Sermon: Advent 1 RCL A – “Awake! Alert!”

The podcast is available here.

Boudreaux, Thibodeaux, and Hebert were sitting around talking one afternoon after enjoying a little crawfish boil, and the conversation turned to what they would like to have people say about them if they suddenly died. Hebert says, “Me, if I could hear what dey are saying while I’m laying in my casket is dat I was a great doctor and a good family man.” Thibodeaux says, “Me, I would like to hear dem say dat I was a good husband and a great teacher, and made a difference in de lives of hundreds of childrens.” Boudreaux thinks for a minute and says, “Mais, me, I would like to hear somebody say, ‘Look, he’s moving!’”

I’ve been working through a book recently, Dangerous Wonder, by Michael Yaconelli. It is one of those books you could easily read in a day, but I’ve been taking my time, because it seems that each chapter takes awhile to work into the system. During this Season of Advent, you’ll likely hear me reference it and talk about it more than once. In one of the early chapters, Yaconelli quotes Juan Carlos Ortiz who is an evangelist and pastor from Argentina. Ortiz writes, “The living Jesus is a problem in our religious institutions. Yes. Because if you are having a funeral, a nice funeral, and the dead person starts to move, there goes the funeral! And dear brothers and sisters, Jesus is moving!”

This is the first Sunday of Advent, the church new year. During these Sundays of Advent, we hear about the second coming of Jesus and his first coming. There are readings that call for us to be aware and to be awake. However, as we look for his second coming, we must also be aware of his current presence. Sounds a bit confusing, but we know that even though Jesus is coming again, he is also with us until the very end of the age, so in order for us to know him then, we must also know him now, for as he says, “The kingdom of God is within you… the kingdom of God is now.” Therefore, it seems that when Jesus says to us, “Keep awake” and “Be ready,” he is not only talking about being awake and ready for the great and terrible day of the Lord, but that he is also talking about being awake and being ready for this and everyday. Unfortunately, for any number of reasons our faith can become dry and sterile, and our daily lives with God and our corporate and personal worship of the Creator of the Heavens and the Earth begins to more closely resemble a funeral than it does a celebration. God becomes a backup plan and our worship is a job, something to check off the to do list. In his own life, Yaconelli tells us that it was because he was working so hard for God that he fell into this trap and forgot to see, to encounter God, and he realized this when he visited L’Arche Daybreak Retreat Center, the same place that Henri Nouwen went to live when he decided to give up all the writing and speaking and the “working” for God.

L’Arche is a place where severely mentally and physically handicapped individuals are sent, and in many cases, abandoned. Those who work there care for these individuals, where—due to the limitations of the individual—a small breakfast can take quite some time. Yaconelli tells that soon after his arrival he met Robert, a young man whose vocabulary was limited to a couple of hundred words. The first thing Robert said to Michael was a question: “Busy?” Michael responded, “Yes, Robert. I’m very busy.” “Too Busy,” Robert asked. “Yes, Robert. I’m too busy,” Michael answered. Robert’s questions and his answers got Michael to thinking: why am I so busy? He concluded: “Why was I so busy? Because I still was hanging on to the belief that God’s affection for me was measured by my activity for Him. The more things I did for God, the more He would love me.” Michael said that he had this “need to prove to God I was worth loving.”

Here is someone whose entire life was dedicated to the work of the Kingdom of God, but he could never truly experience God, because he was so caught up in trying to convince God to love him. If someone like Yaconelli can fail to truly see and encounter God, then it is no wonder that any of the rest of us, for any number of reasons, can and will do the same.

Jesus said, “You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.” We cannot encounter God today, because we keep thinking that the “unexpected hour” is off in the distance, when in fact, it is now. What did Paul say to the Romans in our reading? “You know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near.” The time is now…

T-ball or baseball for younger children. Prop the ball up on the jumbo golf tee and let the kids swing away. Everyone plays and everyone is a winner, but not all of them are athletes. Enter Tracy. She is described as as “not very good. She had coke-bottle glasses and hearing aids on each ear. She ran in a loping, carefree way, with one leg pulling after the other, one arm windmilling wildly in the air.” At bat, she might generate enough air around the ball that it fell off the tee or she would hit the tee and send the ball rolling forward, but she never got a proper hit until the last game of the season when the stars aligned perfectly. It wasn’t just a hit. She apparently clobbered it, sending the ball sailing over heads and then rolling between legs.

She windmilled her way to first base and the coach waved her on (by then, the entire opposing team was in the outfield, chasing the ball.) When she got to second, the third base coach called her on, so she ran some more. The ball finally made it back into play, but for some reason ended up along the first base line. At this point, the entire stadium of parents, on both sides, were going wild cheering for Tracy—this was going to be a home run for the girl who never even got a hit. The third base coach waved Tracy on and she was headed to home plate “and then it happened. During the pandemonium, no one had noticed the twelve-year-old geriatric mutt that had lazily settled itself down in front of the bleachers five feet from the third-base line. As Tracy rounded third, the dog, awakened by the screaming, sat up and wagged its tail at Tracy as she headed down the line. The tongue hung out, mouth pulled back in an unmistakable canine smile, and Tracy stopped, right there. Halfway home, thirty feet from a legitimate home run. She looked at the dog. Her coach called, “Come on, Tracy! Come on home!” He went to his knees behind the plate, pleading. The crowd cheered, “Go, Tracy, go! Go, Tracy, Go!” She looked at all the adults, at her own parents shrieking and catching it all on video. She looked at the dog. The dog wagged its tail. She looked at her coach. She looked at home. She looked at the dog. Everything went to slow motion. She went for the dog!” The crowd went completely silent, then broke into cheers of approval, as Tracy knelt down and hugged the dog…… Please do not tell the Bishop that Fr. John said Jesus was a twelve-year-old geriatric mutt with a goofy grin, but what if we had that the same spirit about encountering Jesus today as Tracy had in encountering that silly dog? What if, in the midst of all the world’s shouting, expectations, opportunities for success, even the encouragement of well intentioned individuals… we put a stop to it all and embraced Jesus instead?

Jesus is coming, but the body is moving and Jesus is now. Seek him today, while he wills to found.

Our Collect of the Day read: Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal… but to close, I would like to change that bit, because we can cast away the darkness and put on the armor of light, not just on the last day, but today as well, for this is indeed a day that the Lord hath made…

Let us pray: Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; so that not only will we be raised with him on the last day, but so that we may be surprised by him today when we encounter him in the face of family, friends and strangers, that we may know him as we journey toward the manger, and that we will have the courage, despite the encouragement of world, to stop all our running and embrace him, even if he is standing along the third base line. This we pray in His Name. Amen.

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