Pastor Annabelle P. Markey
Year A – First Sunday of Advent
Community Lutheran Church, Sterling, VA – December 1, 2019
Today is the First Sunday of Advent. It’s not only the beginning of the church year, but is a time dedicated to getting ready for Christmas. But it’s not just a countdown. It is a counter-cultural, revolutionary time. A time of waiting and preparation. A time “pregnant” with possibilities. A time when we prepare our hearts and our lives for the birth of our Savior. It is a time of refocusing our energies and attention on what is important. And, man, can that feel like an uphill slog when you’ve got decorating to do, Christmas parties to attend, cookies to bake, ugly sweater contests to win, gifts to buy and make, meals to plan, relatives to contend with… Oh yeah, and we’ve now got 24 days to do it all. Ugh.
But our theme for this season asks a crucial question: “what can’t wait?” As we prepare for the coming Messiah, we are invited to wonder and consider together—what things can’t wait? What demands our immediate attention? What requires our work and preparation? What is it that God can’t wait for? As we wait, what can’t?
In Isaiah, God’s people have not been living as they should be. They have been worshiping idols, and have become proud. Relying on themselves and striking up deals with other nations, they have sought to acquire and stockpile silver, gold, horses, and chariots. And God is not pleased. They have forgotten that it was God who freed them from slavery and brought them into a land flowing with milk and honey. That it was God who led them from bondage to prosperity. They have forgotten that they’re supposed to be God’s people – not doing their own thing or following any other god or nation.
It’s in this context that Isaiah speaks: “wake up, people! This is not the life God had in mind for you. You’re doing it wrong!” Isaiah “sees” a word from God – a beautiful image when all nations will stream to the Lord, in order to learn from God and walk in God’s paths. Isaiah looks and sees a day when the peoples of the world will heat up their weapons of war and beat them into farm tools – tools that will help people survive and flourish. It is a powerful vision.
As scholar Walter Brueggemann says, “…it is a vision, an act of imagination that looks beyond present dismay through the eyes of God, to see what will be that is not yet. That is the function of promise in the life of faith. Under promise, in Advent, faith sees what will be that is not yet.”
This time of Advent is a time of waiting in hope that God’s promises – these beautiful and life-altering dreams and visions – will indeed come true. That these spoken words will become our dreams and visions. That they will become reality for us and for our children and for generations to come.
We hear this and we know that something is off. We look around and we know that this has not yet taken place. We aren’t fools. We see that things are not how they should be and we hear these words and dream of a day when they will be made real – right before us. This creates a disconnect. A longing. A yearning. A dream. A fervent hope for change.
And there can be! God is bringing it about and keeps on inviting us to be a part of it – to turn from doing harm and from those things we continue to put before our relationships with God and others. As Isaiah would say, “O Community Lutheran, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!”
Paul writes in Romans, “you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light… put on the Lord Jesus Christ…” Now is time! Now is the day! God is coming! Let Jesus live in you! Get ready and be a part of what God is doing!
We are always to be in a state of watchful expectation, awaiting this in breaking, because we don’t know when it’s coming, but we know that God’s promises are sure. In the words of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus describes some downright scary sounding moments, but the message is clear – keep awake, alert, and engaged in what is truly important.
Because God shows up unexpectedly, suddenly, surprising us – not just with God’s timing, but with the welcome, grace, and love that we’re given. God shows up as Emmanuel – God with us. That is stunning and astonishing. It is our hope. An unexpected hope. And it cannot wait.
God will not allow God’s vision, God’s abundant love and promise for all of creation to be on standby. If you want to think about it this way, it’s like famous theologian Rihanna sings, “we found love in a hopeless place…” God shows up in all our hopeless places, seasons of trouble and trial, medical diagnoses, job losses, pressures and stresses in school, and in the tension, conflict, and violence in our lives and in the world. God shows up and invites us to be a part of the change that God simply cannot wait to bring about.
God’s vision for the world is a vision of harmony in diversity. Of the healing of the nations and our earth. Of peace that doesn’t just mean the absence of war, but of reconciliation between individuals and communities. It looks like people streaming to behold God’s presence so their hearts are changed. So that they are not only able to grow food using former weapons of war, but that they themselves are able to grow and bear fruit in God’s name. And that requires honest reflection, humility, and a change in our hearts.
Pedro Reyes, an activist in Mexico, saw an opportunity for a difference and new life when he looked at the city with the highest rate of gun deaths in his country. Reyes has collected 1,527 guns for the project Palas por Pistolas, melting these guns down into 1,527 shovelheads. These shovels are being used to plant 1,527 trees in the city. Implements of death are transformed into implements of life. It’s the story we hear in the cross – a tool of death became the tree of life. The same thing is happening in Philadelphia. People there, dismayed that it only took four and a half minutes to legally purchase a semi-automatic AR-15, are turning these weapons into gardening tools. They are turning weapons used to take life into tools that can plant seeds, grow food, connect people in community, and promote hope and peace. This is Isaiah’s vision – God’s vision – of peace instead of war, people coming together to build one another up instead of to tear down, coming to light in our own times. It’s a vision of hope for the well being and good of all God’s people and it cannot wait.
Things will happen that are uncertain and frightening, but we cling to the hope that God is coming. God will not wait. God has already come in the flesh in Jesus. And we continue to experience God’s presence even now through the power of the Holy Spirit. God’s word speaks to us – it convicts us, turns our hearts toward God, comforts us, and challenges us to live in alternative ways to what the world is selling us. We meet God in the waters of baptism and simple bread and wine where we are forgiven, freed, and strengthened to serve others in Christ’s love. We experience God in creation and the seasons, reminding us that times of change, shedding the old, lying fallow, and preparing for new growth are all part of God’s design. We see God in the diverse faces, experiences, and stories of our sisters and brothers whose differences teach us listening, compassion, and how to live in community as God lives in communion.
So what are the hopes and dreams God has laid on your heart? What simply cannot wait? In this time of waiting, may you spend time wrestling with these questions. The time is now. Come, let us walk in the light and hope of the Lord! Amen.