Sermon on First Sunday in Advent, at Christ Episcopal Church, La Crosse, by Rev. Canon Dr. Patrick P. Augustine


Isaiah 2:1-5, Romans 13: 11-14, Psalm 122, Matthew 24: 36-44
Advent Waiting-Anhelo-Longing
Yesterday morning I was meeting a young couple in my office to prepare them for their wedding. The gentleman is from India and his fiancée from La Crosse with Norwegian decent. At our meeting we shared the initial pleasantries and had fun conversation about our great American holiday of Thanksgiving celebration. This gentleman was brought up in India in a Hindu family. I found this opportunity a privilege as I tried to help them, particularly to help him understand about our Christian faith. I asked if he knew Christians are beginning a new Church Season this Sunday. He immediately said, “Tomorrow begins with the Advent Season.” I was really impressed and it gave me an opportunity to share with them briefly about “Advent.”
The congregation that observes Advent will mark time differently from those people who live December as a countdown to Christmas and the end of the year. The Sundays of Advent count forward to a time that begins with the birth of Christ. For Christians this is the First Sunday of the year; a new year is a sacred time opening to the mystery and certainty of God’s presence. Our culture of consumerism already has started Christmas celebrations. If we bring these consumer cultural attitudes to church for Advent worship we are in for a rude awakening! In worship here for the next four Sundays we won’t find Santa, nor will we encounter a smiling young Mary, a cooing baby Jesus, inquisitive shepherds, or singing angels. We may be both disappointed and dismayed by the texts of the Holy Scriptures. The season of Advent demands a very different kind of preparation than the shopping malls and glitzy catalogs recommend.[1] The sacred texts of the church set a very different tone than the cultural Christmas season that surrounds us outside the church.
For us it is a season of waiting as in the gospels of Matthew and Luke we hear a new beatitude: “Blessed are those servants whose master finds them watching when he comes (Matthew 24: 36-44, Luke 12: 35-40). In other words, we are waiting people of God. Even as otherwise, don’t we wait for improved political conditions and a better economy? Some wait for promotions in employment, or, for others, a new opportunity for work. We wait for new improved relationships. But in all these things we wait anxiously. For who knows if what we are waiting for will ever come? Or, if perhaps something quite different will come? And because we do not know, we must be prepared for disappointments. And for this reason, we must not lose our balance. We must stand firm.
As followers of Christ this is not our “Advent” waiting that Jesus speaks of. When I think of this waiting I think of the Spanish word anhelo, or longing which emerges through listening to the sacred texts such as:
“Come let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob,
that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” ---they shall
beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation
shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. O
House of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord! (Isaiah 2: 1-5)
Will this not be a wonderful longing prayer for the church when our world’s peace is threatened by conflict in the Korean Peninsula. Just hear what one of the generals said yesterday:
The commander of South Korea’s marines, Lt. Gen. Yoo Nak-joon, vowed
to avenge the deaths a “thousandfold.” “We will put our feelings of rage
and animosity in our bones and take our revenge on North Korea,” he said. (New York Times 11-27-2010)
In Psalm 122 appointed for today our longing prayer is:
Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: May they prosper who love you.
Peace be within your walls and quietness within your towers.
Our longing prayer in this holy season is that South and North Koreans, Israelis and Palestinians, Al-Qaida and Americans may get to a point where they realize that we all are part of one fabric divided by hatred which makes us blind to see each other’s humanity. There is a wonderful Portuguese saying that God writes straight with crooked lines. God works through history to realize God’s dream. God makes proposals to each of us and hopes our responses will move His dream forward. But if we don’t God adjusts His methods to accommodate the detour, when we are going to come back onto the main road and eventually arrive at the destination that our world may have less bloodshed and suffering but live in peace and harmony.[2] We are his agents and instruments of peace who pray “give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light.”

During this season of Advent a longing emerges within us, which will not be quieted, a longing that all should be fulfilled amidst all the failures and against all the evidence; yet, we protest its fulfillment all the stronger. This is a waiting with us for nothing less than that this world will be redeemed through and through—not by this or that political means, but by God. When God himself comes to us, then Advent truly begins to become real. When we see all our hopes and dreams shattered by questioning, by fruitless efforts and failures, when the narrowness of our existence wounds us; when suddenly we are tormented by the thought that all is lost and fallen into oblivion; and when the cry is wrenched from us: “Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down” (Isaiah 64:1), then perhaps we can understand what the Bible means by “waiting.” It is then we know that we cannot go to God, but God comes to us, enfolding us in his unbelievable grace, otherwise our life is lost, and our waiting is in vain. The waiting servant expects everything, everything from God. Yes, he expects God himself and gives glory to him. He wants nothing for himself, but all for God. Only this waiting servant is open, ready for “God’s will be done on earth.” Only as such can we go from Advent to Christmas.[3]
Blessed are those who wait and long. Advent is when the church no longer remains without hope or fulfillment of God’s promises but raises its prayers, “that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever” (Collect for First Sunday of Advent). Advent is such time of waiting and hope when the cry of anhelo should burst forth:
Maraanatha! Come Lord Jesus!
O Come, O Come Emmanuel!

[1] David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, Editors, Feasting on the Word, 2009, Pp.2-25.

[2] Desmond Tutu, God Has a Dream, Doubleday, 2004, p.122.

[3] Edwin Robertson, Editor and Translator. Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Christmas Sermons, Zondervan, 2005. Pp.46-56

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