December 3, 2017 First Sunday of Advent Mark 13: 24-37
Prayer: Dear Lord, We enter this Advent season of waiting, of anticipation, of remembrance. Please let us feel your presence during this time. We pray in the name you wore when born on earth, Amen.
When anybody comes into our art room, the first thing they notice is the walls. They are painted with a wild, colorful jungle flora.
Our art room founder was a woman named Karen Lucci, and she intentionally painted the walls so that we wouldn’t hang art canvases on them. She didn’t want anyone to be intimidated if they saw really great art on the walls.
Karen and her husband Phil worshiped here for four or five years before moving to a start-up church that they thought needed their help.
Karen was not only an artist, but a poet. And while she was with us, she published a book of poetry about friends she made in the art room.
She wrote about the lives of friends who lived on the street. Friends who lived in shelters. Friends who shared her life.
Some of the poems were funny. Some were sad. Some were light-hearted. Some were profound. In honor of this morning’s Scripture, here’s one called Awake:
So I woke up this morning
Took a leak and brushed
Put on my shoes and socks
Went to open the door
But there was none
Went to kiss my family goodbye
But there was none
Went to go to my job
But there was none
So I went back to sleep
And I like it on Saturdays
When they close off the streets
And open the farmers’ market
And all those with plastic bags look the same
Look alike toting their stuff
Just walking around
And I like Friday nights
With beer trucks and wine vans
Parked all over town
And the populace all tipsy
Just walking around
So I woke up again
Still in my dream
My life a dream
And I wonder what happened to my kids
Where did my kids go?
Weren’t they here just a minute ago?
This theme of being asleep or awake to our lives, to our God, is how we open the Advent season. To many of us who were not raised in churches that observed Advent, this season may not be familiar. It can get all mixed up with Christmas.
But Advent is the waiting. Christmas is the arrival.
The outside world is celebrating the Christmas season with shopping and cooking and partying. Here at Triune, we are not great sticklers for protocol. We will go ahead and sing Christmas hymns. We have a couple of groups who will come into the dining hall to carol and bring cookies.
My hope is that any of you who don’t have a Christmas season at home – or who don’t have homes -- will allow Triune to be your Christmas place. To have this be your Christmas tree. To have these be your Christmas lights. To have our meals be your holiday meals.
Yet, in here, in worship, we will be talking about Advent. As a church season, Advent is a time of darkness, a time of anticipation, a time of self-reflection, a time of preparation.
It is a season of waiting. Waiting for the Christ child to arrive at Christmas. Waiting for the adult Christ to return.
That’s where our Scripture starts us – not in anticipation of the first birth of Christ, but in his words about his return.
Please turn in your Bibles to Mark 13: 24-37:
24 ‘But in those days, after that suffering,
the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light,
25 and the stars will be falling from heaven,
and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.
26Then they will see “the Son of Man coming in clouds” with great power and glory. 27Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.
28 ‘From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. 29So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates.
30Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. 31Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
32 ‘But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come.
34 ‘It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch.
35 ‘Therefore, keep awake — for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, 36or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly.
37 ‘And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.’
A few weeks ago we talked about a parable in the gospel of Matthew about a man who went on a journey and left his slaves in charge. One worked hard, and that is how his master found him – hard at work. But one got drunk and beat his fellow slaves. That is how his master found him.
I think what happened here is that both Mark and Matthew heard Jesus speak the same parable. Or heard from someone else that he’d spoken the parable. Matthew then repeated the entire story. But Mark summarized it into what we find here.
After his one sentence summary, he adds this moral: “Therefore, keep awake — for you do not know when the master of the house will come …. Keep awake.’
It is the wakefulness, the watchfulness, the alertness that is the important thing. For if we are following him, we are fully alert to his teachings. So it doesn’t matter a bit when he comes.
If we are following him, it doesn’t matter a bit when he comes.
Verse 32 can be puzzling, given our perception of the Trinity as a complete merging of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. “But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”
This verse does two things: It confronts head-on those who would read time tables into the apocalypses of Daniel and Revelation. It cannot be done.
And it tackles the heresy in the early church that Jesus wasn’t fully human.
Early on, a lot of people thought Jesus was essentially a god disguised as a human. This verse states clearly that Jesus was fully human, and that while he was on earth, he did not know everything that God knew.
