December 1, 2019 First Sunday of Advent
The day is near!
Life is good! Life is challenging! Life is interesting! Life is beautiful. Life is hard, life is wonderful, life is sad! Life is new and exciting and life is old and boring! Life is outright dangerous! Life is all we have- or perhaps not?
Does life have meaning? The cast of Monty Python asks the same question in the Movie, “The meaning of Life”. A group of fish in a posh restaurant’s tank swim together casually, until they look at the customers outside of the tank and see their friend Howard being eaten. This leads them to question the meaning of life!
Herman Hesse, German author and philosopher said, “I believe that I am not responsible for the meaningfulness or meaninglessness of life, but that I am responsible for what I do with the life I’ve got.”
Do the best you can! This is not what you expected to hear this morning, is it? But it is true that when you observe life in a clinically and unemotional fashion, you have to admit that life does not always make sense!
Life is tenacious but life is also very fragile. Life is constantly under threat. When you consider life in its simplest form, you notice that there is always a tug of war between life and death! And as the clock ticks, as time moves on, life’s greatest enemy, death, gains strength!! As time goes on, slowly but surely death gets the upper hand until death has its day and life is over! Depressing is it not? Life, from the day we are born, is one slow process of dying!
In his collection of writings called Nothing To Be Said, the Poet Phillip Larkin writes:
For nations vague
For nomads among stones,
Small-statured cross-faced tribes
And cobble-close families
In mill-towns on dark mornings
Life is slow dying.
So are their separate ways
Of building, benediction,
Measuring love and money
Ways of slowly dying.
The day spent hunting pig
Or holding a garden-party,
Hours giving evidence
Or birth, advance
On death equally slowly.
And saying so to some
Means nothing; others it leaves
Nothing to be said.
It is not only life that is slowly dying. Astronomers have recently conclusively discovered that the universe itself is slowly dying! New findings establish the cosmos’ decline with unprecedented precision. Now, in terms of cosmic time we have some time left as the current physical cosmology estimates the present age as 13.8 billion years.
The Book of Ecclesiastes puts in words what each one of us intuitively feels:
is fleeting, like a passing mist. It is like trying to catch hold of a
All vanishes like a vapor; everything is a great vanity.
Last Sunday was Christ the King Sunday, the last day of the church year! Time has done with the old church year what only time can do! It is slowly wringed life out of it! The year has slowly died and now the old church year is gone! It is dead! And what do we have to show for it? Probably nothing except for a few more grey hairs, or fewer hair, a few more wrinkles and a few more aches and pains! Life is slowly dying!
Sir Paul McCartney wrote:
It’s a tug of war
Though I know I mustn’t grumble
It s a tug of war
But I can’t let go
If I do you’ll take a tumble
And the whole thing is going to crumble
It’s a tug of war
In years to come they may discover
What the air we breathe and the life we lead
Are all about
But it won’t be soon enough
Soon enough for me.
But then he continues:
In another world
We could Stand on top of the mountain
With our flag unfurled
In a time to come
In a time to come
We will be dancing to the beat played
On a different drum.
I want to invite you to come with me to the proverbial mountain and have a good look!! Perhaps we, as people of faith may see a glimmer of hope! Perhaps we who are slowly dying, we who feel the deep fatigue of a grueling 12 months, we who are feeling uncomfortable and anxious about a changing world, we who at times struggling to hold onto our faith when doubt is a disturbing reality, we will see something that will lift our spirits. Perhaps we who are lamenting the suffering of people; women and children in Syria and other places, we who are heartbroken when we see refugees in decrepit boats crossings seas to safety, we who are lamenting the state of God’s creation with its rising temperatures and devastating natural disasters- we will see something that will turn our mourning into laughter!
On this first Sunday of Advent, as we are standing on top of a proverbial mountain, what is it that we see that will make us leap and dance with joy?
On this First Sunday of Advent, what is it we see that has the power to change a slowly dying life into a life that is vibrant, joyful and meaningful? What is it we see that is causing within us a feeling of inexplicable excitement?
What we are seeing is a time when “God would judge between nations and God shall arbitrate for many peoples! Swords shall be beaten into plowshares, wars will be no more!”
