HOMILY FOR THE FIRST SUNDAY IN ADVENT 2014 (B)
Isaiah 64:1-9; Psalm 80:1-7, 16-18;1 Corinthians 1:3-9; Mark 13:24-37
If we summarize the Gospel readings of the past three weeks, we see that forethought and preparedness for welcoming the arrival of the Lord are vital. While and until he comes, we are his stewards. We will be asked to give an account of what we have done with what is his when he returns. All things are his and he expects us to make good use of them and to multiply them. When he comes, the charitable, the compassionate, the generous and the loving will be welcomed into his kingdom. Not so the selfish or the hard of heart. We must be watchful, we must be diligent in his service, and we must love our neighbors.
This is the first Sunday of Advent. It marks the beginning of our liturgical year. Last Sunday was the last in Year A. This now is year B, and all our readings for this year will be those pertaining to that year. Still the themes that were broached during the last three weeks, the Day of the Lord in the Old Testament in which the faithlessness of Israel is punished and the coming of the Lord as the Bridegroom, as the Master, and as the Judge continue into today’s readings.
The reading today from the Book of Isaiah is written in the context of a people in exile in Babylon. The Temple of Solomon has been destroyed, and the Israelites scattered. The prophet longs for the day when the Lord will remember that his people are the clay that he, as the potter, formed and continues to form. The prophet reminds the Lord that we are his creation, sinful and lost though we may be, and asks that God not remember our iniquity forever. “Now consider, we are all your people”. It is as if God needs to be reminded that he is our maker and we are all his people.
The Psalm asks for the Lord to come and help us. “How long will you be angered despite the prayers of your people?” The Psalmist asks God to send the Messiah: “Let your hand be upon the man of your right hand, the son of man you have made so strong for yourself”. Recall that we followers of Jesus see the Son as being seated at the right hand of the Father.
Our Gospel repeats the theme of the last few weeks-the world will be shaken by apocalyptic catastrophes. In the midst of these the Son of Man will come to gather his elect from the four corners of the Earth. It may happen in the near term: “Truly I tell you this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. Were we to read no further, it sounds as if the coming of the Son of man will take place within the lifetime of his disciples. Then the statement is qualified: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away until all these things have taken place. But that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father”.
Almost two thousand years later we are still waiting for the Son of Man. Every year, someone decides that they know the exact day and hour when the Lord will return. So far they have all been wrong, sometimes comically, sometimes tragically. What we do affirm as members of the Anglican Communion is that the Lord Jesus will return, but we do not know the time when he will come. That said we long for a time when he will return, to put an end to the brokenness of our world and of our lives. We long for the suffering of humanity to end, for a cessation of weeping and mourning, for an end to death and destruction, for physical hunger to cease, for justice to be established, for the strong to cease oppressing the weak, for the sick to be healed and captives freed. If we pay attention to what is going on in this world, we realize how prevalent these wrongs are and how badly we need a liberator, a healer, a shepherd.
The longing we feel for the Messiah to come again should not lead you or me to wait passively, as if we were at a bus stop, or at an airport waiting for a flight delayed by weather. We are waiting, so let us wait actively. “It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch”. We know the master’s business. Scripture tells us what he wants from us.
In the master’s absence, shouldn’t we all be about his business? Shouldn’t we be taking care of the world that he has left in our charge? Shouldn’t we be looking after our neighbors? Shouldn’t we be helping the less fortunate? Shouldn’t we be active stewards of God’s creation? If the master has left on a journey, do we want him to return to possessions that have been dilapidated and despoiled? Brothers and sisters, the Lord is calling to each of us to do our share in preparing for His return, and that means much more than passively waiting. Think back on the Gospel proclamations of the past three weeks, as well as today’s. The Bridegroom we long for wants to find us prepared to light his way. The master who has journeyed far away wants to find that the wealth he has entrusted to us has been increased. The Son of man, as he separates us into two categories, sheep and goats will judge us by how successfully we have discerned him in the poor, the hungry, the afflicted, the sick, the prisoners, all those who cry out to us for help, for love. How successfully, how consistently do we recognize Jesus in those around us, and especially in those in need?
These may not be comfortable reflections for you. They aren’t for me. I don’t know how well I do in recognizing the Christ in those around me, and in responding to that Christ in them. What I do know is that this Advent season provides us with an opportunity to reflect on our lives and our relationships. I also know that the Advent season begins on somber notes as we are reminded of our failure to keep awake, to increase the spiritual wealth God has entrusted us with and to love Him as he manifests himself in others. These somber notes, we will see, bring us at the end of the Advent season to something joyful, which is the celebration of the Incarnation of God in the form of a new born infant, almost two thousand years ago, Because he came once already, we are not afraid to say “Maranatha”- Come Lord Jesus!, Come!
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