Advent 1 – December 2, 2018

Rev. Lyle McKenzie   Lutheran Church of the Cross of Victoria
Jeremiah 33:14-16 / Psalm 25:1-10 / 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13 / Luke 21:25-36

I walked into her room and greeted her, saying who I was. She apologized that she didn’t remember me, and for struggling to remember so much. I assured her it was okay. We visited and remembered things together, family, people pictured on the wall facing her bed, past visits, the congregation, and things she had been part of in years past. We enjoyed the present moment together, and there was more she did remember.

After a time, I took out the bread and cup for Holy Communion, poured the wine and said an opening prayer. I read today’s Gospel reading, thinking in the moment, these are not easy words to hear. As I read, she laid back in her bed, her eyes looking upwards. I finished the reading and looked at her as I said the words, “the Gospel of the Lord.” She said, “Isn’t it wonderful!” “Yes,” I said, tentatively. But then I saw what she embodied, not being able to stand up, but raising her head, because as Jesus promised, her redemption is drawing near. And realizing in that moment what she heard and saw, I said, “It is wonderful. Thank you.

We shared Holy Communion and that same brightness and joy continued in her face, and through prayers and blessing and peace sharing. “Thank you for coming,” she repeated. I said, “You’re welcome.” And thanked her also. I left feeling a little lighter, true for both of us I think, and I have held on to her hearing, her vision of this reading all week long, with gratitude.

Rev. Laura Kavanagh from Knox Presbyterian was hosting and leading Wine before Supper at UVic this past Wednesday, the weekly ecumenical Holy Communion shared by the Anglican, Lutheran, Presbyterian and United Church chaplaincies. A contemplative worship, the pattern is singing songs of Taize’, time for silence and prayer, and the reading is the upcoming Sunday’s Gospel. Following the Gospel being read twice and time for quiet reflection, participants are invited to share thoughts arising out of their hearing and reflection. The size of the group has grown this year to about 15 to 25 people, mostly students. The conversations are varied and rich.

The reflections on today’s Gospel were what you could call “fear and foreboding.” Although no one fainted, the weight of words like, “signs in the sun, the moon and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations,” or warnings to “Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down… and that day does not catch you unexpectedly like a trap. …Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place and to stand before the Son of Man,” were the focus of conversation.

After a time, I shared my story of the elder and her “Lift up your heads” response to the reading. I didn’t sense it shifted people’s fear and foreboding. To be fair, it is nearing the end of term. And that can feel like the end of the world or time as we know it for students. And this is a fair hearing of these words.

And then we shared bread and wine, heavenly food and the cup of blessing, followed by a good supper and more time and conversation together, and a good amount of laughter too, before people went on their way into the dark night.

Which hearing and visions of the gospel reading do you have and hold this morning – stand up, lift up your heads for your redemption is drawing near, or feeling faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the earth?

As I said both hearings are present in the Gospel. And both are present in our world and often our lives. As we begin a new Advent Season and new church year, both feelings, themes, reflections, are important and right.

There is fear and foreboding in these words. Like last week’s apocalypse/revelation from Mark, the new church year introduces us to Luke, who will be our primary gospel source for this year, but we jump ahead in the gospel to Jesus’ words that are once again apocalyptic/revealing of end time crises and change. The historical context is important to know/remember. By the time of Luke’s Gospel, the Temple and all Jerusalem had been under siege and much of it destroyed. The world people knew was gone. Overwhelmed, in shock, fear and foreboding would have been natural reactions to catastrophic events.

Paradise, California, and the charred remains of what once was a whole town, Syria and the destruction and death after years of war, more recently Yemen, nations on the African continent, central and south America, at the border of the United States and Mexico, too many people and places entrenched in violence and crises, injustice and oppression, seeing end times in our own time. And continuing talk of climate change and signs in the sun and moon and stars, or more the air, water and lands, plants and animals, in the roaring of the sea and the waves, making us wonder what is next. How do we see, be on guard, that the day not catch us unexpectedly, like a trap; being alert at all times, and praying we have the strength to escape all these things, and to stand before the advent of Christ.

And personal challenges and crises, illness and grief, awaiting or in treatment, depression and anxiety, changes in relationships, also lead to and leave us faint, with fear and foreboding of what is coming upon our worlds, putting us on guard, afraid what next might catch us unexpectedly, like a trap, trying to stay alert and have the strength to escape or endure all these things and stand before the advent of Christ.

The truth of these words is clear and certain in our time as in times before, in the world and each of our worlds. And so also Jesus’ invitation. Can we embrace an Advent posture, stranding up if possible, raising our heads, because we see and trust our redemption is drawing near in the advent of Christ?

In response to that invitation Jesus offers the simplest of parables. “Look at the fig tree and all the trees, as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the dominion of God is near.”

Could it be this simple? That in every circumstance, no matter the crises or fear and foreboding at what might happen, God is near. The reign of God in Christ is this close so that in every circumstance, seen and unseen, we can stand up and raise our heads because our redemption is drawing near.

I saw it, in the face of an elder and in the faces of students and chaplains, what’s sometimes difficult to remember, but in communing together, uncertain, fearful, weary and struggling that we may be, we see it, and we know, like sprouting tree leaves, people’s posture, standing, raising their heads, because redemption, the advent of Christ, is near. We remember, we know. In all our relations, let it be so. Amen.