Updated: Jan 30
The season of Pentecost is now over. We begin the season of Advent today, with Advent recognized as the first season of each liturgical year.
We just finished Year A, so now we begin Year B.
So, HAPPY NEW YEAR!
Sorry there is no big ball to drop or no white squirrels to toss confetti about; but we do have the Gospel of Mark!
The Advent season takes us up to Christmas, and begins after Thanksgiving, so some might mistake this as the season that puts the rush in Christmas shopping.
While there certainly is a message of urgency in the Advent season, that message has nothing to do with impressing friends and relatives with fancifully wrapped presents. It has nothing to do with trees and lights, or the pressures of funding such madness.
The word “advent” is defined as, “The coming or arrival, especially of something extremely important.” It is derived from the Old French infinitive “advenir,” which means, “to come to.” Thus, the ecclesiastical naming of this season, as “Advent,” refers to the “coming to” us of Jesus.
Of course, that means the coming of Christmas, when baby Jesus, when we remember his birth into the world.
I remember when I was a child, being driven by my mother to and from church three nights a week, after the time changed and after Thanksgiving it was dark by 6:00 PM. During the Advent season, a church we passed along our route always put out a large wreath, with four large candles at the angles, and with large white flame-shaped lights atop each. Before Advent began, the wreath was not lit. Then, as each Sunday marked a full week into the Advent season, a new light would be lit. At the last Sunday of Advent, marking the last days before Christmas, all four candles would be shining brightly. They remained lit through the twelve days of Christmas.
In a way, those lights marked a count-down (or count-up) to when Jesus would be born … to when Christ would come into the world one more time.
Still, the more serious symbolism of the count-down of Advent is the Second Coming of Jesus, as when Christ will return at the end of the world. You might have noticed from the readings that an apocalyptic theme was clearly present.
Before I get deeper into the lessons presented today, let me just mention that I know there are many people, especially Episcopalians, who are uncomfortable with themes focusing on the End Times. If you are one of those, I only ask that you come to the realization that everyone here today is mortal. That means we are each born into life, possessing a life-filled body of flesh that will eventually – for whatever cause or reason – END. We are all going to die. We all recognize that limit of time on earth. So, that end, whether we go out with others at the same time, or whether we go out alone and privately, will find us each experiencing our own personal Judgment Day waiting. That End Time is always relevant, and should not be ignored.
With that understood, we must also realize that death is nothing new to consider, especially given the average age of this audience. We have all been around the block a few times. The church calendar year 2014-2015 will not be our “first rodeo.”
That is what makes a New Year important, where New Year’s resolutions are a way of trying to motivate ourselves to make wanted, if not needed changes in our lives. A new church year is then more important than a new calendar year, because it marks a time for us to live up to newly set goals, as atonement for past failures.
In Advent we see the urgency of change. At Christmas we want to realize that change with Christ born within us, so we become a reborn Jesus. With Jesus our model, we become ordained as disciples. Then we test our commitment to growing into Jesus through Lent. At Easter, we crucify our egos and are resurrected as Apostles in training. At Pentecost we become filled with the Holy Spirit and begin our own personal ministry, as priests for the One God, ordained to serve others over self.
If you just completed a year of dedication to Christ and God, then Advent is when you lend a hand bringing others into this cycle, while renewing your commitment to God, through Christ.
If you have forever been “kicking the tires” of Christianity, waiting for the day when you will finally buy in completely, we want this New Year to be your awakening to the Advent of that goal.
With all that said, let the lessons begin.
In the Gospel reading today, Mark remembered how Jesus said, “Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come.” Jesus then repeated, “Therefore, keep awake – for you do not know when the master of the house will come.”
You do not know when that Advent will be. So, in order to stay alert and awake, you have to first wake up from your slumber, and then you need to fill your lamp with oil – the “living” kind of oil that never runs out, which is the Holy Spirit.
