Sermon for First Sunday of Advent
Sunday, December 2, 2012
Luke 21:25-36 (click for link)
One day, as a child, I was mindlessly flipping through the television stations. And as I flipped, I came upon this program that was totally foreign to me. The program was in black and white, which was weird enough already, and it was about a family. There was the father who worked long hours at the office, but always managed to come home with his tie perfectly strung about his neck and his suit in pristine condition. There was the mother who stayed home and did the cooking and the cleaning and the housework. The family had two sons – one is a jock type who plays sports. The other, younger, son is am curious little boy.
I’m sure most of you know what I’m talking about now – it’s “Leave it to Beaver.” But when I watched this show in 1996, it may as well have taken place on the moon. My father hadn’t worn a suit to work in years. My mother worked outside the home. And our cars weren’t built like battleships. Things were a lot different.
At many levels, I think some of us would like to return to “Leave it to Beaver.” Perhaps things were simpler. Perhaps things made more sense. Many of us are sentimental for that past.
In my line of work, I receive a lot of questions. But one question always seems to come up: Father Jimmy – what is the biggest problem the church is facing today? And my gut tells me that they are expecting one of three answers.
They might expect me to say that the biggest problem facing the church today is money. But I really don’t think money is our biggest problem. The Church has been around for two thousand years, so money is not our biggest problem.
People then expect me to say that the biggest problem facing the church is sex! What do we say about it? What does it mean? But this is not a new issue for the Christian Church. When you look at I Corinthians, you see that Christians have been fighting about this since the beginning.
Okay – so maybe what we’re struggling with right now is doctrine. What exactly do we believe and what do we mean when we say God? But again, that’s not the church’s biggest problem. I’ll refer you again to the New Testament – all those ancient texts don’t even agree among themselves.
So our biggest problem isn’t money, sex, or theology. Then what is it?
The biggest problem facing the church today is sentimentality. I know you have heard me say this before, but it’s worth repeating. If there is one besetting sin of the Episcopal Church in 2012, it’s our nostalgia for the past. It’s our sentimentality. It’s our secret desire to recreate the world of Wally and the Beav – a world where Episcopalians held power and authority. We are stuck in our sentimentality and nostalgia for the past. There is a running joke among bishops and priests: “If the 1950s ever come back, the Episcopal Church will be ready.”
But I think we all know the truth. The 1950s are not coming back. The world of Ward, June, Wally, and Beaver is long gone. And for many of us, that is a world that we never even knew.
Now there is antidote for this complacency and sentimentality. There is a way for us to overcome our desire for the past and look boldly into the future. It is what we call ADVENT. This season in the church’s life is a God-given opportunity to look forward; to anticipate the coming of Christ when he completes his rule over this earth; and also to expect Christ to come fully into our hearts. Advent is not for sappy Christmas carols and sentimental “remember-whens.” This holy season is not about family and gifts and nostalgia. Advent should scare us – because Jesus Christ is coming.
Or think of what Jesus says: “Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day does not catch you unexpectedly like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”
Be on guard. Be alert. Start preparing for his arrival. And it is impossible to prepare yourselves for the coming of Christ if you’re stuck in the past. Advent is our wake up call. The cock is crowing. Jesus is rousing us out of slumber and preparing us for his most gracious coming.
There are a number of ways you can use Advent and prepare yourself for the coming of Jesus. You can make things right. There is probably that relationship in your life that needs some mending; somebody you’ve hurt, or somebody who has hurt you. Advent asks – So what are you waiting for? Pick up the phone and make the call. There is no time to delay. Christ is coming! Mend your relationships and you will see how that is Christ-like work.
Or there might be something you’ve always wanted to do or to try. So what are you waiting for? Advent is the time when you shouldn’t be weighed down with the worries of life, but can try a new thing in life. Do that new thing, there is no time to delay. Christ is coming! Look forward to something new and work with God to renew the world and yourself.
We must stop pining for 1953. We must learn how to proclaim the gospel for 2013. Don’t be sucked back into the world of anxiety and complacency and nostalgia and sentimentality. Those things will only cripple your spiritual life, as they have crippled the life of the church.
As you are shopping for Christmas gifts, remember that there is one true gift. It is the gift of Advent. These four weeks are for preparation and anticipation. Jesus tells us to “be on guard!” “Be alert!” Or as that great hymn says, “Sleepers awake!” Come out of the grog and the fog of sentimentality and begin looking forward to that great and terrible Day of the Lord.
Christ is coming. And when he comes, it won’t be with a crooning Bing Crosby. Jesus won’t be coming with mistletoe and stockings. The advent of Jesus into our world and into hearts will not be a sentimental arrival.
Jesus is coming with power and great glory. The heavens will shake, the stones will cry out, and every knee will bow. Jesus will come into our hearts and clear out the clutter – the sentimentality and the nostalgia and the complacency. And Jesus will put something new into our hearts – the very Kingdom of God.