A Homily for the First Sunday of Advent
Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who is coming with power and great glory. Amen.
I’m going to be uncharacteristically brief today, my friends, because this week hurts. There is no way around it. Yesterday, we commended our brother Bill Moses to God’s care, and many of you have gone by the hospital to say your goodbyes to our sister Anne, who is nearing the hour of death. Sisters and brothers, I am not ashamed to say that I have cried this week.
Two weeks ago, Saint Mark recounted Jesus’ predictions of destruction and chaos, of a world rising up in revolt. Last week, on the Feast of Christ the King, Saint John showed us Christ’s trial before Pilate, a God subject to imperfect human laws, subject to powers and principalities, subject even to death.
And these chaotic scenes resonate deep within us. This week, it has certainly felt like the world was shaking, as though chaos reigned supreme. It has felt as though these things have the final say.
Today, it feels almost as though Saint Luke could be speaking directly to us: “People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, the powers of the heavens will be shaken.”
As we begin again our liturgical year, we find ourselves looking not to Christmas but to the last days. While stores encourage you to buy as much as you can, as radio stations blast out relentlessly cheerful pop carols, and even our own sanctuary is hung with festive greenery, the lectionary points us instead to the end of the world. In popular imagination, these are days of great chaos, of horrific signs, of terror and woe. Saint Luke continues the theme we began two weeks ago: “Nation rising up against nation.” “Not a stone left on stone.” “Heaven and earth will pass away.” A sudden cataclysm springing upon us “like a trap.”
It has certainly felt that way this week. It has felt as though the very foundations of the world have shifted under our feet, both in the loss sustained by this particular congregation and the ongoing political crises playing out in DC and across the world and the wars in Yemen in Ukraine. And then there are the stories pouring out of the California wildfires, the scenes of destruction following an earthquake in Alaska, to say nothing of the aftermath of hurricanes in North Carolina, Florida, and Georgia. Looking back at the past month and a half, I have repeatedly wondered, how much of this can we endure?
Doom and gloom. The earth passing away. Even here, even in this beloved community that should be a refuge from the trials of this world, we have reason to mourn together.
But take heed, loved ones, for as Saint Mark reminded us, this is not the end. No, it’s the beginning — and that’s not bad news because it’s the beginning of labor, giving birth to something new. As Saint Luke tells us, heaven and earth may pass away. Stars may fall from their places, the ground may shake, the seas may swell, fires may rage, nation may rise against nation. All may pass away. But the Incarnate Word of God, who was with God and who was God in the beginning, the Word through whom all things were made, the one who is and who was and who will be, the Alpha and the Omega, even Jesus Christ our Risen Lord, will never pass away.
No, these painful signs signal not the end but a changing of the seasons. Just as the seed planted in the ground must die, so to will this world pass away. But that passing gives way to something new: a branch rising, showing leaves and signs of new life, bearing fruit, a sign of spring erupting from the dismal winter. Soon, the death and turmoil of this world will pass away. In its place, our redemption is drawing near: a new and restored creation, the coming Kingdom, the world as God intends it.
My kindred, hear a little good news. The pain of this world is not the end. Political turmoil is not the end. Hurricanes and wildfires and earthquakes are not the end. The tears we shed for the faithful departed are not the end. Fatal accidents and cancer are not the end. Strife is not the end. Sin is not the end. Evil is not the end. Death is not the end.
The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will fulfill the promise I made….In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.
And on that day, dear ones, when the storms and violence and death have passed away, we will arrive at the end: life eternal in the glorious Kingdom of God, joining with Bill and Anne and all the saints, in the presence of our Redeemer.