Sermon for the First Sunday of Advent, November 29, 2020
Read Pastor Julie's sermon as shared on Facebook Live. Visit https://www.facebook.com/saronstrasburg each Sunday at 8:30 a.m. for a brief live service of scripture, prayer, and a sermon by Pastor Julie.
Isaiah 64:1–9 | 1 Corinthians 1:3–9 | Mark 13:24–37
A father tells about shopping at Toys-R-Us some years back with his young son. When he turned around, the boy was gone. He could see the doors and knew he hadn’t left the store, but in a parent-panic, he quickly scanned the aisles and peered around corners; but could not find his son amidst all the Christmas shoppers. As happens when our amygdala gets activated, he also knew he wasn’t thinking clearly and couldn’t remember all the nooks and crannies where he’d looked or didn’t—and so found a security guard and asked the guard if he could look at the security camera. Which he did—and spotted his son; who was sitting on the floor surrounded by toys he had pulled off thee shelf; crying. Quickly, the father asked if he could use the P.A. and said over the loudspeaker: “Christopher.” Who looked around because he recognized his dad’s voice. “Its Daddy. Don’t move. I see you—though you can’t see me. Stay where you are. I’m coming.”
Advent begins with this divine message in the LITERAL midst of growing darkness (in the northern hem. anyway) and difficulty seeing: “Hold on. I’m coming.” And, I would add, “Stay still”—at least for a little bit. Sense God’s nearness. Advent is an opportunity to suspend your constant preoccupation with “toys” or Netflix or tasks—whatever distracts you and has lost its shine: To hear and know again the connectivity with the Creator that calms our fears—maybe as we are feeling lost. I think we tend to wait around for something more concrete or big enough to get our attention: Especially in the midst of hard times, like losing your country and way of life as happened in Isaiah 64 (COVID?)—could God just “tear open the heavens and come down.” Show up now and help!?
At the end of Mark here, we actually hear Jesus talking about a time of suffering as well, and this godly person showing up. But then he says this: “Observe the fig tree.” Which gets down to something VERY particular. As Teresa of Avila declared after many years of prayer and seeking God, “a sardine can convert you.” That is, the presence of God may not be all that spectacular, but it is real nonetheless. In these apocalyptic words from Jesus, God may be coming in a big way, but you don’t know of have control over that, so just “keep awake” and “alert” and “aware.” And this is what we do in Advent.
Now, these words in Mark are ones that have to do literally with our eyes and how they see. (We miss that in translation.) But the Greek language has many words for the ability to see—a common them in Mark—and it’s significant that these ones describe a very physical act. We might think about our own eyesight: Maybe you need glasses to see well; or reading glasses; or have had surgery to help you see. We value this sense very much. It helps us to navigate our bodies around safely. It helps us to recognize one another; read stories and information; appreciate beauty. And so it’s not so strange that this sense also begins to take on a sense of seeing in terms of taking things into our minds and our hearts. What we see affects us and therefore have all kinds of feelings; affection, sadness, joy, concern. Seeing can keep our minds spinning. “How do we ‘see’ beyond this?How do we take into our minds and hearts that God is near?
Maybe only you can answer that for yourself. Here you are today, for one thing. Worship is a time of seeing more deeply, I know. I also know that nature, beauty and intentional prayer are a part of increasing and deepening the ability to see. To “learn” from the fig tree. With prayer, in allowing the stillness just to be and quieting a busy mind, we begin to see that it IS just a fig tree—and always a sign, too: Common and miraculous all at once; it’s growth allowing us to see that God is near and always coming toward us.
Seeing in this acute way also makes us aware to our blindness: Which we choose often for the sake of survival. It seems to alleviate our fear (we’ll hear about fear on Wed.) at least for now—and lessen our anxiety about the state of the world. So to see clearly is to brazenly hope, knowing that God is there in that back room watching the security camera and coming to us. We can also then be willing to see and own that ALL IS NOT AS IT COULD OR SHOULD BE in the world. We fade like leaves and our iniquity blows us away.(Is 65). And yet the persistence of God is in those same leaves. So, stay awake! Be aware!
Thanks be to God. Amen.