Advent Expectation and Hope
At The Episcopal Church on Edisto
December 1, 2013
Advent embraces the time of expectation and the theme of hope. Thus, in the collect for the First Sunday of Advent, we prayed that God would “give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; 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” (BCP, p 211). Using that collect as a lens, Advent does embrace both the time of expectation and the theme of hope.
As we know from experiences of this week, rampant consumerism has overwhelmed our society. This time of year, of course, presents clear evidence of that reality, as we are overcome by the possibility of Christmas’ bounty. In our own mindset, then, it is not too big a step to place Advent exclusively in the shadow of Christmas. After all, if Advent involves expectation and hope, surely Christmas represents the culmination of Advent’s longing.
However, my friends, to think of Advent only in those terms would be a mistake. You see, Christmas has already come. Each year, we celebrate the anniversary of the Christ child’s birth. But, in Advent we anticipate far more than that anniversary celebration – important as that celebration is. In Advent, we look forward to nothing less than the culmination of God’s plan for all of creation.
Christ will return, not as a child but as our King. In that time of Christ’s return, the will of God shall come to pass, in fact. People will not be divided by disagreement and strife but, rather, united by the power of love. Just imagine that! Recent experiences like those in the Episcopal Church will be no more. Recent developments like those among hostile nations of the world will be no more. Indeed, people will not be divided by disagreement and strife but, rather, united by the power of love. That, then, becomes our appropriate focus in Advent. It is a season which anticipates God’s completion and fulfillment of all creation. Again, Advent embraces the time of expectation and the theme of hope.
The vision of Isaiah in today’s First Lesson bears witness to expectation and hope, within the providence of God Almighty. “In days to come”, we read, “the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills” (2:2). Thus, you see, in those days the prominence of God will not be in dispute. Further, about those days, we read familiar words of expectation and hope. The people “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” (2:4). Expectation and hope, indeed. Such a vision deserves our prayers. That vision represents Advent possibilities.
The Second Lesson, from Romans, also places before us a focus of Advent. We read there, “You know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep” (13:11). There is conveyed an urgency in those words of expectation from St. Paul. The fact is that in the biblical world, people expected Christ to return soon. As that time was delayed – in the life of the late first century church through our own time – it has become more difficult to express with authenticity a sense of urgency about these matters. Nevertheless, the Advent theme remains current. There will come a time in which creation will be completed and fulfilled, according to God’s plan and God’s dream. And for that time, we live in expectation and in hope.
If urgency is the message conveyed by today’s Second Lesson – urgency relative to the Lord’s Day – then uncertainty about the time of that day’s arrival emerges from the Gospel reading. We read there, “Jesus said to his disciples, ‘About that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father’”(Matt 24:36). Because of such uncertainty about when the day will come, Jesus encourages his followers to be prepared for it. Our reading concludes with such a word of encouragement. “Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour” (24:44).
What we do know about that time, however, is the most important thing to know. And it is this: that time will be in God’s hands. We do not know when the time will come ... and we do not need to know. The time will come when God wills it to come. And, further, everything about that time will be in God’s hands. That surely is the most important thing.
Therefore, we come back to the themes of Advent – expectation and hope. We look forward to the time in which God’s will truly is done, on earth and in heaven. We anticipate the day that the Lord’s house is established as the highest mountain, and on that mountain, “nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more” (Is 2:4). We look forward to the time that “works of darkness” (Rom 13:12) are not undertaken, but rather, all of us together participate in works that show the light of Christ. And while we do not know either the day or the hour of Christ’s return, we believe that time will fulfill and complete God’s plan for all of creation. Therefore, we embrace this time of expectation and of hope, this time of Advent, today and every day! Amen.
The Right Reverend Charles G. vonRosenberg
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