Sermon for the First Sunday of Advent, November 29, 2020 – the Rev. Elaine Ellis Thomas

ASEP Sermons

Isaiah 64:1-9+Psalm 80:1-7, 16-18+1 Corinthians 1:3-9+Mark 13: 24-37

It might seem a little odd to start a new Church year, transitioning from Matthew’s gospel to Mark’s, and to be plopped down two-thirds of the way through the story. Next week, we get the beginning of Mark, but today we find ourselves in what is called Mark’s “little apocalypse.” Jesus has entered Jerusalem in triumph, has been teaching in the temple, denouncing the scribes and commending the widow for her offering, and then turns to talking about the end times.

“In those days, after that suffering,
the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light,

and the stars will be falling from heaven,
and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. (Mark 13:24-27)

If you came to church this morning looking for a little let’s-get-ready-for-the-baby-Jesus, I’m afraid you’ve come to the wrong place. Jesus is telling the disciples that they had better get ready, and Advent is our time to get ready.

In these days of worry about the pandemic and the apparent lack of concern of so many people who are going about their unmasked lives like Scarlett O’Hara saying fiddle-dee-dee; and more than 2,000 dead in this country every day, and yet we cannot seem to pause to mourn; and a political situation that would be comical were it not so dangerous; and of families being torn apart by conflict over that political situation; and county officials voting to continue to earn money for their coffers on the backs of incarcerated immigrants; this is actually a perfect time to hear these words not just from Jesus but from a particularly fiery prophet Isaiah:

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! (Isaiah 64:1-3)

Friends, I don’t know when the end-times are coming. But what I do know is that we cannot continue as we are.  We can’t go back to the good old days, because those days were not so good for an awful lot of people. We can’t stay where we are because there are people dying and suffering all around us while a privileged few continue to bask in wealth and prosperity, usually at the expense of those who are scrambling to survive.

Jesus tells his people to look at the example of a fig tree – you know summer is coming when it starts to leaf, right? When you see the stars falling from heaven and daytime as dark as night, then you will know the end times are coming. Is that now? Should I go stand at the corner of 7th & Washington with my sandwich board that says “Repent, the end is near?”

We can’t know the time or the place. We can only prepare as best we can. And we do that by rending our hearts, as another prophet said (Joel 2:13). By turning toward God as a flower pivots toward the sun. We throw ourselves on God’s mercy and love.

One of the best things about Advent is it is our annual opportunity for a do-over. We start again with a year of learning and praying and serving and being in community with each other. Of preparing our hearts to make room. Room for the love that is about to break into the world once again.

Last Ash Wednesday, I shared a poem for Lent called Rend Your Heart: A Blessing for Ash Wednesday. I envisioned all of us making a journey into the wilderness together over the next forty days. Little did I know that those forty days would be spent managing separation, isolation, fear, and an end of life as we knew it not for forty days, but for nine whole months and counting.

I revisited that poem this week, and I think it suits these days just as well as it did when Lent lay ahead of us last February.

To receive this blessing,
all you have to do
is let your heart break.
Let it crack open.
Let it fall apart
so that you can see
its secret chambers,
the hidden spaces
where you have hesitated
to go.

Your entire life
is here, inscribed whole
upon your heart’s walls:
every path taken
or left behind,
every face you turned toward
or turned away,
every word spoken in love
or in rage,
every line of your life
you would prefer to leave
in shadow,
every story that shimmers
with treasures known
and those you have yet
to find.

It could take you days
to wander these rooms.
Forty, at least.

And so let this be
a season for wandering,
for trusting the breaking,
for tracing the rupture
that will return you

to the One who waits,
who watches,
who works within 
the rending.
to make your heart

Jesus said, “keep awake.” Keep awake to your life, to the longings of your heart, and you will be made whole.

Thanks be to God that ours is the God of the do-over.

[1] Jan Richardson, Rend Your Heart: A Blessing for Ash Wednesday.

ASEPSermon for the First Sunday of Advent, November 29, 2020 – the Rev. Elaine Ellis Thomas