I hope you all had a happy Thanksgiving – or at least survived it. And if you journeyed out on Black Friday – I hope you survived that too and are not already totally overwhelmed by the Christmas sales, decorations and carols that have been roaring since Halloween!
It is a busy time – a very busy time. This is a very emotional time for many. Perhaps you made it through the first Thanksgiving without the loved one and are already wondering how it will feel on Christmas. Who will you be with? Or maybe you’re waiting for medical news.
While the airwaves and atmosphere are filled with joy and anticipation for the season – let’s be real – depression is enhanced, anxiety increases. This is a topsy-turvy, hard season.
It is so full, you can hardly breathe deeply.
Even this wonderful service – with its advent candle, Jesse Tree, communion – is so full. So let me keep this short and to the point: Ready or not – Jesus is coming.
As always with the first Sunday of Advent – the lectionary readings are disconcerting. You expect “Silent Night” and you get “It’s the End of the World as We Know it.” You want heavenly peace? You get earth and heaven all in pieces. Swept aside and left behind.
The context of this passage is the day before Jesus is betrayed and captured. This reading seems better suited for Holy Week leading to his crucifixion – and we get it on the first Sunday of Advent.
And yet anytime God comes, or shows herself – things get shaken up. Whether we are ready or not, birth and death – even when expected – come as a surprise. It changes your world.
TS Eliot, in his poem “The Journey of the Magi,” has one of the wise men express his shakiness after seeing the baby Jesus.
We returned to our places, these kingdoms,
But no longer in ease here, in the old dispensation
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.
In the midst all the busy-ness of life: just as in Noah’s day – we are eating and drinking, and marrying and giving in marriage, and buying and selling, watching football games, cooking and planning, and traveling, and eating and sleeping and working, and being friends, husbands and wives and parents and children, and teaching, and taking care of so much. How will we ever get ready?
And just as in Noah’s day, sooner or later the flood will come and knock you off balance and overwhelm and force you to swim to the surface or drown in all this madness.
Two women will be grinding meal, and two others will be in the field, doing whatever needs to be done – preparing meals, working – all the things we have to do – good things – doing what we do and being who we are….
One will grow exhausted and the other, well, will at least persevere and press on…. Not without some joy – but it gets tiring….
And who knows who gets the better deal – the one taken or the one left behind?
And what about self-care this Advent? Taking time to concern yourself with your own house, your own body… Half the time I am too tired to care who is breaking into my house – come on in and take it all – then I don’t have to worry about all the stuff.
And the call to have spiritual time in Advent is just one more thing to do.
And yet…into the madness, into your madness, or attempts at control – Jesus comes – anyway, Jesus comes. Doesn’t matter if you are prepared or not – Jesus comes. Doesn’t matter if you are tired or not – God is going to do what God is going to do. Doesn’t matter if you have lots of presents or none at all – if you didn’t get Uncle George that gift in time – doesn’t matter – Jesus is coming.
Depressed or happy, sick or well, Jesus comes.
Perhaps this thought alone – that it is NOT all up to you; that God will come when God will come – perhaps this will give you pause. Perhaps this alone will make you take a deep breath, or lift your eyes to see some beautiful ornament, or detect the smell of pine tar, or hear “O Holy Night” again for the first time. Ring the bell that can be rung and light the candle that can be lit. Prepare what you can prepare.
Whether you have a moment or not, Jesus comes.
God cannot be kept out. I hope that floods over you.
It is good that on this first Sunday of Advent we worship whether we like it or not, we are in the midst of a pause for praise. We will have communion together, whether or not this service feels too long, and we have to get on to the next thing – Browns are on at 1:00 p.m.
Jesus’ story reminds us again and again and again that at the vulnerable moments – like birth in a manger, like death on a cross, like the moments when we feel as if the world is ending – when we are most exposed: it is precisely these moments where God is most revealed.
So come forward and eat. You need it. As you walk forward up this aisle – breathe, look around, have a moment. You may not get another one.
My hope for you is this: as you plan and prepare, or as you simply let it come and flood over you – December 25th is on its way – I can feel the mixture of joy and anxiety rising even now.
But may there be one unexpected moment – you can’t plan for that – it will come or it won’t –
And may there be one serendipitous moment – when you pause and say “thank you!”
Thank you, Jesus, for coming anyway….ready….or not.