Good morning. Thank you so much for having me and letting Ken and I have this liturgical adventure. We are both really excited about doing this.
Today is Advent I. Happy New Year. We’re now in Year A with Matthew.
I love Advent. I love the hymns we sing, I love our Advent wreaths. I love the attitude of anticipation and expectation that belongs to it.
You might feel today’s readings aren’t what we’d think of as an introduction to a new year. No fanfare, no particularly flowery language. The collect is on the short side, as is Paul, who jumps right in with instructions, no long greeting.
The gospel reading is taken from a larger section of Matthew and doesn’t have a well-crafted beginning, middle, and end. But it really exemplifies the heart of Matthew’s style. His gospel is an instruction manual for Christian living. He simply lays it on the line. Longer than Mark, not beautifully written like Luke’s, no one tells us more plainly than Matthew how to live like Jesus.
And although this gospel talks of apocalyptic signs and end times and the second coming, the real lesson for us today if we want to be followers of Jesus comes at the end
“watch for you do not know when the master of the house will come. In the evening or at midnight or at cockcrow or in the morning. Lest he come suddenly and find you asleep.”
I think we can shortchange Advent and miss out on receiving its grace by making the mistake of equating “watching” with “waiting.”
Advent isn’t downtime to while away until Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, or worse still, not a time to be driven by Christmas shopping.
It’s a time for reflection and repentance. It’s a time to be alert and prayerful, living in the hope of what’s to come.
Because love came down on that first Christmas.
Jesus, safe in heaven, infinite by nature, chose to limit his infinity and make himself small… and human. And not a powerful adult human of status, but a newborn. That’s what we need to reflect on during these four weeks of Advent.
Because the birth of Jesus begins a new reality for believers, and we need to consider how to live our lives embodying this new reality. To live in this world but to reject being of the world. To do our jobs responsibly and provide for our families, to follow the rules of society that attempt to organize our communities with fairness and justice. To vacation, follow our interests and relax and practice self-care. To buy those presents and have those holiday gatherings, but all with a sense of detachment, knowing this is not the ultimate truth, the ultimate reality. Our orientation should look towards the future Jesus preaches, a communal hope for bringing the beloved kingdom to our here and now.
And we should be helping to create that community not be waiting for it. It’s not a reward at the end of our days, it’s our way of life now.
Patience combined with restlessness fills us during Advent. Patiently living through the days of Advent, watching hopefully for God, alert to Advent blessings, yet restless for the new reality to burst into the world. We can be Christmas people and still honor Advent.
You might be thinking, shouldn’t we be doing these things all the time? Shouldn’t this attitude of gratitude and hope be part of our daily Christian living? Of course. But we are a church that has liturgical seasons to emphasize various scriptural truths at different times for our deeper knowledge and faith.
In Advent, we keep ourselves open to spiritual growth as we contemplate the monstrous act of love the Incarnation is. Jesus came into the world because he loves us. He came to teach us about true life. About becoming a new person in Him.
So these four weeks, we should make a practice of loving those we find not so loveable, of leaving our comfort zones to offer hospitality to those who are unfamiliar to us. Of praying and working for the change we want in the world.
The gifts we buy for our family and friends reflect the gifts Jesus brought to us through his humanity. And we allow the promise of hope and love and peace and joy to transform us. We put on the armor of light.
How can we enjoy this season - both the warmth and the fun and the happiness of the secular day and the true meaning of how Christmas changed the world if we do it in an ego-centric manner? Better to prepare and so deepen our Christmas joy by immersing ourselves in Mary and Joseph’s fear, as their acceptance of God’s command makes them criminals and refugees, in Mary’s lonely, frightening first labor, and the shepherds’ wonder, in the worship of the wise men and the flight into Egypt.
Maybe, on second thought, today’s readings are perfect for the new year. Short, focused, and to the point. No waiting to get to the heart of the matter. Be humble, put on the armor of light, watch, be alert, and mirror the love of Jesus. No prologues, no introductions, just clear instructions on how to make these four weeks of Advent holy and blessed and full of truth.