David Turner has been Rector of St. Paul's Anglican Church in Hampton, NB since November 10, 2013

Sermon - Advent I - December 1

I really like Christmas, and I'm very excited that Christmas is very nearly here. I love the music. I love the food. I love all the cheesy Christmas movies. At a deeper and more spiritual level I love the chance Christmas gives us to contemplate the mystery of the incarnation of the Son of God. I love the way the incarnation underscores the fact that it wasn't just Jesus' teaching that changed the world (though it certainly did), and it wasn't even just his death and resurrection that changed the world (though they most certainly did), but that even just his being born changed the world. The mystery of the incarnation of the Word of God means that the very fabric of the cosmos was forever changed when Jesus was born because, when Jesus was born, the relationship between the cosmos and its creator was forever changed. So just by being born Jesus changed the world and to me that's wonderful. And so I think it's a good thing to look forward to celebrating Christmas, and it's a good thing to take the time to get ready to celebrate Christmas right.         

But all that being said, I am beginning to believe that it is a mistake to make the season of Advent all about getting ready for Christmas. I'm beginning to believe that Advent should in fact be spent getting ready for something even more radical, and mystical, and transformative and even more glorious than Christmas. I'm beginning to believe that Advent should be spent getting ready for something that God hasn't even done yet.

Christians spend a lot of our time remembering and reflecting on the things that God has done with, and for, and in and through his people in the past. Most of our year is shaped around the work of remembering. At Christmas we remember Jesus' birth. During Epiphany we remember his baptism. In Lent we remember his temptation in the wilderness. In Holy Week we remember his death and passion, Easter his resurrection, then his Ascension, followed by Pentecost where we celebrate the pouring out of God's Holy Spirit on the Apostolic church and their mission of preaching and healing and disciple-making. And all along we remember Jesus' teaching and his miracles. And we are right to remember all of these things. 

But Advent is a little different. All the remembering that we're asked to do during this season is centered around the anticipation of Jesus' first appearance. So we read the prophet Isaiah and hear about John the Baptist, who both preach about the one who is to come.  We read about Mary and Joseph and their ordeal of being told that they will be responsible for bearing and rearing God's Son. We remember the anticipation of Jesus' first Advent in order to experience that same anticipation in our own lives as we await the future Advent of Jesus.   

Last week at Messy Church, I was chatting with some of our younger members, and one of the girls in elementary school was telling me that she had been encouraged to write a letter to Santa Clause to tell him what she wanted.  Not wanting to be selfish or materialistic, she figured she should ask for something meaningful so she started writing down that what she wanted for Christmas was world peace. But then she realized she asking the wrong person for world peace. Santa can't give world peace for Christmas. Only God can bring world peace. And I thought that was a perfect realization to have just in time for Advent. 

The most meaningful things we can hope for at this time of year, or any time of year, are the things that ultimately only God can give us, and which the prophets like Isaiah, and the apostles like Paul, and which Jesus himself have all promised that God will do. And so the best way to spend Advent isn't to just to get ready for Christmas, but to get ready for God to do something brand new - something that only God can do.

And there is a lot to do to get ready for what God will do. 

We're meant to start the season of Advent by reflecting on the theme of Hope.  The kind of hope that Advent calls us to embrace is not a passive kind of hope where we just sit back and hope for the best as we wait for God to take care of everything. Advent hope is active and it's meant to drive us to get ready for what God is going to do.  It's a hope that is meant to guide us as we strive to live our lives in anticipation of what God is going to do.  

So think of something like world peace, which Isaiah very clearly promises God will one day finally make happen. When it finally comes, the world will be made so completely different from how it is right now that in order to be a part of that future for which we hope, we will have to be prepared to live in a radically different kind of world...otherwise when it finally comes we will miss out. Hoping in and longing for the fulfillment of God's promises of peace and justice means doing everything in our power now to prepare for the future that God has promised.

And if we think about all of this in relation to Advent, we see that Advent is about a whole lot more than just getting ready for Christmas. It's about getting ready for God to do something completely new and which only God can do, which is about a whole lot more than just getting ready or Christmas.

I hope, in all sincerity, that all of us and everyone has a really nice Christmas this year, but I also hope that none of us just spends the next four weeks merely hoping for a nice Christmas. Not because there's anything wrong with having a nice Christmas. It's just that God has so much more in store for us than just a nice Christmas.  

The Son of God did not subvert the fundamental laws of the universe, and bridge the impossible gulf separating heaven and earth and become incarnate in flesh and blood to live and die as one of us just so we could have nice holiday once year, or even less to create a multi-billion dollar retail industry. He did it to bring real hope into the world and to open our hearts and minds and lives to the good news that God can and will do infinitely more in our lives and in the life of the world than we could ask or imagine.

But hoping that God will do something completely new and something only he can do is really intimidating. It's much easier, and far safer, and it seems much less presumptuous to just hope for a nice Christmas, and not to expect too much from God. 

But the simple fact is that the only kind of hope that Jesus is in the business of offering is the intimidating kind of hope. 

You heard him in the gospel this morning. I mean, talk about intimidating. He compares the coming of the Son of man, his Advent in to the world, to the flood in the story of Noah.  He warns that when he appears no one will be ready for it and they'll all be swept away, that some will be taken and some will be left.  That's intimidating. It's downright scary. 

But it is a mistake to think that what he is warning us against is the kind of flood that is described in the story of Noah, because if you know that story at all you know that it ends with God promising that never again will a flood of any kind destroy all life on earth.

It's an entirely different kind of flood for which Jesus is trying to prepare his people. It's the flood of God's goodness and love. It's the flood of God's justice and peace. It's the flood of God's glory, the knowledge of which, the Bible promises, will one day fill the earth even as the waters cover the sea. That is the kind of flood for which Jesus wants his followers to be ready. 

The real essence of Jesus' warning to us this morning is this: don't let yourself miss out on the amazing things that God is going to do by being too timid in your hopes, or by being carried away by the mundane distractions of this life. God is going to do something completely new and which only God can do and it will be glorious. 

So again, I really do hope we all have a very nice Christmas this year, but more importantly I hope that this Advent we will be made ready for the new things God is going to do in the life of this church, in the lives of each one of us, and in the life the world. For salvation is nearer to us now, not only than when we first believed, but it is near now than it has ever been.

Thanks be to God.