened with a jolt.


Good Morning, it’s Advent!!!


Advent is about the Lord’s coming.


Advent screams that God would tear up heaven for a major redo of the mess we have made of it, here on planet earth.


Many of us prefer a genteel and refined relationship with the divine, where God is at arms’ length doing whatever it is that God does, while we are, you know, coming to church once a week to do a little singing, drink a little coffee, nod at the person whose name we can’t remember but know what pew they belong to, then return to the confines of our homes for Sunday afternoon football or my favorite, the Sunday afternoon nap.


But in the last chapters of Mark, the new gospel for this new year in the church, the shortest gospel, the pithiest gospel, in this gospel, in the second to last chapter, in what is called the little apocalypse, day turns to night, the sky is a like a big snow globe that is shaken and now the stars are falling down, and then this human, no is it God?, breaks the proverbial fourth wall, and our lives and the lives of holy what?! are on a collision course to come together, soon and very soon….

The Fourth Wall

Get used to being thrown for a loop.  Get used to being on a religious roller coaster ride where just when you were thinking one thing, Jesus, or a prophet, like your mother, tells you to think again!


That great twentieth century mystic, philosopher, scientist, and priest Pierre Teilhard de Chardin once said that Expectation—anxious, collective and operative expectation of an end of the world, that is to say, of an issue for the world—that is perhaps the supreme Christian function and the most distinctive characteristic of our religion.

–quoted in An Advent Sourcebook, edited by Thomas J. O’Gorman (Chicago, Liturgy Training Publications, ©1988), p. 29.


To which he adds, “Except that if we admit we really don’t expect anything.”  We are either jaded or prefer to cocoon ourselves with insulation from what’s blaring from the outside.


The apocalyptic writings for Advent remind us, no they urge us, no they light a fire under us to recognize our fragile existence and the downward spiral that is fostered by those who defy God and those who usurp the moral and theological imperative to care and tend for the most vulnerable in our communities.


The Apocalypse is the lived experience of the helpless. The apocalypse means the end of the world as we know it, so the cry leveled by those at the end of their rope is raw, unabashed, offered from hospital beds and homeless shelters, from those with no work in sight, from those who don’t know if their children will have enough to eat today.


God couldn’t have come any sooner for Lila, she with the mop of hair, whom I knew somewhat as one of a multitude of parishioners new to me in my first call.


She seemed respectable enough, tall and stately, affable and part of the fabric of Epiphany Lutheran Church in a quiet Chicago suburb.


I knew that I could offer her a prayer at her hospital bedside, fulfilling my pastoral call honed during my years in seminary.


But what I didn’t know was that alcohol had poisoned Lila’s system, like a plague.  This was not going to be an easy visit with a hello, a reading, and a prayer.  No, this was Lila’s and my day of reckoning.  She was delirious and coming out of her skin.  Her thick locks were matted with sweat. She could no longer stand the body she was in, because she was in the throes of the DT’s, the detoxification of all the booze that her system had come to adjust itself to, which almost killed her.  Now the cure, drying out, was her own little apocalypse, and I, the young pastor at her bedside, had the same job as before only this time it was at its most urgent, critical. How to navigate God coming to half-crazed Lila?  Hold her hand for dear life!  Stroke her wet brow.  Be present to her as one who bears grace and mercy! Pray the scriptures like our lives depend on it:


We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth.

We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.

There is not one who calls on your name, or attempts to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have delivered us into the hand of our iniquity.

Yet, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of you hand. Do not be exceedingly angry, O Lord, and do not remember iniquity forever. Now, consider, we are all your people. (Isaiah 64:6-9).


Lila, hold on.  God, join her, and join me, and join everyone in grave trouble.  You are all we have now. 


My memory tells me that Lila did not make it long after her hospital ordeal. She taught me, this beloved of God in the throes of grave helplessness, that the Advent role of watching and waiting with others is of supreme importance.  Jumping into the fray with those embroiled in the apocalypse is the charge of the church.  Sometimes what we have is a hand to offer and scriptures to share.


It is a great gift to watch and to wait, together.  We may not know how great the gift is.  We do not know how much time we have together.


But the watching and the waiting are in hope.  Christ comes in promise, in the dark of night.  And his words: “Keep awake, keep alert” are also gifts, because someone you may not expect may just grab your hand for dear life in your time of need because they showed up, and they saw you.


In this Advent’s beginning, we hold onto hope as Jesus says “my words will not pass away.”  .  Hold on to Jesus first words in Mark: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near, repent, and believe in the good news.” (Mark 1:15)


Maranatha, come, Lord Jesus.

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