Saturday, December 2, 2017

Do You Really Want Christ To Return?

Advent One Year B 2017

Fr. Dale Matson

Because this is the first Sunday in Advent and the first Sunday of the new church year, I would like to begin with some remarks that will help us orient ourselves in the church calendar. The church year is celebrated in three-year cycles and this is the first Sunday of year B.  In year B the Gospel readings are primarily from St. Mark.  The first of four advent candles in our wreath is lit representing expectant hope and is sometimes referred to as the “Prophecy Candle”.
Bishop Menees had this to say about the season of Advent four years ago. “The season of Advent is a season of preparation - preparation for our death (or the 2nd Coming of Christ which ever comes first) and preparation to receive the incarnate Jesus born of the Virgin Mary in Bethlehem 2000 years ago. This preparation begins by seeking God's help to "cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light."  It is only by the help of God the Holy Spirit that we can in fact truly examine our lives and repent of our sins.  (Mark 1:15) Repentance of sin alone is not enough - forgiven of sin, we are vulnerable and so we are called to clothe ourselves in the armor of God (Ephesians 6:10-18).”
   In a way, the season of Advent reminds me of Lent. In Advent we anticipate the Birth of Christ in Lent we anticipate Christ’s death and rebirth.  Both seasons use shades of purple for the liturgical color.  Both seasons include fasts and both seasons deal with penitence and preparation.  I think however that there is an anticipatory JOY in advent and an anticipatory SORROW in Lent.
You might think this first Sunday in the new church year as a complete break in the flow of our lectionary readings but in fact, the readings at the end of year A anticipate and prepare us for the readings for the beginning of year B. Going back three weeks we learned of the virgins waiting the arrival of the Bridegroom. Is this not a metaphor for Christ’s return and preparation for Advent?
Two weeks ago we heard from St. Paul in 1st Thessalonians (5:1),”Concerning the times and the seasons, brothers and sisters, you do not need to have anything written to you. For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.”
In the Gospel lesson for the same Sunday Jesus uses the “Parable of the talents” to make the point that the Master will return. “Then he went away. After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them.” Is that not also a description of His return?
And in our readings for last week- Christ the King Sunday we hear in the opening of the Gospel lesson, “Jesus said, ‘When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left.’”
And that is the beauty of the flow of our lectionary readings. Even though every church year begins with Advent and ends with Christ The King Sunday, the church year is really an eternal circle of sacred time.       Is Advent just about the return of Christ and anticipating our own death or is it also about what we are to be doing while we await His return? Certainly the parable of the talents indicates we are to be investing according to the extent of the gifts we have received. We are to be ever vigilant that we, unlike the foolish virgins are not low on oil when He arrives. We have to be ready to drop everything when He calls us. Unfinished business will remain unfinished. We cannot be like the disciple in Matthew who asked to bury his father first. It is interesting to note that he did not say his father had actually died. It is very possible he was saying indirectly that he needed to wait until his father died which was really an indefinite postponement.  
My question to you is this.  Do you really want him to return? I will not ask for a show of hands. Here is the answer I believe most would give. It is the same answer as the disciple who wanted to wait for his father to die. This is the answer if you are honest with yourself. “Yes, I want Christ to return but… not yet.”
Let me take you on my journey beginning with my youth. This will allow most of you to recognize the answer you might currently give and to feel less guilt. When I was 16, I think I may have said, “Lord please wait until after I get my driver’s license and when I got that, then “Lord please wait until I graduate from High School”, then, college, then get married, then have children, then become a deacon then priest, then finish Ironman Hawaii, then have grandchildren. Each time I was not saying, “Don’t come.” I was saying, “Just postpone your coming Lord until I finish this or accomplish that.” How is that any different than the disciple who had something to do first or the virgins who needed to go buy more oil?
How are things different for me now? I am ready. I am ready for the Lord to return. Yes, I make plans for the future. I calendar future events daily. But…there is no more bargaining. No event or accomplishment is as important as His return for me now. It is not just that I am old and poured out. My brother Don, who is a Christian and will be 81years old this month told me, “I’m not ready for Christ to return.” I guess he’s thinking about planting his garden for next spring. So it isn’t age alone. Maybe there are some of you with chronic pain and ill health that wish Christ would return. I think in my own life that being ready is the last step before accepting God’s will in all things including your own death.  
What are you anticipating during Advent?  Are you looking forward to Christ’s return with JOY?  What kind of plans are you making and what are you doing?  Are you immersed in a paralyzed anxiety anticipating an Apocalypse or are you celebrating an Eschatology that calls you to action?  St. Paul says in Romans, “You know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far-gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us live honorably as in the day.” (Romans 13:8-14)    
While we wait for His return, we are called to action.  We are not called to worry.  As we say in our concluding prayer of the Liturgy we are called to do the work He has given us to do. What work has our Lord Given you to do?  The word “Liturgy” itself means “work”. What are we doing with our gifts and talents?  Life moves so very fast.  There is not much time left.  Each of our own end times draws ever nearer.  Our collect today calls us to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life.  This life truly is mortal
What are we doing with the time we have now? There is not much time left to do the work we are called to do.  Kitty Carlisle who passed on at age 96 once said, “After we turn 50 years old, every 30 minutes is breakfast.”
We hear this also from our Gospel.
“Then they will see `the Son of Man coming in clouds' with great power and glory. Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven. “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. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. “But about that 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. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. 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."
Here is the reality for us. Each one of us is in the midst of his or her own end times.  Each generation is the last generation.  Christ has come for all people before us who have died in Him.  He has come for many of our parents and will come for us too.  In John 14:2-3 Our Lord states, In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.
Revelation 22:20 states, “He which testified these things saith, Surely I come quickly. Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus.

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