1st Sunday in Advent
Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19
1 Corinthians 1:3-9
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you
from the one who calls us to stay awake and to hope. Amen
Welcome to the season of Advent!
Our decorations have changed to blue,
we’re at the beginning of a new liturgical year
where we will get to spend time in the gospel of Mark,
and of course our advent wreath
reminds us that Christmas is coming,
the more candles we light
the closer we are to the festival celebrating Immanuel,
God with us, God among us, God one of us.
It’s exciting the newness and anticipation of the season,
it’s like the advent calendars
with a little chocolate for each day before Christmas
mirroring the sweetness of anticipation.
And yet there’s more to advent
than lighting a few candles and eating a chocolate a day,
there’s more to wait for than the birthday celebrations for Jesus,
if we go a little deeper into advent
the scriptures remind us
that we are also waiting for the return of Christ,
and in this reminder
we are recalled to the painful reality
that even as Christ is with us,
God still has work to do,
God’s beautiful creation is still broken
and waiting for its healer to come
restore it to the perfection of the garden,
to the promised time when weeping and crying and pain and death are no more,
a promise we are still waiting on God to fulfill.
This side of advent is a striking contrast to the first,
and yet both are true.
It’s a paradox (two seemingly contradictory things that turn out to be true)
and the season of advent is full of them.
The season of advent holds space to acknowledge the tensions in life,
especially the life of faith.
The tension between the fact that we are both saint and sinner,
the tension between the fact that Christ has come and we are still waiting on Christ,
the tension between the reality that Christ saved the whole world and the world is still broken.
There are so many paradoxes,
as we sometimes call them in Lutheran circles,
but that is one of the things that I really appreciate about the Lutheran tradition,
the acceptance of the both and,
because we know the deeply lived truth
of the seemingly contradictory
and while the unresolved tension can be frustrating sometimes
it is an authentic reflection of life.
So I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised
when our theme for this first Sunday in advent is a paradox:
“those who dream, keep awake”
When we hear dream
we tend to first think of the sleeping kind,
you know the ones where upon falling asleep
you find yourself in an alternate world
where you’re back in your childhood home
but your mom is now a panda
baking you bamboo cookies,
and what’s your third grade teacher doing there in the background?
Anybody? Just me?
Those dreams are impossible to have while awake.
But of course there’s another way dream is used,
the way Martin Luther King Jr. did
when he proclaimed “I have a dream”
his dream, a vision for the future
where the wounds of the present are healed.
God too has a dream,
a vision for creation,
that all be intimately connected with their creator,
that all, people, animals, nature, live in harmony with one another and God,
a harmony where everyone has what they need,
no one has too much or too little.
And God has promised
that in partnership with people
this dream will become reality.
And the thing about these kinds of dreams,
is that to dream them,
one must be awake,
aware of all the ways that the present world around us
is less than perfect.
Awake to the promises of God
and how they have yet to be fulfilled.
In our gospel
Jesus tells his disciples to keep awake,
to wait for the fulfillment of the promises of God,
to watch for the signs that they are coming
since no one knows the exact timing.
As we wait,
it is tempting to fall asleep,
to fall asleep to the pain and imperfections around us,
to take a break from the harsh reality of life
Jesus tells us to keep awake.
To be awake is to acknowledge the broken places of life,
to be awake is to reject the narrative
that it will 'always be this way',
to be awake is to hope.
And here seems to be another paradox,
that to have hope we must be awake
to all the realities that argue against hope,
the situations that make the dream for the future look impossible,
this is the essence of hope,
to look at the seemingly insurmountable obstacles
and say ‘nevertheless, I believe that God will work through this,
that good will come out of this mess.’
But it’s a process to get from pain to hope,
and we see that process in our first reading from Isaiah:
It starts with lament,
‘O that you would tear open the heavens and come down’
cries out the prophet,
it’s frustrating when the world is so far from the dream of God
and it seems like God isn’t doing anything.
why if God is so powerful,
doesn’t God just come down and fix everything,
because we do believe that God is powerful,
the prophet says as much in the next part
extolling the awesome deeds of God
but in affirming the power of God
the prophet on behalf of the people,
realizes that the people have not kept up their end of the covenant,
and the lament turns into confession
“we sinned… we have all become like one who is unclean
and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth”
have you ever tried to clean a table with a dirty dishrag?
It doesn’t work right?
As good as your intentions are
if the cloth is dirty it just spreads the dirt around.
That’s where the people are at,
just spreading their own dirt around,
and while it might seem that this confession,
this awakening to reality
might be cause for despair,
what it does is lead to hope.
As the prophet acknowledges
that the people are living with the consequences of their actions
what could easily return to anger or lament becomes hope,
hope based on the trust
that God keeps the promises God makes,
trust that comes out of the established relationship with God
“yet, O Lord, you are our Father, we are the cay and you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand. Do not be exceedingly angry, O Lord, and do not remember iniquity forever. Now consider, we are all your people.”
In the end God has promised
that no matter what happens,
no matter what others label us,
or we think of ourselves
our primary identity is that of children of God,
God kept that promise with Jesus,
God made that promise individually to each of us at our baptisms,
that we are children of God
and nothing can separate us from the love of God
this relationship is the root of our hope.
This Advent there are many reasons we might despair,
things in the world that make us want to detach from reality,
to fall asleep and in our dreams pretend that nothing is happening.
But God calls us to stay awake,
awake to the messiness and imperfections of life yes,
and awake to the promises of God
and in this wakefulness
join in dreaming with God
of the day when all live in harmony with God and one another,
and so awake and dreaming, we hope. Amen
Pastor Emily Johnson preaches weekly at Christ Lutheran. These are manuscripts of her sermons given at Christ Lutheran. Feel free to engage with them in the comments section of the blog.