THE REV. ROBERTO DESANDOLI
1st Sunday of Advent
Isaiah 2: 1-5
Romans 13: 11-14
Matthew 24: 36-44
“Watching and Waiting”
“The Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour”
These are the words of Jesus as He is teaching the disciples the Truth about the end of history:
Everything will be as normal, just as in the days before Noah’s flood, people will be drinking, marrying, and giving in marriage, until the day that the Son of Man comes…
After that day everything will be different, two will be in the field; and one will be taken and one will be left
Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming…
These are the words of Jesus Christ, the Son of Man, who has already arrived into the world, as He is describing His own coming again and what will take place at that time.
If that sounds a little confusing then good, because we do not want to shortcut the mystery. In a little while, when we take Communion together, we shall proclaim the blessed mystery of faith in Jesus Christ:
Christ has died
Christ is risen
Christ will come again
Christ lived and ministered, he was baptized and he performed miracles, he gathered the disciples together and taught, he challenged the authorities of the temple and of the empire, he was arrested and made to suffer, he was crucified and died.
And after that he returned to life, He moved the stone away from the tomb, He called the disciples together, He showed the wound in His side to Thomas, He told them about the gift of the Holy Spirit that He was sending them, and then He ascended into heaven, promising to return.
In all of that movement: the arriving and the departing, the dying and the resurrecting and the coming again, we probably ought to feel at least some confusion when Jesus talks about the return of the Son of Man.
And even though Jesus clearly means to focus on the great change at the end of history in these words. Though Jesus’ words about the return of the Son of Man clearly refer to the “second coming” that we are still waiting for, one part of this mystery that we cannot ignore is that for all of this talk about newness and all of this talk about transformation, Jesus has already transformed the world.
Jesus has already brought forth a time of newness
Jesus has already transformed our ideas of power and justice
Jesus has already come into the world, offering all of us a part in his mission of reconciliation and love
The Good News this morning is that even though we must wait and be patient for the coming of the Son of Man, Jesus has already transformed the world around us.
When preachers and theologians talk about Jesus’ transformation of the world, a truly mysterious idea, we gravitate toward a big mysterious word to describe it:
Thinking “eschatologically” means thinking about this transformation of the world through Christ’s Second Coming.
Writing “eschatologically” means writing about this transformation of the world.
Living “eschatologically” means living with the awareness that Christ has transformed the world and that the Son of Man is coming to bring on the final transformation at an unknown time.
Christ has died
Christ is risen
Christ will come again
And so we, as Christians, are called to live our lives eschatologically
Friends, I have said that the Good News for this morning is that Christ has already arrived to transform the world, that we are already living in a new world with new understandings of power and justice. Still, we cannot shortcut the mystery: Christ has come and Christ will come again, the Son of Man will return again.
And so what do we do as we wait?
How do we live our eschatological lives in a world that is transformed and yet waiting to be transformed?
How do we live here and now, with all of its joys as well as its pain, proclaiming the Good News of Christ’s first and second coming?
Well today, on this first day of Advent, on this first day of the new church year, we are called to “Hope” and to expect “Hope.”
The season of Advent calls us into that same mystery of now-and-not-yet, in Advent, so much of our prayer and focus is centred on the near future (the arrival of Christ at Christmas). But even though we hopefully, peacefully, joyfully, and lovingly focused on the day to come, we live Advent in the days of Advent, in a time of expectation and preparation.
We live through these four weeks in an intentional present-and-future time; of both experiencing Christ and expecting Christ.
On this first Sunday of Advent we focus on hope: living in present hope as well as the hope to come, the now-and-not-yet
And so we are called today to live in Hope:
Messy eschatological Hope
Being called into the reality of Hope, how should we think and pray about it?
What is Hope and how does it shape us for the kingdom of God?
As human beings, defining things like “hope” is difficult because we are so often focused on what we lack, rather than on what God is all too happy to give us:
Rather than say, “God give me hope” we will say “I have fear” or “I am afraid”; “I am worried about the future”; “I don’t see a good future for me”; “I do not see the point of going forward anymore”
We so often live our lives in relationship to hope in only sentimental ways: looking at the word “hope” as something that belongs more on a Christmas card than in our own hearts.
