Do you want a ‘do over’
First Sunday of Advent
Advent IC: Zechariah 14:4-9; Psalm 50:1-6; I Thessalonians 3:9-13; Luke 21:25-31
December 3, 2006
Pastor Mary Blessing,
Vicar, St. Philip’s, Scotts Valley CA
Today is the first Sunday of Advent—the beginning of the church year. We have our Advent wreath with the 4 candles to help us bring light as a sign that something special is coming. Each week we light another candle to mark the time, to show we are moving forward to the big day—the day when Jesus comes into the world.
Did you know that “Advent” means “the coming”? Liturgical churches, such as the Episcopal Church, use advent as the Season to prepare for the coming of Christ—not just as Christ the baby, born in Bethlehem, but “the coming” of Christ as in the “second coming”—the promise of return which Jesus offered prior to his death. In some traditions of the church, Advent is also a time of penitential preparation, a time to reflect and fast, to reevaluate one’s life and your relationship to the living Christ.
This Advent I invite you to re-evaluate where you are in relationship to God. And I invite you to anticipate a new beginning. Some of you may be 100% certain you have received the love of Christ in your heart, but many of you may still wonder. And even if you have experienced a “receiving of Christ in your heart”, it is still important to keep that love alive—revisiting that relationship anew each year will bring you into continued relationship with God. Just as the world received Jesus Christ 2000+plus years ago. The world still anticipates “the coming of Christ”. We await the completion of his glorious return. W also await the completion of our relationship with Christ. There is a lot of theology tied into this concept of the “coming of Christ”. As Advent unfolds, I will try to deal with this theology; and we may not agree on this.
I believe the “second coming of Christ” is a gradual process. It is a process of conversion--the conversion, or turning, of one person at a time, turning toward the light of Christ. It happens over time, bit by bit, person by person, as each one of us orients our heart to receiving the greatest gift of all: the gift of God’s love. We don’t “earn” God’s love, we receive it as a free gift—but we do have to open up the package. If we just let the package sit “under the tree” unwrapped, we will simply find ourselves watching passively, while others open this package of love. If we don’t open our package, we will delay the fulfillment of God’s love to all the world.
The second coming of Christ will happen when each and every person in this world has not only realized they have been given a beautiful package to unwrap, but when every single person in this world has successfully opened the package, looked at what God is giving, and received that love, that warm fuzzy, deep well of love! Yes—then the love that was freely given and fully realized in the life of Jesus Christ will be made fully alive. Salvation will then come not only to the individual, but to the world.
I must admit, I sometimes feel quite urgent about the coming of Christ. I can’t understand why others are not as urgent as I am. It’s as if the world is in a “take two steps forward, and one step back” mode pretty much all the time. In other words, for all the good I see from the efforts of those who give their time, talent and treasure to advance the well-being of those in need—like our Cub Scouts and their dads who collected food for the poor, and are collecting books to encourage literacy--there is plenty of selfish greed going around to pull me out of my Advent vision of a “sugar plum fairy” view of the second coming of Christ.
This week, as I was joyfully imagining arriving on Thursday to see our beautiful church all decorated with Advent purple, I opened our Church Office to discover it was burglarized. Many of you have probably already heard quite a bit about it—the thief used a prying tool to break in through my office and from there was able to walk into the secretary’s office, where they pried open some desks, basically ransacking the whole place. It was such a violation—and all for what? They took about $187. in cash that the youth had raised for the Red Cross and another fundraiser. The youth pastor’s computer and some keys were also taken.
An incident like this reminds me that our world has a very long way to go before we can say that the love of God has entered all hearts—not everyone even notices that they have this gift to open, so how can they open it to receive the wonders of receiving the best and only gift you would ever need? It breaks my heart to imagine that someone is so desperate that they needed to steal money that was collected to help people who need money…..
This incident made me think hard about how we are to love those who harm us. It is so painful—why should we love someone who has clearly done something wrong, and now we have to suffer for it? What helps us get beyond just getting mad, and wanting to seek revenge?
There was an incident in my childhood that impressed me as a positive way to handle the ugliness of theft. When I was in 4th grade, after lunch one afternoon our teacher came back to the room with us and discovered that a ten dollar bill was missing from her wallet. She was quite upset at first, asking if anyone knew what happened. No one spoke up. Oh, everyone glanced around at each other wondering WHO could have been so bold and so mean. $10.00 was quite a bit of money to us at that time—I couldn’t believe anyone would pull such a thing.
After some silence, our teacher did something very wise. She said she was going to place a big stack of magazines in the middle of the room, and we were all going to go out into the hall, including her, and one by one we were to enter the room. She said if you were the one who took the $10 you could simply place it in one of the magazines, and no one would know who had taken the bill. One by one each child entered the room—as each one was about to go in I looked to see if I could guess who did it: was it “Bobby” the class clown? Or was it “Jane” the spoiled brat? Or could it have possibly been “Teresa”, a very poor child, one of about 10 kids, living on the edge of town? Whoever it was, as each person went into the room, I prayed that the child would return the money.
After each child had a turn in the room alone, we all re-entered the room. My teacher opened and leafed though each magazine carefully. We all held our breath, until finally, about ¾ of the way through the pile, the $10. bill came spilling out of one of the magazines. A collective “ahh” swept through the room--we were all relieved. Order was restored, and a batch of squirmy 9 year olds learned one of the most important lessons of grace our young lives ever witnessed. That day, a little child got a chance to have a “do over”—an opportunity to make a different choice, a “do over” that brought a choice for “good” where there had been a choice for “bad.” I wish I had a way to let the thief who stole from St. Philip’s get a “do over”—not so much because we need the things taken, but for the sake of that person to get a taste of God’s grace that offers love and forgiveness. If the person was in need of money for food, we will give them food; if that person stole for drugs or some other bad habit, we will get them help. This person is in need of finding the package of God’s love, and needs help opening the package. This person needs a “do over” to make a different choice. I pray that this person gets that choice.
At our 10:00 service this morning we are going to be honoring 2 young girls, 13 year olds who are moving from childhood to adulthood. These girls have had an opportunity to do some reflection with their parents and with their youth advisors. A beautiful banquet was created in their honor Friday night, and today we are going to reflect with them on the wonder of the lives that they have been given, created by God for God’s purposes. Like all teens becoming young adults, these girls are moving forward in life discovering who they are by stepping out over the ledge of life and making choices on their own. Because these girls are part of a faith community and families who are giving them a taste of the free love of God, I doubt they will ever make a choice to burglarize a church, but they may make some choices that will require a “do over.” Let’s give them the chance, first to make the choice, and the grace to have a “do over.”
I believe God always offers the opportunity for a “do over.” A chance to stop and reflect on how our lives are going, and to pull back a moment, re-evaluate our choices and let us regroup and get a better choice going for the future. Perhaps that is what Advent can do for us—give us the space to stop and reflect upon the year and we have just lived, to calm us down enough to prepare for some new choice to let the wonder of the coming of Christ enter our hearts, again, and again.