Monday, November 28, 2016

Watching for Hope: The Great Positive Possibility
A Sermon on Romans 13:11-14 and Matthew 24:36-44
For the Community of First Austin: a baptist community of faith
On November 27, 2016
The First Sunday of Advent

Incarnate God, we ask that you once again take the Word and transform it into a living and breathing reality we can all together experience. Be present here in this space and in these words God for if you are present here then nothing else will matter, but if you are not present here then nothing else will matter. In the name of the Creator, the Christ and the Comforter. 

Welcome to the season of Advent.

But to be honest: this is both good and bad news. The good news is that something is coming; there is a holy anticipation of what will be. It’s the time period one of our great theologians calls Great Positive Possibility.

But its bad news as well because it reminds us that we are waiting and waiting and waiting and waiting. Most of us are not good at waiting. We are ready for the carols and the egg nog and the shouts of Merry Christmas. Waiting is not our favorite pastime.

 Think of being on an airplane, when it lands those few moments of waiting to get off the plane: no one is moving, everything is super slow, and you feel like you are going to be there forever. These seem to be the longest minutes of my life (bc I am not good at waiting).

Actually, the airplane thought is not bad for the season of Advent and our season of life. Think of this as a long international flight. We have left the land where we once were: the land where we waited, longed, and looked for a coming Messiah. And we are on our way to a new destination: a land that has the fullness of Jesus Christ and his kingdom.

The problem is on this long flight, we don’t have one of those handy television screens on the back of our neighbor’s seats.  You know the one’s that tell you that you have 5,757 more miles to fly which amounts to about 8 hours, 12 minutes, and 32 seconds.

Instead, what we have is this knowledge that we are not where we are going yet, but we are getting closer and closer to it.  We are not where we once were, we are not where we will be, we simply are where we are.

We are in the now.

In Dante’s Divine Comedy, the sixth level of Inferno holds the heretics. The heretic’s punishment is that they are fully aware of the past, and know every detail of the future, and lack all understanding of the present. Think about that torment. There is no worse hell: all past and future, but no present. No now.

Advent is now.

Karl Barth writes that what we have is this moment….  “The present moment, this present time, is the high time for us to wake out of sleep. But what is this moment but a time- save a past or a future- that has been qualified by the now that is set in the midst of them.”

Pastor Barbra Brown Taylor calls Advent “the eternal now of God’s coming among us.”

Author Nora Gallagher writes that Advent is “a time period when Incarnation goes both ways- God not only enters into us, we enter into God, and neither of us will ever be the same again.”

So welcome to Advent….. it’s my favorite liturgical season (and I say that knowing only clergy have favorite liturgical seasons… this is what Abby calls preacher nerd talk and makes her roll her eyes). I love the candles, I love the theme of darkness and light, I love the history of it and I love the words that guide us throughout the advent season: hope, love, joy, peace and then Christ. It’s such a great season….

And then each year in that anticipation I open the lectionary and am quickly reminded that Advent begins with apocalyptic texts the first week and John the Baptist the second week. It’s as though we got together to plan a huge and really important family gathering- like a wedding, a big fancy wedding- and as we plan we decided that those who greeted us at the door to this celebration would be the crazy religious aunt and the drunk political uncle. Instead of hiding them in the corner of the room, we put them up front.

You walk into Advent and you find the uncle who wants to talk to you about the End Times and he just loves the Late Great Planet Earth and the entire Left Behind series, Kirk Cameron movies very much included. And then as soon as that conversation is done there stands your super religious aunt who watches a lot of religious television, sends money to evangelist and whose favorite words are sin and repent.

And welcome to Advent.

A season of short days and long nights. Which is exactly where Paul begins his text… It’s the middle of the night and the blankets are perfectly snug around you and the pillow is perfect because you just flipped it to the cold side and everyone is tucked away soundly and safely and the dog is asleep at your feet and you are just about the get to the deep REM cycle where you can freely dream.. it’s that comfortable place that you long for the minute your alarm clock goes off… and Paul takes us to that place in our text this morning and then the becomes a human alarm clock.