The image of a temple mountain was common in the Ancient Near East. It symbolized God’s victory over chaos, the mountain top that was sometimes invisible above the clouds was seen as a stairway leading into the heavens, and it symbolized God’s presence with his people. Mount Zion, the divine mountain of the Creator of the universe, stands for God’s sovereign rule throughout the whole earth! We are seeing the coming of God’s sovereign rule!
And God’s universal reign will reveal the stark differences of everyday life:
Many nations and diverse peoples, instead of waging wars, will come together in harmony. God’s universal reign will end the common view that foreign nations are enemies, or that those belonging to other groups are a threat. God’s universal reign will do away with the notion that the “other” is distrusted, questioned and considered inferior.
Commentators point out that the reference to “all people coming to the mountain of the Lord” contrasts with the Tower of Babel. You will recall that in the story of Babel, nations stir up one another to build the tower and it ended up in confusion, distrust and ultimately war. The result of nations streaming to God’s mountain is quite different: instead of war, there will be harmony and lasting peace! Weapons of destruction are transformed into implements of agriculture! Military academies will have no use anymore!
This divine extravagance is a farfetched dream for most, but we, who are on the proverbial mountain of God, we are embracing God’s dream: we stand on the mountain top, seeing, hoping and trusting that God will do this! As Advent people, we believe this, we are hopeful even as we wait for we are convinced that God’s reality is approaching! We have seen glimpses of God’s plans and that is why we are joyfully dancing to a different tune!
The Apostle Paul in Romans reminds us that this day, he calls it salvation, is nearer to us now than when we became believers! “The night is far gone – the day is near.”
We, who are on top of metaphorical Divine mountain, waiting and watching, feel the excitement of the approaching Advent! We are waiting but it is not an idle wait! The Apostle Paul offers an urgent word: “The day is near- let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on armor of light. Let us live honorably. Let us put on the Lord Jesus Christ!”
The implication is clear: We, who have seen the new day, are waiting for God to bring about God’s plans for creation, but we are working hard to implement what we have seen! We, in the words of the Apostle Paul, are putting on the Lord Jesus Christ, which means that we are representing Jesus, doing what he showed us, following in his footsteps, by accepting others, serving in love and humility, and being obedient to God’s command to love God above all and to love our neighbor as ourselves. When the Apostle says we should put on armor of light the significance of the metaphor is clear: when we let our light shine in a dark, violent and unfriendly world, the light pushes the darkness out. The Gospel of John says it as follows: “What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”
There are times when we feel overwhelmed by the challenges we face as Christians in a harsh and cold world. Sometimes, deep down we have doubts. There are times when it seems as if the Biblical promises do not work: It says that the meek shall inherit the earth, but the world rewards bullies, the meek are trampled on. Those who are gentle are ridiculed and the ones who confess a humble faith are pushed to the margins and are not taken seriously. The faithful respond: either by becoming more aggressive-even militant, or they withdraw to the safe confines of the church on Sundays. During the week they play the game as ruthlessly as everyone else!
Against this background Jesus warns: “Be watchful!” Time is moving on and we don’t know when Jesus would return and no one knows when our days will come to an end. The future is in God’s hands and therefore we should not become despondent or indifferent! We who have been called are called to persevere and not give up.
Some branches of Christianity have interpret the image of two women working in the field and one would be taken and one will be left as the Biblical proof of the so-called rapture. This is not the case. The point Matthew wants to make is that one of them was watchful and the other was not. We are thus called to be watchful and not give up.
We all know that waiting is not easy. Waiting feels like a waste of time. However, it is only hard and a waste of time if we do so passively! Therefore, on this first Sunday of Advent we are urged to be actively involved in working towards the new day we’ve seen from the mountain. We are called to work towards peace, justice, and kindness. We, who have seen God’s new world where people won’t learn how to make war, but instead work towards a sustainable and peaceful coexistence, have a lot of work ahead of us. We are called as Advent people to use all the opportunities to point towards God’s peaceful and harmonious plan for humankind and for God’s creation!
We need to be watchful! We need to be careful that we are not distracted, and above all we need to make sure that we don’t lose hope, faith and love! As people who have seen the light we need to let this divine light shine in the darkness!
Such a life is not fleeting, it does not lead to death, it is not without meaning! It is an abundant life!