1 Advent B—12/3/17
Isaiah 64:1-9; 1 Corinthians 1:3-9; Mark 13:24-37
Pr. Scott Kramer
In our reading from words of the Apostle Paul to the Corinthian church:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
It’s the first Sunday in Advent, but today we start with the Christmas story! In our reading from Mark’s gospel Jesus cautions his followers to be alert, to be awake. Wise words, for Christmas sneaks up on us fast!
There were no shopping malls in Jesus’ day. There was no internet! But in our time, as in Jesus’ time, there are many distractions. There were wars and rumors. There was injustice and corruption and greed—just like today! These things can and should energize us and motivate us to speak and act boldly and publicly for what’s right and good and Godly! But if they fill us with fear and despair, then they become distractions. Keep alert, Jesus warns. Keep awake, or else, like countless people in that first Christmas story and ever since, we will fail to recognize the flesh-and-blood God who shows up among us, too!
What is the Christmas story? It can be summed up in one verse. Turn to John 3:16 and you’ll find it: For God so loved the world, that he gave his only son. At Christmas we celebrate God’s gift—not for a few but for…the whole world!
God’s love is big. It’s so big, in fact, that it’s easy to miss! In today’s reading Jesus urges his followers to keep awake! Because like countless folks before us, we are less likely to get on board with God’s big dreams and more likely to be distracted by our own fears and worries that keep our vision small and our response muted. Remember the story a couple of weeks ago about the servant who played it safe, and the response of his master? Christmas is the risk-filled story of ordinary people’s courage and commitment to get on board with a project that is bigger than anything we dare to imagine on our own!
How big is God’s vision? On Christmas Eve we will sing Joy to the world, the Lord is come. Let Earth receive its king! And again, we will sing “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing,” including the words, Peace on Earth, and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled.
God’s love…for the world! God’s joy…for the world! God’s peace…for the world! What difference might it make to the world if we Christians suddenly became bolder in our priorities, expectations, imagination, proclamation…and our deeds?
Keep alert, Jesus cautions. Keep awake. Knowing how the Christmas story turns out can help us filter out distractions that keep us from seeing the God who shows up among us. When we remember the grand vision of God for the world we will be alert to signs of that vision around us, which in turn fill us with hope and energize us for service. Distractions weigh us down with worry and fear and even despair. But how could signs of God’s love, joy, and peace in the world ever weigh us down?
As we move through this Advent season, how big are your dreams? To what extent are you on board with God’s love…for the world? To what extent do you believe in peace…on earth…and to what extent are you invested in peacemaking? To what extent has joy…to the world…taken hold of your own heart?
Dear friends, keep awake! Keep alert during this season of Advent to signs of God’s grand dreams, for opportunities to participate in God’s love for the world—beyond the safe and familiar borders and walls of our hearts and minds.
Every one of us is tempted to be weighed down by both personal circumstances and the woes of the world. Advent marks a new beginning, a new season, a new church year. Could this season really be a new beginning? In what ways might the stories of Advent nudge each of us, and all of us together, away from distractions, away even from what might be habits of a lifetime that keep our dreams and our choices cautious and muted?
There’s a priceless secret here, and it’s this: As Christians have discovered over the past twenty centuries, the extent to which we invest in God’s love for the whole world determines in large part our own personal experience of unconditional love, joy regardless of personal circumstances, and “peace that passes understanding.”
Advent is here. Christmas is coming. Joy to the world! Peace on Earth! You know how the story turns out: God so loves…the world! Keep awake for the God who is already among us!