Sermon by Deacon Sheila Scott
Today is the first Sunday in Advent. In little over 3 weeks we will be celebrating Christmas, the birth of Jesus!
Are you ready for Christmas? No doubt you have been asked this question multiple times around this time of the year. I am sure that question did not have anything to do with Advent preparation and the birth of Jesus.
In our society this question has everything to do with buying lots of stuff one does not need but wants because of the fixation on having the best and latest of everything in order to supposedly be happy and successful. It is even portrayed as patriotic since we are told consumer spending helps our economy. One is made to feel guilty if one does not buy into this spending frenzy.
I hope you agree this is not what Advent and Christmas is all about! Advent calls us to slow down, quiet our minds, and open our hearts for God to fill the void that no amount of material possessions can accomplish. Each year, during Advent we are reminded that God is patiently waiting for us to dwell in his presence and feel his all-encompassing love.
Many of us grew up taught that God loves us only if we are good, and punishes us if we make a mistake. We had to be perfect in order for God to love us, which of course was unattainable, thus we felt unworthy of His love. No wonder we have a hard time accepting what the Gospel tells us, God loves us unconditionally, His love is eternal, and it includes everyone, even those we feel are unworthy of his love!
This kind of love is difficult for us to understand, it is a love that surpasses all human understanding. So knowing this, how does one prepare for the coming of the Son of God?
I remember struggling as a young adult to understand how God could possibly love me and others despite all of our shortcomings. By the grace of God, after much struggle, I finally was able to accept that my job is not to understand God – some mysteries will remain mysteries – but to pray to him, to listen to him, to read Scripture, to obey his commandments, to allow His love to permeate my being, in order to transform me into a channel of his love towards others. It sounds simple to accept God’s love, but it requires much perseverance despite self-doubt, personal failures, and societal pressures to fit in. Once you realize, despite all of your mistakes, wrong turns, and dead ends in life, God is still there waiting for YOU with open arms, calling your name, you finally surrender to his divine love, and you finally feel whole.
Daily prayer helps focus our lives on what is important, on obeying Jesus’ commandment to love God with our whole heart and soul and love our neighbors as ourselves. Living in God’s presence will not make us perfect, for only God is perfect, but it will make it easier for us to acknowledge our shortcomings and our sins and repent, or turn back to God. The early Christians watched and prayed for Jesus to come back soon. There were hardships and persecutions of the faithful, evil was rampant. They wanted Christ to come and put a stop to it. Are we that far off from their concerns and conditions in today’s world? You be the judge…
In the Gospel reading today we hear: “But about the day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come…” Jesus is not talking about the sleep needed for survival for us human beings, he is referring to a state of unpreparedness. The call to be aware, to keep alert is a call against being spiritually asleep.
Keep alert, pray and work. Are we to sit idly waiting for the coming of Jesus? No, Jesus Christ expects us to do the work he entrusted us with, so that when he comes, at any hour of the day, he will find us taking care of the world as his trustees. We need to pray and work as though Jesus is returning this very day.
Passing judgment on who is deserving of our help and who is not it is not our job, God is God and we are not. We are called to alleviate the pain and suffering, the hunger and misery of our fellow human beings, and to stand up for injustice and inequality anywhere it is present, for we are told, anytime we care for one of the least, we care for Jesus.
It is not enough to wish and pray that things would get better in the world, we have to make the effort to make things better for our fellow human beings near and far.
Celebrating Advent means being able to wait in aw each year, opening our hearts to God’s word and love, allowing God to transform us more and more in the process, so we can be instruments of his will in our hurting world.
Slow down, open your hearts to allow God to fill you with his love, and you will find true happiness not found in any amount of material things.
One of my favorite 20th century theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer summarizes the correct celebration of Christmas best:
“Who will celebrate Christmas correctly? Whoever finally lays down all power, all honor, all reputation, all vanity, all arrogance, all individualism beside the manger.”
Will you get ready for Christmas?