Saturday, November 30, 2013

Sermon Advent I December 1, 2013 Romans 13:11-14, Matthew 24:36-44 “To-Do or What-If”

Okay, here’s my nightmare: it’s Sunday morning. I open my eyes. Oddly, I can see light peeking through the curtains. That shouldn’t be. It’s winter. I’m supposed to be up in the early morning darkness. I look at the clock, and it says 9:55 a.m. I’ve missed the 8:15 service, and Adult Forum, and I’ve got to hustle or I will miss the 10:30. I look at the alarm clock, and it is obvious that I forgot to turn on the alarm before I went to sleep the night before.

A missed alarm clock…worst nightmare ever.

Have you ever had that experience? When you have such a nightmare, you wake up with your heart pounding in your chest, in a cold sweat, thinking “It’s just a nightmare, it’s just a nightmare, it’s just a nightmare.”

In some ways, it’s scarier than the dream about falling, or the dream about being chased by bears, or the dream about having to speak in front of a group and not knowing what you’re supposed to talk about, because this nightmare is so very, very possible. We COULD sleep through the alarm clock, either because we forgot to set it or because we were so deeply asleep that we didn’t even hear it. 

We’re terrified of missing something, of sleeping through it, of being caught in the act of not being present to something…

…and the first Sunday of Advent is all about being present to the big thing that is coming.

Look at the passage from the gospel of Matthew, which is all about being ready for the coming of the Son of Man. We do not know the day. We do not know the hour. All we know is that he is coming, and we had better be paying attention. We had better be prepared for his arrival.

That calls for an alarm clock. But how do you set your alarm clock if you don’t know the day or the hour?
You can’t. Your only option is to stay awake and aware continually, so you don’t miss his arrival.

Hmmm…can I stay awake nonstop between now and Christmas Eve?

Somehow I doubt it. Well, maybe the apostle Paul will have some good advice for me – the Letter to the Romans is one of his most impressive pastoral instruction manuals. What does Paul say?

He says things that are pretty much as unhelpful as the gospel.

First he says that the time is near. Okay, that narrows down how long I have to stay awake, sort of. Then he gives me the most useless instructions possible. Don’t party. Don’t argue. Don’t do all the things that are part of every single family and office party that the month of December can deliver. Live in the light. Put on the armor of light. And all this as we approach the time of the year when the days are the shortest and the mantle of darkness extends from when I wake up until before supper. Light…where am I to find some light?

And armor of light? I wonder if armor of light comes in my size. What will they say when I show up at the office Christmas party dressed in it? Will someone say “Buzzkill” or maybe, “There she goes again, getting all religious on us when all we want is to have a good time.”

How do I take all this “get ready” business and fit it into the crazy season that bombards me with “Holly Jolly Christmas” and “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” playing in every store I enter, even Home Depot? 
Doesn’t the Lord know I’ve got a lot of work to do before December 25th?
But what is December 25th all about? Is it about the gift list and the Tacky Lights tour and the two thousand cookies and the cards and the Christmas letter and the travel arrangements and the tree? Is it about the ticking of the clock, that alarm clock, that reminds me that I haven’t gotten halfway through my list yet and everyone knows you’ve got to mail gifts by December 15th?

Or is it about moving into a different kind of time, hearing a different clock ticking? Is it about understanding that a different kind of wake-up call is awaiting me?

Is it about recognizing that, even as we await the coming of Jesus Christ, both in the nativity story and in the promise of Jesus’ second coming, that each and every moment, even the darkest ones, are pregnant with possibility? All this talk about “stay awake, keep aware” is it not just about the Christ, but about the chance that we may encounter Christ and live into our relationship with Christ each and every day?

Yes, we are waiting for Christmas. Yes, we are awaiting Jesus’ second coming, about which Paul and his followers exchanged letters. Yes, we know that momentous things will happen that have been written about and prophesied in Scripture.

But we are also charged with staying awake and keeping aware that glimmers of glory moments are all around us in every moment.

It may be rainy and sleeting and cold some days. It may be a time when we miss those who are far from us. It may be a day when the deep ache of a chronic illness, or simple old age, makes us think that there is no longer any good purpose to our life.

But if we keep our eyes sharp and our hearts open, those glimmers of glory moments flicker across the night sky of our souls.

Over the past couple of weeks or so, there has been a lot of talk in the news about a comet, named ISON, that is enormous and has the potential of coming near our planet, with all sorts of dangerous consequences. Astronomers have been having a field day with their computers, calculating when and where it might pass near earth. But before it was to come in our direction, it  was supposed to take a pass near the sun.

Now, the other day it took that solar pass, and after it rounded back into our astronomers’ view, they were quite convinced that it had been destroyed by the heat of the sun. All they saw was a trail of dust…

…until the moment that they determined that comet ISON didn’t burn up, at least not all the way. There is still some of it left, and it’s brightening and moving along quite smartly.

Projected path of comet ISON
Of course, the media focuses on what is gone from it, how much smaller it appears after its near-death experience on the far side of the sun. And yet it still glows, and streaks across the sky. It may yet head in this direction, a glimmer of glory that we would have to look even harder to see in the darkness of space.

But hear the words of astronomer Karl Battams:  "From the beginning, ISON has confused, surprised and amazed us, and in hindsight its latest little escapade really should not shock us. Nonetheless, this has been one of the most extraordinary comets we have ever encountered, and just goes to reiterate how beautiful, dynamic and exciting our universe is."

There are glimmers of glory moments around us if we look hard enough. In the smile of a grandchild. In a hug. In the relief found after pain medication is administered. In a phone call from an estranged family member. In the possibilities, the infinite possibilities, that God lays before each day, if we stay awake and pay attention…even the possibility that God would come to live among us as the tiniest of babies in a remote town half a world away, and that our lives would be forever changed by that birth.

Our God is a God of possibilities, of a million “what-ifs.”

With that in mind, put down the to-do list. Think of God’s “what-if” list…what if the world were peaceful? What if we loved our neighbors, all of them? What if no child was hungry or cold? What if no gunshots marred the still night sky? What if we were truly transformed by the child to come? What if we stayed awake with or without the alarm clock’s insistent ring and were aware of that glimmer in the sky…a comet…a star…a baby’s cry? What if?


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