“About that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”
The point of the passage comes in verse 37: “Keep awake. Keep awake.”
But how does that look when 2,000 years have come and gone? 2,000 years since the birth of the baby in Bethlehem? 2,000 years since the resurrection of that same Jesus?
How do we protect against something that could come at any moment?
We live in such a way that it doesn’t matter when he returns.
We live in such a way that the unexpectedness won’t make a bit of difference.
We live in such a way that we can be proud of how the Lord finds us.
A good question to ask ourselves on this first Sunday of Advent, this very first Sunday of the new church year is: Would I welcome Jesus’ return tomorrow?
Am I doing something I wouldn’t want him to find me doing?
Am I not doing something I’d wish I had?
Or am I living in such a way that meeting Jesus would be just fine? That’s the question of Advent.
As a minister in his church, I have to admit to a little trepidation about the state of things. After Dylan Roof killed nine people during a Bible study in a Charleston AME church, an African-American pastor in Greenville told me that a stranger entered his sanctuary.
Now usually the whole point of having a church is to welcome strangers. We call them visitors.
But my friend said when a stranger walked in that day, 30 of his women pulled their pocketbooks into their laps.
The preacher didn’t ask, but he was pretty sure they had guns inside.
After a man shot up the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, I received an email. Someone wanted to sell us bulletproof vests and shields, specially designed for church use. There was a picture of a 5-year-old hefting one of these shields over his head to prove how lightweight it was.
But I’m not sure that either of those things was as unsettling as the billboard campaign currently up in Greenville. A company is selling guns, and each billboard has co-opted a treasured Christmas symbol to do so.
For instance, one billboard pictures the inside of a revolver showing five brass bullets. Here’s the tagline: Five Golden Rings.
Another billboard shows a magnificent deer in the crosshairs of a rifle scope. The tagline: “Not a creature was stirring.”
One shows an old woman in curlers pointing a shotgun – at Rudolph. “Not so fast reindeer,” it says.
And of course, one reads simply, “Jingle Bells, Shotgun Shells.”
This is where we find ourselves as we enter Advent in 2017. In a frightening world where there’s a market for bulletproof vests in church. Where it’s acceptable to juxtapose beautiful Christmas imagery with weaponry.
I can’t imagine that a returning Jesus will be pleased with what he finds.
On an individual level, I’m a little more hopeful. From the first day I came here, men have been telling me that the street is much harsher on women than on men.
That’s what is behind our hiring of Beth Messick to get women out of the sex trade. That’s what is behind our partnership with Christ Church to launch Jasmine Road, a house for these women.
Years before we thought of either of those things, Karen Lucci saw these women with her poet’s eyes. This one is called Street Girl.
Skinny thing with limbs
Broken and somewhat useless
Could hardly cross the street
Without the help of another
Her pimp perhaps
Perhaps her pimp
Maneuvered her along
I’ve seen her before
All twisted and hobbled
And yet there is a backbone
Something invisible and firm
Strength forged through adversity
Pain and neglect
I’ve seen the glint of her eyes
Occasions when no one else
A flame lit by fires across
The sea shackled voyage
Fierce light shuttled
Like a torch from generation
To sweet baby girl
The flame still shining
The flame defiant
Life in the flame that could not be
Street girl shall survive
At last Wednesday’s food pantry, a woman stopped me in the dining hall. I was trying to reach a contractor across the room to talk about a leak in these stained glass windows, but I paused. I’m so glad I did.
This woman told me that she’d first come to the pantry one year and four months earlier, when she was using drugs and prostituting. I told her about our social workers, Robin and Kathy, and she began meeting with them.
Two months later, she said, she got clean. Now she was living in a house and wasn’t prostituting anymore.
“I just wanted you to know it was because of the help this church gave me,” she said. “I imagine you don’t hear that very often.”
She’s right about that. But we are under no illusions. God transformed that woman. Sometimes he uses the kindness and patience of people like Robin and Kathy, but God transformed that woman.
I imagine he’s working on some lives in here right now.
In the meantime, in the between time, we will try to create a welcoming community – warm enough to welcome someone living in drugs and prostitution, warm enough to welcome our Lord.
During this time let us all do our best to be ready, to be pleasing, should he return tomorrow.
Let us keep awake.
Let us live so it doesn’t matter when he returns.