Isaiah 64:1-9, 1 Corinthians 1:3-9, Psalm 80-:1-7, 16-18, Mark 13:24-37
Happy New Year! Or perhaps I should say, Happy Christian New Year! On our Christian Calendar, the first Sunday in Advent is the beginning of our New Year. Our Secular Calendar begins on January 1st – why don’t we and why is the Christian Calendar even important?
When I was in seminary, I learned the three “C’s” that prevented the Jewish faith from being lost: Calendar, Customs, and Clothing. The people of Israel were a tribe before they established the nation of Israel. And, in the ancient world, when a tribe was defeated by another tribe it would be assimilated into the culture of their captures. By adapting the customs of the victors and marrying into their families, tribe roots were forgotten and as a result many tribes, once defeated, ceased to exist.
This was not true; however, of the Jews. When defeated, they continued to observe their customs, to dress differently, and to celebrate the feast days on their calendar – the calendar which they created to track these feast days. Not all members of their tribe did these things, but enough to keep their stories and their faith alive for generations. This is how they remained a tribe while in captivity.
Like the Jewish people, early Christians developed a calendar to mark our key feast days. Our calendar, often referred to as our Liturgical Calendar, frames our year around the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. It has evolved over the centuries and though not all Christian denominations continue to observe it, it marks the dates of two major feast days: Christmas and Easter – along with a host of other feast days and our six different church seasons. Christmas and Easter are the only two holidays many Christians observe and these are included in the secular calendar.
You might think that as important it is to us that God entered our world in the flesh, our calendar would begin on Christmas Day. It does not. Rather, it begins four weeks before, as we anticipate Christ’s coming into our world. The Advent Wreath here helps us count down the Sundays before we celebrate the incarnation of God in Christ Jesus.
This wreath is not for us to count down the shopping days ‘til Christmas. In our tradition, Advent is a time for reflection as well as anticipation. We are to examine our lives and our faith. We are to reflect on our need for Christ in our lives and how we might help bring about God’s Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. We anticipate the joy of God coming into our world – this world of flesh and bones, of birth and death, of joy and sorrow, of peace and conflict.
Our scripture readings during this season began with talk of “the Son of Man coming in clouds.” What many Christians refer to as the “Second Coming of Christ.” In today’s reading from Mark, Jesus speaks of the messiah gathering “his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.” And, of when this will occur, he says, “keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come.”
Many Christians hear these scriptures as a warning that we need to act right or we will be left behind. I do not. I do not think in terms of what I need to do be among the elect. Rather, I think this, and other lessons about the coming of the Son of Man, are reminders that we need to be alert for what we can do to help Christ make this world a better place.
We are not alone; we are never alone. What we do or do not do affects others and Christ calls upon us to be alert. Jesus tells of a man, who going on a journey, commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. “Therefore,” Jesus says, “keep awake – for you do not know when the master of the house will come.” The master of the house returning may represent Christ’s return, but it could also be referring to a person in need who appears to us.
In last Sunday’s reading, Jesus speaks of the Son of Man being like the king who separates the people as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, then says, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” Those being offered the kingdom ask when they did these things and the king replies, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” So, yes, when Christ returns to us, he may appear to us as a person in need.
Our reading from 1st Corinthians concludes with “God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” Here, the Apostle Paul speaks of us being called into the fellowship of the Trinity, the relationship that exists within God among the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. This fellowship, this relationship, is key to us understanding the scriptures. It is a relationship of the love that has it roots in God, a love which faithful and sustains us. We, as children of God are included and invited in.
We must; however, remain alert or we might miss the arrival of our master, of Jesus, who appears at our doorstep in the person of a single mother with a shutoff notice, a person who is homeless or hungry, or a person who is lonely, afraid, or depressed. In the midst of this pandemic, there are many who are in need of fellowship – and that is something we may be able to provide with a phone call or a note to remind them that they are not alone, our love is with them. Preparing for Christ’s coming begins with answering his call to serve others. Christ’s call to love our neighbors as ourselves.
Let us pray.
Loving God, help us, we pray, to remain alert to your presence and the needs of your children. Close the gaps that divide us, unite us in your love, and strengthen us to do your will. All this we ask in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.