In the Name of our loving, liberating, and life-giving God;
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
The church year begins this weekend, the first Sunday of Advent. Three more Sundays to go, and then it’s Christmas. This is the easy part of understanding Advent, its length and the fact that it immediately precedes the birth of Christ.
If you go much deeper into the meaning of Advent, the subject gets big and heavy right away. The church teaches that in Advent we are celebrating two meanings of one thing: Jesus coming into the world. The first instance of its meaning happened in the past tense. More than 2,000 years ago, God became incarnated as a human being when Mary gave birth to him in a stable long ago. We study this as historical fact.
There is archeological evidence that there were Hebrew people named Mary and Joseph living in the region surrounding Jerusalem and they had a child who grew up to be revered by many who knew him, and who eventually came to know of him. He was called the Messiah.
Though it can’t be proven archeologically, we are people who believe theologically in a child who was both human and divine. The people who knew him became convinced Jesus was God in human form, the Son of God. The meaning of God becoming human is a conversation that will last still thousands of more years.
The point, in Advent, is that the birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus is something which happened in the past. We believe that was the first time such a miracle happened and God lived among people as a human being.
We are still waiting for the second miracle of Christ’s Advent.
The other point of Advent is sharing the theological expectation that Christ, now raised from the dead, and living in eternal life with God, will come to be among us again. We believe this will happen because Jesus promised that it would. In the season of Advent we concentrate our thoughts on living in the hammock between what’s OVER and what’s NEXT. We are between the already and the not yet.
In Advent, by prayer and ritual, we get ready for the annual remembrance of Christmas. We hear the stories told about what once happened, and at the same time, Holy Scripture tells us that the whole coming of Christ is only half accomplished. There is going to be another time. So in this season, we also prepare for the eventuality of Christ’s return.
We ask ourselves questions about how we are living life, and we ponder what we’ve been up to. How much of who we are will the Son of God recognize as Christian?
By way of scripture and hymns, we hear descriptions of Christ coming down from heaven out of the clouds. When this happens, we don’t know if things will become dazzling white as they did at Jesus’ transfiguration – that time on the mountain where eternal life and life in this world briefly co-existed. We wonder if the returning Christ we be accompanied by angels, lightning, thunder, trumpets, or the playing of harps.
It would be helpful if something very recognizable as divine intervention would announce Christ’s advent again. Yet keep in mind, there is always the possibility that the event will seem to us a very day-to-day occurrence like the miraculous, gradual change of seasons.
With everything we still have yet to learn about the universe, which of the signs of which sun, of which moon, and of which stars will be the divine one? It sounds pretty confusing because the way I understand it, God created everything – and the more we learn about creation, the ever greater we understand God’s power to be.
Sometimes we hear of miraculous healings, of lives being changed in an instant, of sudden, incredible coincidences – but are they the norm?
Not all Christians have the sudden experience of being saved in a way that resembles the conversion of Paul. So, what are we to expect if through our lives we are forever growing, and by our faith we are changed ever so slightly day-by-day? Probably not a mountain-top experience or earthquake, fire, and flood.
We understand that encounter – our life-journey – with God changes things bit by bit and that our lives can be transformed.
What are the signs?
Perhaps, engagement with God is central to our life. We recognize we are more and more at peace. The judgment of others and our attachments to outcomes fail to grip us so strongly. The possibility of being enraged or offended seems amazingly remote. Compassion and patience run freely into every part of our lives. Joy, forgiveness, mercy, healing, and reconciliation are the most natural, organic responses. God fills us more and more completely with love.
In the expectation which Advent prompts us to, what signs will we see when the majority of people on earth know and revere God? Watch for it.
What would happen to our culture if we no longer sought to win, but to share victory? Imagine.
How will we know the Reign of Christ exists here on earth as it does in heaven? Prepare now.
What are we doing that a returning Christ would value and amplify? Stay busy.
In Advent, we ask ourselves questions. There are archeological and theological questions, but the closest to our heart are questions which ask: “What are the signs that God is known to me, and that I am known to God?” If you see good in your life building on good in life. Will that convince you?
I tell you, when we have no doubt that we are entirely known and loved by God – then we can put away fear of the second Advent of Christ – and begin to long for it.
Live as if the NOT YET is here ALREADY. By faith, and the grace of God, be sustained by on-going, never-ending choices in favor of love.
There will be many signs that Christ has come again – and your greatest proof will be your own transformation.
The Rev. Dawn M. Frankfurt
November 28, 2021
St. James Episcopal Church, Wichita, KS
The Lessons Appointed for Use on the First Sunday of Advent
Year C – Revised Common Lectionary – Episcopal
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; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is the name by which it will be called: “The Lord is our righteousness.”
Psalm 25:1-9 Ad te, Domine, levavi
1 To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul;
my God, I put my trust in you; *
let me not be humiliated,
nor let my enemies triumph over me.
2 Let none who look to you be put to shame; *
let the treacherous be disappointed in their schemes.
3 Show me your ways, O Lord, *
and teach me your paths.
4 Lead me in your truth and teach me, *
for you are the God of my salvation;
in you have I trusted all the day long.
5 Remember, O Lord, your compassion and love, *
for they are from everlasting.
6 Remember not the sins of my youth and my transgressions; *
remember me according to your love
and for the sake of your goodness, O Lord.
7 Gracious and upright is the Lord; *
therefore he teaches sinners in his way.
8 He guides the humble in doing right *
and teaches his way to the lowly.
9 All the paths of the Lord are love and faithfulness *
to those who keep his covenant and his testimonies.
1 Thessalonians 3:9-13
How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy that we feel before our God because of you? Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you face to face and restore whatever is lacking in your faith.
Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus direct our way to you. And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you. And may he so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.
Jesus said, “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
Then he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
“Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”
Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) of the Bible, published by The National Council of Churches.
The Collect and Psalter translation are from The Book of Common Prayer, published by Church Publishing.