November 28, 2021, Tidings of Comfort and Joy, Luke 21:25-28 – Mtr. Kathryn Boswell
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It’s the weekend after Thanksgiving, and the shopping season is now in full swing. And the world would like to sell you a bill of goods. The world would like to offer you the Hallmark Channel life, where everything is pretty and clean and everyone is well-groomed, where problems have an easy and predictable solution, with just a few tears to make you feel good. And while you’re at it, the world would like to throw in a little Pinterest, just in time for the holidays, a generous sprinkling of creative glitz and glamour. Then, of course, the world would like to satisfy all your appetites with the best of everything – because you deserve the best – the best foods, the best drinks, the finest entertainment, and the most comfortable surroundings.
Just turn on your TV or your computer, just walk through any store, and the world has everything you need. The world would like you to buy the whole package deal at an affordable price. Because the world would like you to believe that’s all you’re going to get – you only go around once, like the beer commercial tells you, so you’ve got to grab all the gusto you can. So come on, take it all home, put your feet up, lie back, and relax.
But through the soothing, seductive tones of the world cuts a clear voice of warning: Watch! Keep awake! The Master is coming, and you don’t know when the appointed time will be. Be ready! Stay awake!
Today we begin the season of Advent once again, as we have done year after year after year. We’ll light the Advent wreath, one candle at a time, the same as we have always done. We will sing the same wonderful Advent hymns we have always sung, “The King shall come when morning dawns” and “Lo, he comes, with clouds descending.” And the call of Advent to us is the same: Stay awake! Because he is coming! We need to be reminded, over and over again, of the truth that the world would very much like us to forget: that life as we know it is not all there is, and that the appointed time of God’s coming will happen when we least expect it. Today or tomorrow, next week or next year, but certainly and without fail, we will find ourselves face to face with Jesus, our King. And we need to be ready.
We talk a lot about the importance of the way we live day by day; that it matters what we do, it matters how we treat our brothers and sisters, it matters how we use the things of this world; it matters how we live. But the reason that it matters how we live, is not because we are saved by our own good works, but because the Creator loves his creation so much that he became a part of it, and he cares deeply about even the very least of his creatures, especially the very least of his creatures. And he wants us, his children, to care about them the way he does. And it matters how we live, because when God comes we will have to account for what we have made of the abundant life he has given us.
When that time comes, it will matter very little – or not at all – how much weight we’ve lost, or how much we have in our 401K or how well-decorated our house is. But it will matter very much that we brought soup to our neighbor when her child was sick, or that we gave the homeless man on the corner that last $5 we had in our pocket, or that we cared for our mother day after day when she had Alzheimer’s and didn’t even know us anymore. It will matter that we lived our lives wide awake to the needs and suffering of the people around us. It will matter that we wept with those who wept when we would really prefer to stay comfortably far away from them. It will matter that we rejoiced with those who were rejoicing when we were tempted to be jealous of their good fortune. It will matter that we gave thanks to God for the good in our lives. And it will matter that we walked humbly before him, bringing our worst failures and our most stupid and disgraceful choices to him in repentance.
A very long time ago, just after Emily was born, Carroll’s Aunt Gladys came all the way from Texas to visit us in our little apartment in downtown St. Louis. I tried so hard to have everything perfect for her visit, but it seemed like I was pretty much doomed to failure right from the moment she arrived. Nothing was clean enough. Aunt Gladys inspected everything with a spray bottle of Lysol in one hand and a cleaning rag in the other. She was especially sure that our cats were going to be the death of Emily. Now, she may not have been quite as terrifying as I remember her, and I am sure that she probably meant to be helpful, but it was a pretty traumatic experience for me.
And I mention that experience because I think sometimes when we read and think about getting ready for the Lord’s return, it feels an awful lot like we’re preparing for the invasion of the Maiden Aunt, that scary person who is going to inspect everything we’ve ever done with a white glove and a beady eye. We are so often tempted to think that when Jesus tells us “Keep awake!” and to “Be ready!” he is warning us that we are going to really catch it if we haven’t lived up to his expectations.
But the truth – the real, honest truth – is that you are called to be alert, and to keep awake, you are called to be on your toes and on your best behavior, because you are preparing for the most unthinkably joyous of events, the coming of the One who loves you more than his own life. The event we look forward to, especially now, in the Advent season, is the coming of the One whose presence will mean the end at last of all sorrow and pain and sickness, the coming of the One who will wipe away every tear from our eyes.
Think of the images God uses for his homecoming all through the Scriptures: the coming of the longed-for season of harvest and plenty, the eagerly awaited arrival of the bridegroom to the feast, the end at last of the pains of childbirth and the appearance of new life. Those are images of the most joyous kinds of human expectation. Jesus tells us Stay awake! But not like the fearful young wife scrubbing the floors and polishing the silver in dread of being inspected and found wanting. No, stay awake like the young bride attending carefully to every detail of her hair and makeup and gown, trembling in joyful expectation of her husband’s great pleasure and delight. John wrote this in his Revelation about the end of all things:
“Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure”— for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.” It matters how we live and what we do, because every act of love, every good thing we do – even as small an act as giving a cup of cold water to one thirsty person – by the grace of God all those things are our fine linen, bright and pure, making us more beautiful in the eyes of our Beloved, who is surely coming.
The season of Advent reminds us of what we’ve always needed to remember in every season, but maybe now more than ever in this time of pandemic and political divisions and financial insecurity: Don’t grow weary! Don’t lose hope! Stay awake! Because we are going to come face to face with Love himself, at a time not even the angels in heaven know. Jesus has promised us that we will surely see him when he comes again, at the end of all things.
And many of us – maybe every one of us here in this room – will see our Lord even sooner than that, at the close of our own earthly lives, whenever that time comes for us. I’ve been so aware of our mortality this week with our son Nicholas in the ICU. Death can come very near, so quickly, in the blink of an eye. Now is the time, today is the hour, for us to be alert, wide awake, living and working always in the joyful assurance of his coming, attending faithfully to the work the Father has given each one of us to do, and never letting ourselves be satisfied or distracted by the cheap joys and easy comforts this world would like to sell to us.
So now, today, on this first Sunday of Advent, by the grace of Almighty God, let us cast away the works of darkness and put on the armor of light, in the midst of this mortal life, in which our Lord Jesus came to visit us in his great humility. And let us hold fast to this most wonderful hope: that in the last day, when he comes again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to immortal life through him. Amen.