December 2, 2007 I Advent (RCL Year A) Isaiah 2: 1-5; Romans 13: 11-14; Psalm 122; Matthew 24: 36-44
First, to say to one and all this morning, Happy New Year!
--I know this seems to be jumping the gun as we live through our annual year-end holiday festivities. I haven’t even started my Christmas shopping yet, and of course with all the rich calendar of services and gatherings that we share through the season ahead. So I’m not really ready for champagne and Guy Lombardo and the festivities of midnight on Times Square quite yet. But in the unfolding of the calendar of our Church Year, we are reminded that today we turn a new page, a new beginning, on this First Advent Sunday.
The propers certainly ring out with some real sense of urgency. Paul in Romans, “the night is far gone, the day is near,” and then Jesus also in Matthew: “Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.” Which is as I get older a bit of the way I feel every new year. Ready or not, here it comes . . . .
This all happens of course in the context of the realities of our lives, and in the context of the great Biblical themes of judgment and accountability. The sound of the Last Trumpet, our Judge Eternal, Robed in Splendor, seated on his throne, a final assessment of the stewardship of this great gift we have received of our lives, by the One “unto whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid.” And as is always the case at the turning of the New Year, an appropriate time for this pause, to see where we are, with as much clarity and honesty as we can bring to the question, and where we need to go, and how we might get there. New Year’s Resolutions. January the first, or the First Sunday of Advent. At some point, anyway, that can be a helpful exercise.
Sometimes this all feels a little unsettling. Last Judgment. The idea of a hard deadline, a meeting that can’t be postponed, an e-mail that can’t be skipped-over. The lights on, and no place to hide. And I think that’s not an inappropriate set of feelings for Advent. If we’re not a little nervous, it’s probably because we haven’t fully appreciated our situation.
But at the same time, what I notice in these readings and what I would want for us to highlight in the midst of it all at this turning of the year, on this Advent Sunday, is how the Biblical witness even in the midst of this theme of God’s judgment can’t help but open the door as well and to communicate a sense of promise, of goodness, of God’s love and God’s kindness, God’s deep mercy. And in a world of hard edges and disappointments and broken promises, a world of war and rumors of war in so many parts of our lives, that is good news at the New Year. A breath of fresh air. Light in the darkness. In the words of the 18th century English poet Philip Doddridge, as we have them in our hymnal:
He comes, the broken heart to bind,
The bleeding soul to cure;
And with the treasures of his grace,
To enrich the humble poor.
So we get this wonderful passage from Isaiah, and look at it again: this vision of God’s judgment as an act of global healing and reconciliation, the far-flung warring nations of humanity flowing together and becoming a single river, to gather at God’s holy mountain. A vision of blessing, and of peace, swords into ploughshares and spears into pruning hooks.
And how perfect then to sing in the midst of these readings this wonderful pilgrimage psalm, Psalm 122, opening with those words of worship and praise overflowing, as we so often hear them in our morning service: I was glad when they said unto me, we will go into the house of the LORD. Which I hope is always true for you and for all of us.
It’s a song to be sung along the way, the people arriving on the festival day, standing after a long journey at last at the Temple in the holy city, and the images are of a world redeemed and restored. I was glad. The brokenness of our wounded and fragmented lives now approaching a transformed, new Jerusalem “at unity with itself.”
The ancient pilgrimage transformed, lifted up over time and space. And so I can’t help but be reminded of the vision of St. John at the end of The Revelation, in the 21st chapter: “And I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away, and there was no more sea. And I, John, saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain; for the former things are passed away. And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new.”
As we enter that vision, each of us in our own way, as we travel that journey to the great New Year of God’s presence and to claim our citizenship in the heavenly city, rejoicing as we draw near, may there be nothing but benediction in our hearts and on our lips--overflowing here, settling into us, and reaching out to the whole world: “peace be within your walls . . . quietness within your towers . . . I pray for your prosperity . . . I will seek to do you good.”
I think the message of Advent, the message of this morning, as we come to the Holy Table to be fed by Christ himself, as he gave and gives himself for us, and to be incorporated into his presence—the message is that God has good things in mind for us, and that he has created us to be good for each other and for the world, that we would receive his blessing and that we would be his blessing. It is all at once a gift, a commission, an invitation. He has made us with this fabulous potential. More than we could ever ask for or imagine. Advent. In Christ, the One who has come, who is here with us, and who will come again: Happy New Year.
give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness,
and put upon us the armor of light,
now in the time of this mortal life
in which thy Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility.