The First Sunday of Advent
Isaiah 2:1-5; Romans 13:11-14; Matthew 24:36-44; Psalm 122
THE REV. JAMES M.L. GRACE
In the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. AMEN.
A couple of years ago I received a watch as a Father’s Day gift. The watch was of a kind I had never owned before, as it was, I learned, a perpetual timekeeping watch. I had no idea what this was, but I learned that it was a kind of watch you wore on your wrist that did not need a battery, because the movement of your arm keeps the gears in the watch turning.
Probably a year or so after wearing it pretty regularly, the watch stopped. I would try to move it, to get the hands moving again, but to no avail. I thought about taking it to get repaired, and the place I took it told me they don’t these kinds of watches, and they don’t repair them. My best chance, they told me, was to contact the company who made the watch, which I did, and the company told me they would be happy to fix the watch…for $650. How did time get to be so expensive? I chose not to repair the watch, and instead got a Fitbit, thinking digital watches are reliable, and mine was, until several weeks ago when I noticed no matter how much I try to sync this watch with my phone, the time on my watch reads three hours ahead! So I have decided to go back to my old Timex watch, because it tells time, which says it is… (look at me, looking at my own watch during a sermon? That’s what you all are supposed to do!
Like my watches before, the church does not keep time the way the world keeps time. Today is November 27, but on the calendar of the church, today is the first Sunday of Advent, which is really the first Sunday of a new year according to the church calendar. You can think of today as New Year’s Day for the church. It’s weird, I know. We do things in the church to mark the passage of time like burning candles, changing the colors of the season – which is why you see blue, that’s the color for Advent. We are going to make/made Advent Wreaths which mark the weekly passage of time of this season.
For most of us, we like to be in control of our time. We don’t like our time being disrupted in uncomfortable ways. Whenever our time does get disrupted for whatever reason, many of us see it as our work to get things back to “normal” – whatever “normal” is. I think this is one reason why holidays like Thanksgiving or Christmas have the potential to be so stressful – they disrupt our normal time. It’s never much of a surprise for me to hear people say “I am so glad Thanksgiving is over so I can just get back to my normal routine.” That’s exactly what Advent does. Advent intrudes upon what we in the church call “ordinary time” which refers to the majority of the Sundays we spend together in church. I’ve never really liked that phrase, “ordinary time,” by the way, because I don’t know if you’ve been around my kids much, but nothing is ordinary in our house!
Advent reminds us that God intrudes on our turf – our time, and in doing so, God reminds us that our time is actually not our own – it doesn’t really belong to us, it actually belongs to God. It’s so easy for us to forget that, and in fact one of the things we have accomplished in the modern world was basically to remove God from time altogether. We drank the Kool Aid, and believed the illusion that time was ours, not God’s. I think we did this as a matter of convenience, because it became easier for us to believe in a detached God – a distant God who supposedly cared for us, but never actually showed up anywhere and would never intrude upon our precious time. But that’s not how God handles time. All our attempts to capture time and hold onto for ourselves – those attempts end up as broken as my watch.
Today marks the beginning of a new church year, and a new season, Advent. The word advent means “to appear” or “to emerge.” It is a season where we leave ordinary time behind, embracing a new kind of time. A kind of time where we await expectantly the birth of the Messiah, God’s chosen child, Jesus. It is the strange and peculiar belief of Christians that in Jesus, God became human. And in becoming human, Christians believe that God entered into our time. That Jesus really lived during a historical period, and after his death, God raised him from the dead. What an amazing disregard for time! It doesn’t matter that you’re dead – in God your death is merely the end of ordinary time and the beginning of a new season of anticipation and beauty – a season outside of all time Christians call heaven.
The time we all have – this moment, this year, it all belongs to God, who has made every breath of air we bring into our bodies, every minute, every hour, holy. In the church, today marks a new beginning, a new year. In God’s time, every second is a new beginning, a new opportunity to experience things once dead brought back to life. That is what God does always – resurrection is appearing all around us, all the time. AMEN.