If you remember the parable told as the season of Pentecost was winding to an end, about the ten bridesmaids with oil lamps – you can then connect that symbolism to the early Pentecost story of Jesus meeting the woman at the well. The two are telling the same thing, differently of course, but for as often as we hear those stories read aloud and for as many times as we have heard sermons preached about those themes (with many other lessons that point to a NEED for the Holy Spirit), people keep going back to the water well dry buckets and running out to buy physical oil for empty lamps, simply because they think all those lessons apply to other people.
For the most part, those of us gathered here today are well beyond our youth. We are in the “Fall” of life. We have produced our fruit and new leaves long ago; and now we are slowing down, preparing for winter.
When you can see yourself in this “seasonal” setting, regardless of how “young in mind” you are, you can begin to see how the cycle of life projects onto everything earthly. This includes all religions, of which Christianity is one.
When Jesus said to his disciples, “In those days,” which was referring to the future, he said those future days would be identified as when “the sun will be darkened.” More than a statement that is limited to some celestial event, like an eclipse, which is momentary in time (only lasting an hour or so), that statement actually is powerful when you hear it say, “When the light of the earth will become dim and weak.”
In the song of Isaiah, a lamentation verses sings, “We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.”
Can you see those statements as talking about the seasonal “Fall of Faith,” where the sun is no longer rising high into the sky, like it does in the spring, into summer – when the “branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves”? This is how Christianity will also have had such a “Spring” and growth season, lasting nearly two thousand years; but when that growth ceases, that is the point in time when the “sun will be darkened,” setting sooner, lower in its path across the sky, and weaker in its ability to bring warmth to the lands.
We are living in those days now … literally and figuratively. It is now Fall, headed towards the Winter Solstice in late December (around Christmas). But, more importantly is seeing how the Church (of all denominations) has become filled with old folks, like ourselves. The Church is in Fall.
That reflects how we feel too slow to be filling ourselves with the Holy Spirit, because that is for the younger folk … the younger members, many of whom have left and why so many pews are filled with emptiness. This decline began way back when (as Elton John sang), “The New York Times said God was dead, and the war’s begun.” The “Fall” of Christianity began when we were young, when we … never taught to be miracle workers, like Jesus and the Apostles … let our children wander away from religion, while we did little to bring back Spring to the Church.
In the news this past week was how NASA had landed a small spacecraft on a meteor. Such tricks are made possible due to a great expansion of mental capacity within mankind. Science and technology has abounded since 1969, when we first landed a man on the moon.
“and the moon will not give its light,” said Jesus. Landing on the moon has not enlightened our souls, it has led us to place faith on the minds of Man.
The reason NASA is interested in landing small spacecraft on a meteor is because the big brains of science have had their eyes opened to the danger of a meteor, comet, or asteroid crashing into the earth, making life, as we know it, become extinct. They see the Advent of Death, so science and technology want to play god and figure out how they can protect the earth with missiles and rockets and weapons that could destroy meteors.
So, landing that little spacecraft was a another “small step for man,” perceived by NASA to be another “giant leap for science ruling over mankind.”
However, just as when Samuel said to his Lord, “The people want a king,” and God replied, “I am their King,” we get more thrilled thinking NASA can protect us from meteors better than can a true faith in God.
Jesus said, “and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.” Isaiah sang, “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake in your presence – as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil.”
Does any of that sound like a giant fireball of matter meeting the friction of earth’s atmosphere, burning the land and boiling the seas? Is that not what science and technology are afraid could happen, ending life on earth … as we know it?
David was afraid what would happen if mankind stopped looking to God for salvation, singing, “Restore us, O LORD God of hosts; show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved.”
Paul added, “The grace of God that has been given to you in Christ Jesus, for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind – so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
To which Jesus foretold, “Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in the clouds’ with great power and glory.
WAKE UP! BE ALERT!
There is still time, “But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” So, “Keep awake.”
You do that by receiving the Spirit; and we all need that Advent within us, especially in this “Fall” of our lives. Let Christmas symbolically signal YOU being born anew as a newborn Jesus.
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