“Wake up! Christ is closer today than he was yesterday and it’s time for you to get out of bed and get moving! Salvation is nearer today than it was yesterday or the day before. The dawn will soon be here and that is the dawning of Christ. So get out of bed and take those pajamas off and put on your clothes because we need to be ready…. Hurry! Put on your clothes and coat and meet me outside we will wait and we will watch!”

In other words: be ready now.

And Paul is saying what Jesus has already said to us this morning too.

Jesus tells the story of a homeowner, a proud homeowner. It’s a woman who has worked years to buy her first home for her and her children. It’s their dream hose and it’s close to the best schools in town and she can already see that this is where she will raise her children and then her grandchildren. And she has filled it with antiques from her own family, precious items that tell a story and one night she is fast asleep in bed until she hears that sound everyone dreads hearing in the dark of the night, glass shattering and suddenly a thief is in her house and she was not ready for that . And then Jesus simply asks us “if you knew such a one was coming, would you go to sleep?”

Jesus compares the present day to the days of Noah where so many people were walking about with no idea of what was coming, when God took the world by surprise.

And Jesus continues and he gives us all these images of daily life- working in the fields, preparing the bread- when suddenly life has changed because one person vanishes into thin air.

In other words: be ready now.

And welcome to Advent.

Advent, our Christian new year, begins with a mystery…. And maybe that is fitting so we don’t get too comfortable and think we have it all figured out. Advent asks us to be ready, not to understand.

Our Advent season begins with the words: “Be ready for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.” Because he has already done it once before. So be ready now.

Advent is the season where we keep watch and it’s not about circling a date on a calendar or watching for the signs of the time or reading the newspaper with Revelation in the other hand trying to find parallels or listening to the endless false prophets who make a lot of money on predictions that they call prophesies. No this is not about that… this is about hope, the hope of the coming Christ.

And that hope begins now as we keep our eyes open and watch, that hope is what we are on vigil for…

And that hope begins now if we live into the hope of the day that is coming.

And that can be really hard to do. Especially when the world looks dark and everything is spinning out of control and you are tired and it’s been a long year. There are times where hope seems like an impossibility.

It was in the mid 80’s when Dan Quisenberry was a pitcher for the Royals and they were in a real slump… they had lost game after game after game and they were not pulling it together. During a press conference he offered the following words concerning the future of the Royals: “I’ve seen the future and it’s much like the present, only longer.”

I know that feeling, we all know that feeling because it’s crept up in our lives from time to time. And sometimes it’s just there for a moment or a few days, but other times it comes into our lives and makes itself at home and sticks around for a season or a year. It’s the hopelessness that things will never get better. Life can feel like that. Church can feel like that. Politics can feel like that. Your walk with God can feel like that. Our very souls can feel like that.

And on those days we have to hold onto this: hopelessness is a lie.

It is one of sports greatest moments. It was the1988 Dodgers- Oakland A’s series- game one. The batter’s name is Kirk Gibson who was pinch-hitting for the Dodgers. Gibson was not supposed to play this game; he had injured both legs at a previous game and had a stomach bug. In fact, much of the game he is not even in the dugout with his team. In the 9th inning, the Dodgers have someone on first and 2 outs. The coach took a chance and puts Gibson at bat.  Gibson hits a homerun- winning the game. Many believe this homerun is the momentum shift that the Dodgers needed to win the series that most believed would be an A’s sweep.

This has become a fairly well known clip because of what happens in the parking lot at the time of the homerun. If you pay close attention, you see taillights go on, people who had left the game early, probably to beat the traffic, thinking the game was over and the A’s had won. They leave early, but like all of us turn the game on in the radio as they leave the ball park. And of course they miss what will amount to one of the greatest plays in baseball history. All because they thought they knew what was going to happen and they left the game early. All because they were hopeless.

And on those days we have to hold onto this: hopelessness is a lie and we know that because we know what’s up at bat last- hope, love, joy, peace and Christ… they bat last. And our hope is that promise.

So may we be a people that live that hope.

Because the world needs us to hold that hope.

Because as our beloved Suzii Paynter reminded us two weeks ago when we were in the midst of the Texas Baptist expulsion: “We are born into this time- and God is asking something of us.”

So may we wake up… and may we keep watch, to be on vigil… and may we live into our hope…. And may we see stars lighting up the darkness because the light is coming.

And it’s nearer now than it was just a few seconds ago… Amen and Amen.


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