1st Sunday of Advent (B) – November 29, 2020
St. Mary – Derby, KS
Isaiah 63:16b-17, 19b; 64:2-7; Psalm 80:2-3, 15-16, 18-19; 1 Corinthians 1:3-9; Mark 13:33-37
(1) Advent: What It Is and What It Isn’t
Of all of the seasons we celebrate in the Church, Advent is by far my favorite. And, predictably, this stems from the fact that whenever Advent began, whenever the Advent wreath and candles were brought out, whenever everything shifted to this season—that’s when as a little kid anticipation started to build, that’s when as a college kid looking for a break you saw the light at the end of the tunnel: Christmas is coming. Christmas day! Best “Day” of the year.
But it’s a tricky thing, this whole Advent business. At Mass the other day, I asked the school kids, “How many of you, when you hear that Jesus is going to come again—how many of you get worried? When you hear that Jesus is going to come again to judge the living and the dead, how many of you get worried?” And most of the kids were worried. And if I had to guess, the sound of that probably makes a lot of us here a little worried. And yet, this is precisely what we are celebrating in Advent, this is precisely why Christmas is such a big deal.
Advent is not giving us time to get ready to celebrate Christmas. (My siblings hate me when I say things like this, because it sounds like I’m being such a Scrooge. But I’m sorry, it’s just the truth.) Advent is not a four week countdown to get your Christmas shopping done, to clean your house, decorate, and all of that. Advent is not our time to get ready to celebrate Jesus’ birthday. And at Christmas we’re not celebrating Jesus’ birthday for its own sake—Jesus’ feelings are not going to be hurt if he doesn’t get a birthday party. We were told many of these things in second grade and throughout our childhood, and as a result we got stoked for Christmas. And that’s why we tell kids that: so that Advent and Christmas evoke a sense of hope and joy and excitement. I have not met one kid who is worried about Christmas day.
But as we mature in our faith, those reasons become less and less useful. We forget the actual “reason for the season” and fall back on what we learned in second grade. And we don’t usually like the actual “reason for the season,” and so we tend to avoid it. Like the school kids at Mass that day, the “reason for the season” tends to worry us, and so we’re all too happy to fall back into our second grade mentality.
And so I want to invite you into the actual season of Advent. It’s a season where we embrace these words from Jesus in our Gospel today and “Watch!” We spent the last three Sundays hearing about how Jesus is going to leave us in vigilance and waiting, how he is going to entrust himself to us in his absence, how he is going to return to judge. And this season of Advent continues that theme. This is the season of what it means to be a Christian! Advent is what it’s all about. All of it. Advent is my favorite season because this is what it’s all about!
(2) Christmas, Easter, and the Day of our Lord Jesus Christ
Advent is a season of the hope that stems from Christmas, or better, from the fact that God became man and opened for us the way to eternal life. God had been promising to do something, to come to his people, to save his people from their ancient enemies. And God is faithful. God is faithful. The people of God had been waiting for “the Day”: the Day when God would come and intervene in human affairs; the Day when there would come an end to the broken relationships, and violence, and death all stemming from the disobedience of Adam and Eve; the Day when all of the Egypts and Babylons and Romes of the world would be defeated; the Day when the Power of Sin and Death itself would be defeated. And God is faithful.
God is faithful to his promises: he came once, and so we have hope that, like he promised, he will come again. That is our great hope. Our great hope is that the Lord Jesus Christ will come again to completely establish his eternal Kingdom on earth as in heaven (c.f., 1 Corinthians 1:8b). His first coming opened the Way and his second coming will bring all of this to completion.
Because Christmas, God becoming man, wasn’t enough. Jesus’ teaching and preaching wasn’t enough. Jesus’ miracles weren’t enough. Something is wrong with the world and that had to be dealt with. Again, the Egypts and Babylons and Romes of the world had to be dealt with; Sin and Death had to be dealt with. And so on the cross and by his resurrection, Jesus deals with them, he opens a way to eternal salvation.
But—we can clearly see that evil and sin and death still fill the world. So what gives? Did Jesus lie? Is Jesus incapable of defeating Sin and Death? And the answer is “no.” “The Day if the Lord” is coming (c.f., 1 Corinthians 1:8b): the Day when Babylon the Great will be defeated (c.f., Revelation 18), the Day when the Lord Jesus Christ will come again. And that’s what we’re waiting and “watching” for. We’re all waiting and watching for Jesus’ return (c.f., 1 Corinthians 1:7b).
(3) Isaiah 63 and Psalm 80: The Cry of Israel Becomes Our Cry
And we shouldn’t be worried for this day! Again, if this is the Day that Jesus comes as Lord to defeat all of these powers of the world, all of the Egypts and Babylons and Romes of the world, to defeat and Sin and Death—if that’s what’s going to happen, why should we be worried?
Well, it’s because we “wander” away from God and “harden our hearts” (c.f., Isaiah 63:17). We know that we are guilty of a million different ways of turning away from God, of becoming indifferent to his will, becoming careless in following the Way he opened for us out of captivity. We know that, at different times, we have pledged our loyalty to the Egypts and Babylons and Romes of the world. We know that we have become an accomplice of sin. We have played that game. And then, no matter how hard we try, it seems, we can’t wrangle ourselves free from its grip. I have people in confession all the time whose confession is: “The same as always, Father. I just can’t seem to avoid these sins.” That’s what it means to be held captive. That’s how we know that Sin and Death are still putting up a fight.
But that’s why we should be watching and praying and hoping for Jesus to return! Our Psalm today says it so so well, and (no coincidence) it’s a Psalm of the people crying out from their captivity in Babylon. And these words are our cry as we begin this Advent season: “O shepherd of Israel, [listen to our cry]…Rouse your power and come to save us!…Once again, O LORD of hosts, look down from heaven…Then we will no more withdraw from you” (c.f., Psalm 80). We’re crying out to God to come again, to come and set things right, to remove us from the grip of sin and death. “O come, o come Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel.”
(4) We Follow the Way, We Trust He Will Come
And the Lord is coming. God is faithful, our father and redeemer. And so, as we await his coming in glory, as we await his second “advent,” we follow the Way he has laid out for us. We trust that he will come and complete his work, even his work within each one of us. But we wait, we watch for his coming with great hope. Christmas showed us that in the most unlikely and backward of ways, God came once. On this altar, each and every Sunday, he comes to us. In the Sacrament of Reconciliation he is present to us, welcoming us back into his friendship, healing and binding us up on the Way. He will come again, and then his kingdom will have no end.
So yeah, get your Christmas shopping done, clean your house, decorate, all of that. Prepare to celebrate the birth of our Savior. Embrace that sense of hope and joy and excitement that you have felt since second grade. But now, with renewed faith and hope, turn that hope and joy and excitement to the Day when he will finally set all things right, when we will rejoice without ceasing.
God is faithful. “He will keep you firm to the end, irreproachable on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.”