(Sermon from Sunday, December 3, 2023 – The First Sunday of Advent)
There is something incredibly promising about new beginnings: a new day, a new year, little babies with new life, new relationships, new jobs…each new beginning can be filled with a renewed sense of hope and excitement. We experience new-found energy and enthusiasm that propels us forward into the new venture.
Today is the first day of the new church year with all of the energy and promise of a new beginning. Today is also the first day of the Season of Advent; a time of waiting. And thus lies the dichotomy between energy and waiting.
The Season of Advent is a time of waiting on the coming of Christ: we reflect back upon the time the world waited for the Messiah’s first coming and we look forward in great anticipation as we wait for the Christ’s return. We live here in the “in-between” times: equipped with all of the wisdom of the past two thousand years, we look with great anticipation for His return.
When we reflect back on the gift of the birth of Christ and how His life, Passion and resurrection has changed the trajectory of our lives, we kneel in humble gratitude and dedicate our lives to following in His way; but we must be careful on how we think and speak of waiting for an event that has already happened in history. If we are not careful, we run the risk of reducing Jesus of Nazareth to a legend; a character in a well-loved folk tale.
Jesus of Nazareth was a man born at a certain point in time in history in a certain place. About 2,000 years ago, the man Jesus was born in a barn just outside the small village of Bethlehem, Israel which is located about 60 miles north east of the Gaza Strip. He grew-up and lived His life in ministry teaching, preaching and performing miracles. He was killed. He rose from the dead and ascended into heaven. Much of His life is documented in the four Gospel books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. He was a man. He was God. He was the long-awaited Messiah. His divinity, His resurrection, and His constant presence in our lives through His Holy Spirit does not make Him any less a real figure on the landscape of history. The birth of Jesus Christ is the greatest gift of all times, and the season of Christmas is the time of year dedicated to remembering that glorious event; the most glorious gift of all time.
The Season of Advent is also a time of waiting for Christ’s return, His Second Coming. It is a time of waiting…
Oh, The Waiting Place. In the children’s book by Dr. Suess, Oh the Places You Will Go, he writes about: “The Waiting Place”
“A most useless place…
The Waiting Place…
for people just waiting.
Waiting for a train to go
Or a bus to come, or a plane to go
Or the mail to come, or the rain to go
Or the phone to ring, or the snow to snow
Or waiting around for a Yes or No
Or waiting for their hair to grow.
Everyone is just waiting.
A most useless place and a most burdensome space is that place of passive waiting.
But all waiting is not the same. There are different types of waiting.
For example: Hunters will find it burdensome to wait for duck season or dear season to arrive because it is a kind of passive waiting. However, once the hunting season starts, the hunter does not find it so burdensome to sit in a cold, wet duck blind waiting for the birds to fly overhead or waiting in a dear stand for hours for the unsuspecting buck to meander by in perfect range. It is not burdensome because it is a different kind of waiting. It is a waiting that filled with great expectation and anticipation because something exciting can happen at any moment.
This is the kind of active, anticipatory waiting for which Jesus is speaking in our Gospel reading today: it is a kind of waiting that requires something of us.
As the New Liturgical Year gets underway and the Season of Advent begins, we can find ourselves in either the most useless of places…or…we can place ourselves in the most active of spaces.
Over the past several weeks, we have listened as Jesus has explained to what the Kingdom of Heaven can be likened and in all of those parables, there is a common thread: it is that doing, of active engagement – of preparing, of watchfulness, of vigilance.
In the parable of the ten bridesmaids, the kingdom of heaven is likened to those who kept their lanterns filled and the wicks trimmed so as to be ready when the bridegroom arrived. The lanterns of our hearts must also be kept constantly tended; meaning, we must fill our hearts with the proper fuel-oil so that Christ’s light can shine through us and out into the world.
As the New Church Year gets underway, it is a good time to engage in self-reflection on our spiritual lives and identify areas that need Christ’s healing touch.
“What needs to change in me, Lord, so that I can be a better disciple?
What sins are laying claim to my good health?
What resentments dwell in me that hinder my peace of mind?
What selfish, self-serving behaviors am I allowing to dominate my vision and influence how I live and engage in the world around me?
Am I willing to stand humble and bare before the Holy Spirit of God and confess my need of forgiveness; my need to be made new?
Am I willing to allow God through His Son Jesus Christ to change me?
Am I willing to ask and receive Christ’s healing touch?
What needs to change in me, Lord, and how can I follow You more closely and reflect You more completely?”
Do I believe and live my life reflecting the belief that God “tore open the heavens and came down” and by the power of the Holy Spirit became incarnate to save us; to save me from myself?
Do I believe and live my life in that belief that Christ ascended into heaven, is seated at the right hand of God and will come again in glory to judge all people and me?
Do I believe and do I live my life in such a way that I look for the resurrection of the dead and a life beyond this world; a life in the heavenly kingdom with the Christ child born so many years ago and who walks with me and who will come again for me?
More importantly than all of these, do I believe I am a beloved child of God; made in His image and worthy of His grace and mercy?
Do I believe Christ died and rose again for me because He loves me that much and longs for me to be with Him in heaven for all eternity?
When the voices of this world say I’m not good enough, do I allow His words to shape my identity and worth above everyone else’s voice?
“Come, Lord Jesus, come! Live in me, Lord, and I in You.” Is the song of praise we sing this time of year; as song hope and assurance that Christ walks with us in all spaces and all places.
May this New Year and this Season of Advent be a blessed time for all of us.
May our hearts be filled with gratitude for the gift of Christ’s birth so many years ago May we turn our faces towards Christ with great anticipation and that unending desire to be with Him – always believing we are His beloved children worthy of all He has to offer, always and forevermore.
6457 Quantico Road
Quantico, MD 21856
PO Box 92
Quantico, MD 21856