First Congregational Church
December 3, 2017
First Sunday of Advent, Communion Sunday
Mark 13:24-37 & 1 Corinthians 1:3-9
“Not What We Were Expecting”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
One day, Einstein has to speak at an important science conference. On the way there, he notices that his driver looks a bit like him. Einstein says, "I'm sick of all these conferences. I always say the same things over and over!” The driver agrees: "You're right. As your driver, I attend all of them, and even though I don't know anything about science, I could give the conference in your place.” "That's a great idea!" says Einstein. "Let's switch places then!"
So they switch clothes and as soon as they arrive, the driver dressed as Einstein goes on stage and starts giving the usual speech, while the real Einstein, dressed as the car driver, attends it.
But in the crowd, there is one scientist who wants to impress everyone and thinks of a very difficult question to ask Einstein, hoping he won't be able to respond. So this guy stands up and interrupts the conference by posing his very difficult question. The whole room goes silent, holding their breath, waiting for the response. The driver looks at him, dead in the eye, and says, "Sir, your question is so easy to answer that I'm going to let my driver reply to it for me.”
Happy New Year to one and all! In all the preparations and planning for the rest of this month, it’s sometimes a little jarring to think not only about a new church year, but about this Advent season, which is in reality, a season of waiting. In fact, according to Merriam-Webster, advent means “a coming into being or use.” Naturally, most of us equate this “coming into being” to mean the birth of Christ. But from our scripture passages this morning, we are in a larger season of advent as well.
The thirteenth chapter of Mark is one that I would describe as full of woe. Jesus was leaving the temple, when one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!” And Jesus turns to the guy and spews forth a tirade of doom and gloom that would accompany the temple - THE Temple - being destroyed - which it was - and families that would fight against each other - which has happened far too often.
In the 1 Corinthians passage, the apostle Paul had received a letter from the Corinthian church, in which they presented him with a very long laundry list of questions and disputes that were tearing their tiny congregation to shreds. Both of these passages, however, remind us of the Good News of the Gospel, even if it is “Not (exactly) What We Were Expecting”.
Mark 13:24-37 (NIV)
24 “But in those days, following that distress, “‘the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; 25 the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’
26 “At that time people will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. 27 And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens.
28 “Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. 29 Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that it is near, right at the door. 30 Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.
The Day and Hour Unknown
32 “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come. 34 It’s like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with their assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch.
35 “Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back—whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. 36 If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. 37 What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’”
1 Corinthians 1:3-9 (NIV)
3 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
4 I always thank my God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. 5 For in him you have been enriched in every way—with all kinds of speech and with all knowledge— 6 God thus confirming our testimony about Christ among you. 7 Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. 8 He will also keep you firm to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 God is faithful, who has called you into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
Thank you, Donna. A man is talking to God. "God, how long is a million years?" God answers, "To me, it's about a minute." "God, how much is a million dollars?" "To me, it's a penny." "God, may I have a penny?" "Wait a minute.”
I had to laugh at Scott Hoezee’s comment about the darkness of the scriptural tone. “Try turning this (passages) into a fireside Christmas story and see if the children’s eyes glisten in wonder! It’s the kind of thing you might expect The Onion or Saturday Night Live to make a parody out of as some holiday Scrooge-type terrifies children with tales of apocalyptic darkness as the sun goes supernova and the moon winks out as a result.”
It was Lucy Lind Hogan of Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C. who brought just the right thread to this sermon/message tapestry. She said, “It would seem that the church in Corinth had forgotten that Christ would come again, that they were living in the in-between time. They would seem to be so focused on what God had already done in Jesus they were no longer waiting or living in anticipation of “the day of our Lord Jesus Christ”
And then Scott Hoezee brought another thread to the loom, “If Jesus is not coming back to make all things new and bring in the kingdom he talked about all through his ministry, then any celebration of his birth really would be on a par with fantasies about Santa Claus and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.…If Jesus is not the Lord of lords who can come back at the end of history, then “Silent Night” has all the charm—and all the meaning—of “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire.”
If even we in the church confine ourselves to the cozy sentimentality and twinkling lights of the season where the rest of society seems to place its emphasis, then we cannot fully appreciate the reasons why God went to such extreme lengths to bring the Son of God to this world in flesh. If the whole world just generally resembled the little fantasy kingdoms in the mall or on our television screens, then the world would not need saving and God would not have needed to go to such bloody lengths to make salvation a reality.”
So we wait - not only for the celebration of the anniversary of Christ came into the world, but that Christ will come again. Except, who among us likes waiting? Metaphorically, there are days when even waiting for the water to get hot in the microwave for the instant potatoes is too long! And there are days that - at least I - catch myself - probably at a stop light - waiting - even though I had left home with plenty of time - and I catch myself realizing that anxiousness is not going to make the light turn green any faster, so just breathe, ya ding-a-ling!
So perhaps this first Sunday in Advent, the Sunday in which we look for the coming of Christ - down the road, so to speak - is the one that gives us permission to sit, while the stoplight is red, to breathe and re-calibrate our vision and mission - of not just the here and now - but the day and hour of which only God knows. (Which, incidentally, is fascinating that not even Jesus knows when that will be!)
And while we take this moment, this permission to breathe, and we become aware of those breathing around us, that we don’t wait alone; not only do we have this church family that waits with us, but God’s Holy Spirit is also here, permeating not only the cracks and crannies of this building, but the cracks and crannies of our hearts and minds, too.
As we breathe out the things that want to monopolize our attention and breathe in the Holy Spirit, and realize the communion that then happens within this family - including the Holy Spirit - we can celebrate the hope that the second coming of Christ will bring - in the celebration of Christ’s first coming and his resurrection to eternal life, which God has promised us. This is not, perhaps, the Advent gift we were expecting, but it is the one that God holds out for us. So let us open our hearts to not only the gift of hope, but to God’s very self.
Let us pray. Eternal and Intimate God, we thank you for being our God. Thank you for loving each one of us - not as we might expect - but in ways that are greater than we can sometimes imagine. Thank you, too, for your greatest gift, again, not one we might have anticipated, but a child to cozy his way into our hearts like so many babies and children do, in all the unexpected ways that that happens. Draw us into your arms even closer this Advent season, that we not feel alone or cold or even dead, but alive and beloved and enlivened. As we all wait for Christ’s next coming, all your people say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.