Sunday, November 29, 2015

Advent I - Happy New Year, Church!! Be Ready!

Advent I
Nov 29, 2015
Fr. Phil Eberhart

Happy New Year, Church!

WE made it through another year to the new celebration of Advent 1!

Our readings throughout this season point us to the twin peaks of Jesus coming:  His Incarnation and His Second Coming in Glory.

As you move through this 4 weeks of preparation, we are preparing for more than just another holiday, just another occasion for food and family and friends gathering.  We are not preparing for the gift giving on Christmas morning, but we are preparing for the Gift Himself - as the saying goes, Jesus is the Reason for the Season!

So this morning I want to set the table for the season.  We have lots going on, both here at Rez and in our preparations personally.  The season is filled with anticipation and hope.  We are all busy with various gatherings and preparations along the way.  I pray that we do not forget to keep the main thing the main thing.

That, in fact, is the gist of the Gospel reading this morning on Advent I.

"Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man."

The themes of being ready - being on guard - watchful and literally here, sleepless, are throughout the teaching of Jesus about this time.  The parables he uses to describe this time - of wise and foolish virgins - of bridesmaids - waiting for the groom who comes in the middle of the night; of having our oil lamps trimmed and burning, full in anticipation and readiness for the time of His coming!

I was amused a bit by the wording of the warnings that are given-
dissipation is literally the headache associated with a hangover!
The word for Luke uses for  drunkenness is METHE - (sound familiar)?  and then the worries Jesus speaks about are those worrisome, distracting cares of this life. So we need to watch out for hangovers, for meth and the distracting cares of our life!! 

There is a lot that presses in on us from our culture - many many things that catch our eye and keep us from focusing on the main thing.  Being awake and alert, on guard - is a common warning in Jesus' end time discourses.   And it is the remedy to the things He warns us about - the distracting cares of our life, the headaches and all that is even worse.

Jesus closes the discourse with a final warning...  Be Alert at all times - sleepless, praying even in the watches of the night.  Prayer is our tool - our weapon - at all times, but especially in the trying times of the end of days.  And Jesus says to pray specifically for two things:  For STRENGTH to escape "all these things" and finally, STRENGTH to stand before Jesus Christ, the "Son of man."

Friends, the kind of strength that will be needed in the coming days is both physical and spiritual.  We need to heed the warnings here and in all the other places that Jesus speaks of these days and prepare ourselves, physically - and that means not just a physical strength, but the strength that comes through preparedness in your whole life: Physical, mental, emotional, financial - strength in every conceivable way.  But more than the preparations for our physical well being, its also time to put in the preparation for our spiritual well being!

So, what are we preparing for and how?

Once again I want to take you back to the verses just after the day of Pentecost and the description of the power and the position of the early Christian community.  Why here?  Because of one little word in the above discourse... IT!  


Look at the reading from the beginning.  Make a little square around the word IT in the last paragraph.  Now what above is Jesus referring to?  There are several choices:
A.  Signs in the heavens
B.  Distress on the earth
C.  Jesus Second Coming
D.  Kingdom of God

I say that IT refers to "D"... The Kingdom of God!

It is the only thing that fits.  All the other choices are parts of that one thing!  And that one thing is the point of it all!  From beginning to end, the whole story of salvation history is about the kingdom of God. 

And so, when we look at Jesus' teachings and His life and miracles, all were pointing to the Coming Kingdom of God. 
And I believe that the finest example we have of the purity and forcefulness of the Kingdom coming among us, is the picture we have of the early church in the 2nd through the 8th chapters of the Book of ACTS.

And ACTS 2:42-47 capture the  picture best.

What does it mean for us to be READY - Prepared in strength for the days ahead ?

It means that we devote ourselves again, as they did at first to...

A. The Apostles' teaching, ie. the Word of God.  We need to be a people of the BOOK.  I think we've heard this recently!  And we are taking steps to make it more of a reality among us, beginning in Epiphany and Lent of next year.

B.  The Community or KOINONIA.  We are better, safer, stronger, wiser when we're together than when we're apart!  Do not forsake the gathering of yourselves together, as the habit of some is, but all the more, encourage one another as you see the Day approaching"
(Heb 10)

C.  The Breaking of Bread - what I've come to call Eucharistic Hospitality.  It is taking the life we find at this table and extending it outward into the places we live and work, and move, and have our being!  The WELCOME that Jesus gives us here, we are to take with us and give to others, out there!

D. and finally, PRAYER.  Plain and simple, in all its forms and functions, in all its groupings and outcomes, prayer is the air we breathe!  No special adornment or instructions here, for they are found EVERYWHERE in the Word of God.

And in the verses following what is the outcome of this lifestyle:

1.  A deep sense of AWE - God's presence is felt among us.

2.  Miraculous signs and wonders are everyday happenings.

3.  Intentional Community and a Generous Shared Life

4.  Isa. 58 / Mt. 25 outcomes from #3 above.  Justice is the extention of the ministry of Jesus among His People (Luke 4:18).

5.  An Open life of worship, sharing of meals, house fellowship,
Holy Communion exhibiting the JOY and GENEROSITY of living life in The Kingdom of God.  Lives and a "life together" characterized by praise and the favor of God experienced in and then outside the community.

6.  Finally, seeing the Lord add daily to the Company of the Committed, what George Eldon Ladd used to call the Church. 

This is the blueprint for all that Jesus is talking about in our passage today.  This is how we "get ready" for the end of days - It's the same way we are instructed to live all our days! 

So I want to urge you, along with Jesus, to Be Vigilant, Be Watchful, Sleepless in fact - in Prayer as we prepare for the soon coming of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  I think we all have a similar sense of urgency in our days.  Now that, in and of itself, is not the preparation - it can be filled with fear and foreboding - but we are to be moving in an opposite Spirit - the Spirit of God - displaying what Paul urged on Timothy, his young disciple, when he said, "God has not given us a spirit of fear, but One of Power and of Love and of Sound thinking."

So as Jesus warns in our Gospel reading, "when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near."  And further he says, "Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down..." Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength... to stand."

And let us close as we opened this morning with our collect for Advent I:

Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

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