The other difficultly is that we live in a world that is constantly encouraging us to make our own “hope”; though Christ tells us that “we do not live on bread alone” we spend so much of our lives working and toiling to convince ourselves that “if anything happens we will be fine, because we have worked too hard for it to be any other way”
So often, true “hope” breaks through only when we are put in a place where we have to get out of our own way and let God in.
In my life, these tend to be the times when I am hopelessly and dizzyingly lost.
Just this past weekend, I went to visit friends in Alberta and I was driving late at night during a snowstorm somewhere between Rosetown and Kindersley. It was already pitch dark and as the snow started falling faster and faster I could, at first, convince myself that I was in control of the situation.
“I can rely on my wits and my experience”
“I can turn my high beams off”
“I can keep track of the yellow line with more concentration”
And then suddenly the snow started falling so quickly that not only was the road completely covered but I could see nothing but flakes and dark in front of me: no road signs, no reflectors, no other headlights or taillights, no yellow line, no white line, no road shoulder – just white confusion.
In that moment it didn’t seem to matter if I slowed down or sped up, if I stayed on the road or tried to find the shoulder, it all looked exactly the same, and as I became concerned for my own safety, as the fear started to rise up, a simple prayer fell open in my heart:
“Lord, I don’t know where I am, but you do”
“Lord, I am out of my own way, I can no longer convince myself of my control even if I wanted to, Lord, I am safe and I hope I will be safe, but none of that is up to me at this moment”
And you know what happened in that moment?
Well nothing outside of my heart anyway: the snow continued to swirl, the highway continued to be a white-out of confusion, the dark around me continued to be unending, but I had hope, I felt like I wasn’t alone, and for many minutes it continued to be the same—lost but hopeful, until finally that hope gave way to light and that light to recognition and comfort.
I am sure that we have all had moments and days (and even weeks) like these. Time when we were discouraged and afraid and found ourselves praying for hope, and whether we feel like we received it or not, there is something in the turning toward hope and toward God that has hopefully allowed you to keep trying.
Hope doesn’t mean that we are unable to be discouraged.
Hope doesn’t mean that we go around free from fear or from worry or from difficulty.
Hope means that we freely turn toward God who wants nothing more than for us to know the Hope he has for us in Jesus Christ.
That not only are we free to turn toward this hope but that we are free to live our lives in the now-and-not-yet of Christ’s presence in the world. We are free to live as if Christ has redeemed the world from sin, we are free to live as if we have already been purchased by Christ’s love and sent out into the world to witness to witness to the hope that is all around us. Not because we are any less lost or less human than anyone around us but because we have been given the gift of faith to live by our hope in Christ.
No matter our situation, no matter our lost-ness, God gives us a glimpse of the love He has poured out for us in sending His only Son to convince us of this Hope; and not only that, but that the revelation of this hope has not stopped comforting and giving hope to others through time:
On the night that Jesus was born into the world there were very few people who were around to see it. His mother Mary and his adopted father Joseph, and later on a few humble shepherds; these were the only witnesses to the moment that God’s hope for humanity came into the world.
Later, Jesus grew and became a man, He taught and He inspired and He healed, and then later he ran afoul of authority and was executed, and at that moment, when He breathed his last breath on the cross and saved humanity from all of its sin, there were no more witnesses at his death than at His birth: this time two criminals and a few Roman soldiers.
From His life until His death Jesus Christ, the living hope of all the world, lived and died as one of us, He entered fully into our humanity; suffering pain and doubt, hunger and heartbreak, and yet this is Godself and this is who God has lifted higher than any other to show us the depth of His love and the depth of his hope for all of humanity.
That between the now of Jesus Christ and the not yet of the Son of Man’s return, we live our lives like those described by Jesus this morning: “eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage”
We live our eschatological lives day-to-day, with all of their hopes and fears, comforts and challenges, we pray and we serve others and we look forward to the hope revealed in Christ’s return so that one day work will end, one day toil will end, one day fear will cease, and we will dine at banquet with Jesus Christ for all of eternity.
Friends, this is the truth and the hope that we witness to. That from a child of hope, God has made a life of hope for every person who will turn to Him and receive it.
That for every person who confesses faith in Jesus Christ, the living embodiment of our hope in God, God has prepared a seat for at the table.
A table we witness to through life, through our struggles, through our fears, through our hopes, through our already and out not-yet, and through the mystery and miracle of the earthly table that reflects His peace, his joy, his love, and his hope. Amen.