The First Sunday of Advent
The Very Reverend Nicolette Papanek, Interim Dean
Luke 21:25-36

May my words be your word and my heart rest in you as I speak, O Lord. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. AMEN.

In case you need an Advent challenge, try explaining to seven-year-old Jewish twins why some Christians put up their Christmas trees and Christmas lights the Day after Thanksgiving. Their questioning began because not only did they see Christmas trees in people’s houses, but also in shops. They asked me, “Tante Nicolette, we have High Holy Days but we don’t put up any decorations or do anything until right before it starts.” I’m paraphrasing slightly, but that was the gist of it.

Their mother had made an attempt at explaining what Advent is for and how it preceded Christmas. Then she called me, her Christian friend, to do a better explanation.

Know this, you may do something different at home, and you may have compelling reasons for doing so, but here’s what I said. “Guys, for me it’s kind of confusing, too. But, do you know some Jewish people who only worship on High Holy Days, and for Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, weddings, and when someone dies?” Yes, they agreed. They knew people like that. But they still found it confusing. I don’t think they really understood how someone, Jewish or Christian, could profess something and not “do it the way you’re supposed to.” There you have it. The simple logic of seven-year-olds.

I have to agree though, that no matter how you celebrate (or not), during Advent, it is confusing. Here we are entering the frazzle of what seems to some of us as the “co-eternal shopping adventure.” Christmas decorations were hung in some shops before Halloween. And today we have Jesus talking about the end of the world? This is good news? This is God’s promise?

Even more confusing, this year’s Gospel reading from Luke is about the beginning of the end times. Thank you so much, compilers of our lectionary cycle readings, we had one of those readings a couple of weeks ago too. What is this fixation on the end times? And, what does it have to do with the promise of Christmas, please?

It is, of course, the church’s way of reminding us just what it is we’re waiting for during this holy season of Advent. We’re waiting for the advent of Christ Jesus. Yes, I know, Jesus came once and we celebrate that at Christmas. In Advent though, we’re preparing and waiting for Jesus to come among us again, to renew, refresh, and revitalize our sagging faith. These four Sundays of Advent remind us that what we are waiting for is more than a baby in swaddling clothes, more than a cute manger scene in a Nativity play. More even than angels singing “Glory to God.”

What we’re waiting for is the presence of Christ new born in the world. Yet these readings recall us to our other waiting, our waiting for the second coming of Christ. We are waiting for the judge at the end of the world, for the King of Kings, Lord of Lords, and Wonderful Counselor.

We’re waiting for Almighty God as an adult, not a baby in swaddling clothes. A grown up Jesus come to everyone to remind us of the need for justice and mercy. We are waiting for the One who comes with that justice and mercy at the end of time. Hence this morning’s warning and instructions.

So what to do during the meantime? What to do during this time when most of us have already started frantically shopping, cooking, and wrapping? To start out, how about looking for Jesus? That’s right: look. How simple it sounds, almost like those Dick and Jane readers some of us had in primary school. “Look, Jane, look.”

If you’re old enough to remember, did you ever notice in those old readers that Dick and Jane were always pointing? My parents taught me pointing wasn’t polite, but Dick and Jane were always looking and pointing. They wanted to be sure the other person saw what was going on.

Perhaps this Advent season, in this meantime, we should look and point at what we are seeing.

And once we see something? Once we are aware of the presence of God? We need to do exactly what Jesus tells us to do in this morning’s Gospel: Stand up and raise our heads, because our redemption is drawing near. We are called in this season to be aware of the greatness and nearness of God making all things new.

Most of all, we are called to participate, to participate by doing more than simply looking, standing up, and raising up our heads. We are called to be on guard. We are called to be on guard against being trapped unmercifully by the dissipation and drunkenness of all the shopping and wrapping and cooking and distractions at this time of year. We’re are called to be alert, be aware, so this day that will come at the end of the meantime does not catch us unrespecting.

We are called to look for the presence of God. Called to be alert and awake at God among us, not missing God’s presence but recognizing it and pointing to it and celebrating it. Look, point, see. This is the good news! Come Lord Jesus and help us to stand up, raise our heads, and look, point, and see. AMEN.

The Rev Nicolette Papanek