Sermon for the Fourth Sunday in Advent
St. John’s Church – Moultrie, GA
December 18, 2010
In less than a week the purple that we’ve become somewhat accustomed to over these past few weeks will be replaced with the white and gold of Christmas. The purple bows on the wreathes on our doors will be replaced with red ones, and our sanctuary will be adorned with the beautiful reds and greens of the poinsettias, and we will close our Christmas Eve service with the traditional singing of Silent Night in nothing but candlelight to anchor that theme from St. John, “and the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.”
This season of Advent is intended to help us remember that we are to be intentional about our waiting and expectation for what we will celebrate at the end of the week. We are to take the time to be still. We are not to be still and simply fall asleep, but to stay awake, to be ready, to have our lamps lit with a supply of oil in reserve, and wait.
What are we waiting for? What are we longing for? Have we done the very thing that the season has been calling us to do?
If you are anything like me, you’ve most likely gone through some of the motions, making sure that all of the details are in order for entertaining guests, or welcoming home children and grandchildren, or making sure that all of the requisite presents have been purchased, that the intentionality of the season has somehow slipped by. We’ll get to the week following Christmas, look back, and ask ourselves the yearly question, where did the time go?
At this time of year I’ll bet we’re all much more Martha than Mary than we’d like to admit. If I would suggest any shift in the lectionary it would be to hear the Martha and Mary story as a precursor to the Christmas season so that we might hear again those words of our Lord, “Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.”
We sang the traditional hymn of Advent a few minutes ago, O Come, O Come, Emmanuel. Emmanuel is the Hebrew word that literally means God with us. I love the fact that this hymn incorporates the words come with Emmanuel. If you think about it, it almost seems like an oxymoron of terms. If God is with us, he doesn’t actually need to come any more. We always talk about hot water heaters, but if you think about it, if the water is already hot, why does it need to be heated? Sorry, previous life digression!
Seriously though, if we are asking for God to come, why use the word that means God is with us?
Perhaps we need to think again about what it means for God to be with us. We know intellectually that God is always with us. He’s with us in the good times and in the bad. He’s always ready to hear our prayers, and like the loving father in the parable of the Two Lost Sons, he’s waiting to run out to greet us while we are still a great distance away. On the Twelfth Sunday after Trinity we pray, “Almighty and everlasting God, who art always more ready to hear than we to pray, and art wont to give more than either we desire or deserve.” Emmanuel is with us, but if we are going to bid him come again, we need to know what we are asking for.
In last Sunday’s edition of The Parish Paper, Fr. Dunbar makes a splendid point regarding what are to expect, what we long for, and the necessity to examine the posture of our heart to await the coming of Emmanuel.
It is no doubt comforting to think that God is there any time we might need him – a well-trained God who does not speak unless he is spoken to, and concierge God who stands ready to answer our call. But that is not the comfort that we have in Christ. Christ does not remain at a polite and safe distance from us, somewhere up in heaven, or in the past, or in Galilee. He does not hover politely in the background in case we want him…. He does not wait upon us to invite him in; no, he comes to us, he invades our space and time, and when he comes, he presents himself as Messiah, and with the authority of the Lord he marches into the Temple, takes charge, and starts cleaning house.
The question therefore is not whether or if he is going to come or not: he is coming. Nor is even the question when he is coming – for he is even now on his way. With every passing moment the hour of his advent draws ineluctably closer: “now is our salvation nearer than when we believed.” The only question is whether we are ready to receive him, and to hail him as the multitudes did: “Hosanna to the Son of David: Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord: hosanna in the highest.”
As I mentioned last Sunday morning, one of the themes of our Advent lessons is that they seemingly pass quite simply through Christmas, and don’t stop until they approach eternity. We must remember that the first Advent that we proclaim each year and the final Advent are joined together in a sacred union. Each day that passes brings us one day closer to our perfect reunification with Almighty God. St. John closes the book of Revelation with the pleading for our Lord Jesus to come quickly so that he and we might enjoy the bliss that awaits those who believe and call upon Jesus’ name.
So, are we ready for what we say we are waiting for? Have we called upon the Holy Spirit to help prepare a place for us to receive our Lord Jesus again? Have we done the difficult work of being a Mary, and sat patiently at the feet of Jesus and allow him to speak to us through His Word, or through listening to him in our prayers, or feeding upon him in the Blessed Sacrament, or in seeing him in the very things that we do in his name? Or has this season of Advent been one of Martha type living in which we’ve been so diligent in making sure everything was just right that we lost focus on why we were doing what we are doing in the first place?
If that is the case, do not despair, for we are a people whose very foundation is built upon hope. Take this remaining week of Advent, yes I know this is the busiest week of all, and do the intentional work of waiting and watching. Spend this week in prayer and fasting as we anticipate the glorious celebration of the first coming of our Lord with the longing that awaits his second Advent. And to quote Fr. Dunbar again in closing:
How shall we make ready for so great a guest – a guest who comes to claim his people as their Lord? In its essence, I think our readiness is a matter of desire: wanting him to come, as Christ and Lord, wanting him with everything you have and everything you are, everything you do and everything that happens to you. “The Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take of the water of life freely. Even so, [quickly] come, Lord Jesus.” Let this prayer be the desire of our hearts [this Advent], and the design of our lives.