I have been hesitant to add my own privileged commentary to issues surrounding Ferguson and sexual violence against women. I normally try to share and retweet the voices of the oppressed. But as a preacher, I can’t keep silent. Here is the text of the sermon preached to my congregation this morning.
“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…
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, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.” (Read the whole lesson here)
Keep Awake. The world is waiting.
The world is waiting for justice. Waiting for peace. Waiting for healing.
Keep awake. This week we watched as the people of Ferguson waited for answers, waited for justice… and then we saw a system stacked against justice rule to protect the privileged. And we saw the results. As the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr said, “Rioting is the language of the unheard.”
The world is waiting for Justice.
Keep Awake. This week we witnessed hoards of people flock to malls and stores in order to get Black Friday deals. In order to engage in retail therapy, the attempt to fill empty hearts by emptying full wallets.
The world is waiting for healing.
Keep Awake. This week heard news and reminders that violence against women, misogyny and sexism are not things of the past. We heard the charges laid against CBC radio host and celebrity Jian Ghomeshi, the allegations made by elected MPs of harassment. We have heard that two men have been charged in the case of Rinelle Harper, a 16-year-old girl left for dead on the banks of the Assiniboine left after being assaulted and violated.
The world is waiting for peace.
Today, is the first Sunday of Advent. And we know it is Advent, not just because of the calendar, but because we are no longer surprised by the Christmas music playing in the malls, or the Christmas lights that light up night-time streets and highways, or the fact that the Santa Claus parade was already two weeks ago.
Last Sunday, we concluded the church year, and today we turn the page onto a new one. As Christians, we observe a calendar slightly offset from the secular one. Our church year begins with Advent in late November, a good month or so ahead of January 1st. And like regular New Year’s, Advent is partly about a chance to start over, to leave behind the baggage of the previous year, and make a fresh beginning.
But Advent is no so much about resolutions, as it is about preparation. Preparation and waiting. Advent is the 4 weeks before Christmas, and is centered around hearing the stories that prepare us for the birth of Messiah. And like the season of Lent before Easter, Advent is season that is toned down, a season for reflection and thoughtfulness. But Advent is not about penitence or preparing ourselves to hear about Christ’s death is like Lent is. Instead, Advent is hopeful and full of anticipation. If Lent is the church season of waiting on Death Row or in Palliative Care, Advent is the season of pregnancy.
And each Advent season, we start on week 1, Sunday 1 hearing about the end. Hearing about the coming of the Son of Man. Advent waiting begins with waiting for Jesus. Waiting for the Messiah to come with the people of Israel, waiting for child to be born in a manger, and waiting for the second coming, for Jesus to return for that big cosmic ending.
And so today, before we get to John the Baptist, or before we get to angels making announcements to virgins, we hear Jesus’ words about the end of time. Keep Awake, he says, because no one knows the day nor the hour.
What an odd place to begin the church year. What an odd place to start Advent. December should start with digging boxes of Christmas lights out of storage, and checking off lists for Christmas shopping. This end of the world stuff doesn’t seem to fit.
As Jesus tells his disciples to Keep Awake, it becomes abundantly clear, that as modern people, we have no idea what waiting really is. The people of ancient Israel lived in a world of waiting so different from ours.
The world of the disciples was full of waiting… as Jesus reminds them of the lesson of the fig tree, we too can learn something. The people of Ancient Israel lived by a lunar calendar. This means that they organized their months by cycles of the moon rather than by the earth moving around the sun. More concretely, their months were all either 29 or 30 days long. Any month could be 29 or 30 days. Their years were either 12 months or 13 months long. Any year could be 12 or 13 months. So how did they know?
Well, when at least couple of people observed the new moon at end of the month, they would tell the temple authorities (the church council) who would then send out messengers to let the people know that the month had changed. And then at the end of the year (which was usually around our February or March), if spring still seemed far off, the temple authorities would just add another month to the end of the year.
Take a moment and think about that. Imagine if we had to read the papers or watch the news to find out which day our months ended on. And imagine if a couple of weeks before the end of the year, we found out there would be another December.
The is why the Ancient Israelites had to watch the leaves of the Fig tree to know when summer began, their calendars couldn’t be trusted. Instead, they had to trust the signs around them, they had to trust their community to keep awake together, trust their leaders to make sure good decisions were made.
We wouldn’t know what to do with ourselves in a world like that. We don’t know how to wait in that way. We don’t live our lives with an openness to things happening sooner than we expect, or not happening when we want them to. We live with set schedules, with fixed time limits, with predictable dates. In fact, you can tell just how bad we are at waiting by the question we love to torture kids with this time of year, “How many sleeps until Christmas?”
And while we are not good at waiting in the same way the people of ancient Israel were used to, we do wait. We wait just like they did. Maybe not for extra days or extra months but we wait for salvation like they did. We wait for Justice like them, we wait for peace, we wait for healing.
And in Advent, we wait for Messiah too.
They waited for Messiah in Jerusalem, on the banks of the Jordan and Bethlehem. They waited to be freed from oppression from Empire, they waited for God’s mercy and love to make them clean, they waited to be lifted up from their suffering.
And we wait for Messiah in Ferguson, in Ottawa, on the banks of the Assiniboine, and here right now among us. And whether we are good at it or not, our waiting is not measured by the number of sleeps until Christmas, nor on calendars, schedules or to do lists.
Like the ancient Israelites, our waiting for Messiah is measured in small glimpses of Hope.
Messiah came to Ancient Israel in the form of a carpenter turned preacher telling of the coming of the son man to expectant crowds. Messiah comes to us as people of faith speak out about the injustices of Ferguson and stand with a community grieving and oppressed.
Messiah was preached by a hermit crying in the wilderness, prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Messiah is preached today, as we refuse to consume and spend as if it were therapy, as we proclaim a counter-cultural message of waiting and anticipation, instead of immediate gratification.
Messiah was promised and announced to young woman, not yet married. And it was an unremarkable girl, overlooked by the world around her who bore God’s promise into the world with a man who should have stoned her instead of staying faithful.
And Messiah is promised and announced here as a community rallies around a young girl left for dead on the river banks, declaring violence against women and minorities is unacceptable.
Our hopeful waiting is for a Messiah who comes in small unexpected places, who comes no matter how good we are waiting, who comes to bring justice, peace and healing.
Keep Awake, says Messiah. The world is waiting.
Keep awake and see that Advent is not a countdown to Christmas, but a chance to see that the signs of Messiah’s coming, Messiah who may come tomorrow or in a lifetime.
But Jesus also says something else.
Today Jesus declares that no matter how dark the world seems,
The Son of Man is coming.
No matter whether we wait with patience or with anxiousness,
The Messiah is entering our world.
Regardless the powers of injustice, violence and suffering,
Salvation promised, will come to us.
Our waiting will not be in vain, our longing for a better world does not go unnoticed by God.
Keep Awake Jesus says, not as command to keep vigilante. But Keep Awake is a promise. A promise that in our Advent waiting, there will ever growing light in our darkness, that our hope is in Messiah and the signs say Messiah is on the way.
Amen, Come Lord Jesus.