In the name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
So, we've spent the last few Sundays learning to wait / and to watch; well, at the very least our Lord has tried to teach us this spiritual discipline. But whether or not we've acquired faithful patience or not, Time moves on. The Time of the Church Year, that is.
So here we are. We've made it. Another Church Year under our belts, and the prospects of a new and full Year of Grace before us. We look out over the divine horizon of Time and we see what's coming:
4 weeks of Advent, then Christmas and the short Christmas Season. After that, we get out our green paraments again for about month of Epiphany season, then on into Pre-lent, Lent, and the Great Pascha and the Resurrection of our Lord and the joyous 50 days that follow. And after that, which always comes sooner than we think, we get back into the long Trinity Season, eventually ending up back where we are today: the beginning of yet another / Church Year.
At least that's how we think it will go, as far as we can tell. But if the end of the Church Year teaches us anything good and salutary, it teaches us that we just don't know. You or I might not make it through another full Church Year: our Lord might call us home to heaven, or He might return to us, / and that would be it: no more Advent, no more Lent, no more trying to work out the impossible mathematics of exactly what date Easter is. It'll just all end, like a thief in the night.
But not last night, not the Church's New Year's Eve; our Lord did not choose last night to come and get us. So here we are today / and we aren't doing all that much different stuff this Lord's Day as we did last Lord's Day. We are are still here, hearing preaching, praying, singing hymns and canticles. When you get right down to it, the message isn't all that different, / is it? Jesus hasn't come yet, so...just keep waiting.
And as each new season of the church year comes and goes, / we'll still be waiting, just with a new flavor. The flavor of Advent-waiting is John the Baptist repentance / with a touch of Mary's pondering and Isaiah's hope and expectation. With Christmas, comes a bit of a different flavor: the season is filled with the blood of the martyrs along side of the few stories we have from Jesus' youth.
Now the point of all this isn't to diminish the sacred Time we call Church Year, or to detract from anything that our Lord fills into this Time for us. These are all great, holy, necessary things. But as we begin this new Year, let's start with a clear perspective. Because the reality / is that we aren't heading anywhere in this new year, that we haven't been in the past. We know what's coming for us here in time. The Church and Her liturgical life is orderly and predictable. And there is some great comfort in that.
It's a lot better sailing when you know the terrain and you have the coordinates memorized because you've seen it all before. How many years have you gone through the Church Year? You know what's coming, and that's good, because when disorientation and unforeseen events in your life do occur, it's a whole lot easier to get back on track when you know exactly when and where the Church train is going to make it's stops: first at Jesus' birth, then at His Baptism and Temptation, then at His Transfiguration, then at His suffering, death and resurrection, and finally at His Ascension and reign from the Father's right hand. Throughout this next year, just like every other year, we will be led on a journey through the earthly life of the Savior.
But the point here / is that we aren't simply on some sort of Biblical “guided tour”; I'm not your tour-guide / and this nave isn't meant to symbolize a ferry boat over to the land of Scriptural fantasy. If all we did throughout the Church Year was recount some historic events of a great man, albeit The great Son of Man and Son of God, but if all we did was retell the old, old stories of Jesus and His love, then we, of all men, are to be pitied the most.
By telling the story of Jesus, the Church Year also tells the story of the Church, and her life, death and resurrection. We retell the biblical narratives, not because they're cool or have a great moral lesson or any other silly thing like that. We hear them over and over again throughout our earthly journey, because Jesus' life IS our life, Jesus' death IS our death, and Jesus' resurrection IS our resurrection.
You, the Church, are an essential part of the drama of salvation. The main character, of course, is Jesus, but who does Jesus have in His mind and heart on as He teaches the Teachers in Jerusalem? As He denies Himself food and yet does not fall into the devil's temptations? As He remains silent before Pilate, even when His own people are telling lies about Him?
He is humiliating Himself / in order to exalt you. And so this is what Advent is all about. Let us take a few Sundays to prepare for this. To prepare our self-absorbed, world-loving minds and hearts and souls / for our Lord's self-less, sacrificial Year of gifts to us.
Repent, O children of God, your King is coming to you, and you are not worthy to be in His presence. He is coming, just as He has come in year's past, just as He will continue to come in the days, months, perhaps even years, ahead. Repent, scatter your pride to the winds; turn from that worldly junk that you fill your mind and soul with each week, each day. Prepare yourself, as a Bride adorns Herself for her Groom. So you, as well, purify your hearts and minds with prayer and with the Holy Word of God. Examine yourself, leave no rock unturned, leave no foothold for Satan and his minions. Be watchful, be waiting.
But, for what? Be waiting for what?
So, we're here in Advent. Advent is before Christmas, when we celebrate the birth of our King, Jesus. Fine, it's a good thing to celebrate and to continue to remember, but what's the point, really? If Advent is simply a waiting for Jesus to somehow be born again as a fake doll and be placed into a fake manger on Christmas Eve, well, then, there really isn't any point, is there.
But fortunately, / that's NOT what it is all about. Yes, / we are anticipating something, eagerly awaiting something. But what we are hoping for is far from fake and pointless, / in fact, it is the most real thing we have in this life. More real than our bad habits, more purposeful than any of our self-imposed disciplines or traditions.
Advent is all about preparing for Jesus to come in the Flesh, / in His true Body and Blood. On Christmas morning this year, if you aren't called home before then and if Christ has returned by then, / on Christmas morning, you will see Jesus in His flesh, really; / just like Joseph and Mary and the shepherds saw God as a newborn that first Christmas day.
Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion, Behold, your King is coming to you, humble, in the unsuspecting elements of bread and wine, very humble, / yet very real. He really comes to forgive you; and where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation. These three great divine gifts, this is what we are preparing for in Advent.
And this is what the whole Church Year is all about: we are traveling / from one Great Feast to another. Advent / prepares for the Lord's Supper / on Christmas Day. Lent / prepares for the Lord's Supper / on Easter morning. This is the big picture of what begins today. This is what it means to be caught up in the life of the Church, which is really Jesus' own life. And this is how you remain faithful until your end, however soon or distant that might be.
So keep this perspective, fix your eyes and ears and all your senses / upon Jesus. Let the stories of the life of your Savior carry you along, and bring you from one Sabbath rest to another, through the whole season, through the whole year, through the many years of your life.
Behold, your King is coming.
In +Jesus' name. Amen.