Christ Church Cathedral, Grafton
29 November 2020
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Well, here we are: Advent Sunday 2020.
A new church year has begun, and what a train wreck the last year has been!
We get to beat most people to the end of year reviews and NYE resolutions, but what are we to make of 2020 and what might we hope for in the future?
Ah yes … HOPE. Our word for today, this first Sunday of Advent: hope, peace, love, joy …
2020 has not exactly been a year marked by hope, or peace or joy. Thankfully there has been a lot of love and compassion on display for much of the time.
While hope, peace and joy have been hard to find this past year, there has been an abundance of challenges that seek to eliminate any hope for a better life.
This time last year the major source of concerns were the fires. Extreme fires. Across so much of the country including areas not far from here. Our skies turned red and the air was filled with smoke. Homes were lost. Lives were lost. Billions of animals were destroyed. So much of the landscape was scorched and vegetation burnt.
Then came COVID-19.
At first just a news report about a weird virus in one part of China, then the cruise ship slow-motion horror stories, followed by the outbreaks in aged care homes, then the death rates in Italy, Spain, France, the UK and in the USA. All year in the USA. Outbreaks in Sydney. A second wave in Melbourne. Closed borders. Families kept apart from one another.
Businesses closed. Schools closed. Churches closed. Hand cleanser bottles everywhere. No singing allowed. Online streaming of church services. Face masks at the Altar.
We are so ready to say farewell to 2020 and to the Year of Matthew.
We are so ready to see things turn for the better.
Our first reading today speaks to that reality:
O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence— as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil— to make your name known to your adversaries, so that the nations might tremble at your presence! When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence. From ages past no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who works for those who wait for him. [Isaiah 64:1–4]
The anonymous prophet whose words are preserved in the final section of the great Scroll of Isaiah was seeking to speak hope to a community living with fear and disappointment.
To paraphrase him, we might say: God, where are you? This would be a really good time to show yourself and let us see how well you can turn things around here!
The earliest Christians spoke Aramaic, and some of their prayers have survived even in the Greek NT. One of their most striking arrow prayers is simply: Marana tha; Come, Lord!
That is an Advent prayer, is ever there was one.
In this season of waiting, longing and preparation our hearts cry out: marana tha … our Lord, come.
In the gospel today we are offered a glimpse into the other side of our longing for the God we call Emmanuel(God with us) to come among us or, as Jesus would say, the God’s reign to here, active in our lives and in our contexts.
It is a strange kind of text as it uses apocalyptic (end-of-the-world) and dystopian imagery to reassure the readers. It was intended as a message of hope even if our first reaction to this weird material is to wonder how to make sense of the extreme metaphors. After all, we understand—unlike the ancients—that the sun cannot go dark, the moon cannot turn to blood, and the stars cannot fall from the sky and land on the earth. It may help to think of all that language as first-century science fiction, but we cannot miss the point Jesus is making:
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. … And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake. [Mark 13:32–33, 37]
As we get close to the end of 2020 and as we begin a new church year, what does KEEP AWAKE mean for us?
For sure it means we choose to reject fear, despair and complacency. We are never going to accept the ways things have been as good enough.
We choose not to allow the past to be the best predictor of the future, our future.
We choose to be awake and not asleep.
We choose to make our future and not simply accept what life serves up.
We choose to say YES to God and to work with the Spirit of Life to rebuild, reshape and recreate a broken, scorched and virus-ridden world.
We choose to live into the future with our eyes wide open, with courage, with compassion and with hope.
Marana tha … our Lord, come.