“Awakening to Now,” Message from First Sunday of Advent, Year B

“Awakening to Now”

First Sunday of Advent, Year B, December 3, 2017

Isaiah 64:1-9     1 Corinthians 1:3-9     Mark 13:24-37

First Presbyterian Church of Sandpoint, Idaho

Pastor Andy Kennaly

One of the very noticeable aspects of travelling last summer on the Sabbatical, spending three months on the road, is how important it is to not just be a tourist, but to get to know people.  Having friends along the way makes a huge difference.  For example, Jason and Julia Powell loaned us, “The Old Lady.”  That’s what we called the motor home we borrowed.  It’s slow, outdated compared to newer models, but it’s what Shawna and I used to travel to Italy.  We did a big loop, from Germany, through Switzerland, into Italy, down to Assisi, and then up through Austria and back to Germany.  Ten days of adventure with a mix from traffic jams and crazy drivers to quiet solitude and reflection.  It was an amazingly good trip.

One of the highlights was visiting Dani and Ramona and their daughter, Laura.  They live in Switzerland, a small town named Glarus about an hour up into the mountains from Zurich.  We first met Dani and Ramona three summers ago up in Nelson, B.C., while on Selkirk Loop bicycle tours.  They said if we were ever in Switzerland, to let them know; so we did.

At the time, they were living upstairs from the snowboard shop that they own, and downtown is rather busy with noisy street traffic.  They like to get away from that commotion, so they rent a campsite for the whole summer along the shore of an alpine lake up one of the valleys from town.  They had us follow along in the motorhome and we parked right next to their spot.  We had a cookout in the evening, then they joined us for breakfast the next morning because it was raining, and it was nice to have that space out of the weather.  But as the rained slowed down a bit, we went on a day hike.  Leaving the motorhome parked at the lake, we rode with them, back through town, further up another valley, then up a narrow, mountain road to the parking lot of a cable car.  We took this gondola up the steep mountain into the clouds, and spent the day hiking back down, through the mist, catching glimpses of the mountains, and having a great time.

One of the areas the trail passed through was a summer pasture, a farm with many dairy cows filling the valley with the sound of bells.  The cows had those big, Swiss cow bells around their necks.  Dani and his family had been through there before, and they knew which building to approach at the farm, walking past the barking dog along the way.  He knocked, shouted around, and then someone answered.  The woman of the farm invited us in, and this building was where she processes the milk into cheese.  She gave us a tour, and then we sat at a couple tables, she sliced up some cheese, gave us something to drink, and it was great.  We bought some cheese at an absurdly low price, thanked her very much, and continued on our way.  After spending the day hiking back down to the car, we drove back to town, and Dani and Ramona pulled out all the stops for a traditional Swiss dinner of Fondue.  After supper, Dani brought Shawna and I back up to the lake where the Old Lady was sinking into the grass because of all the rain.  We had to get pushed out the next morning, but then we were off to Italy.

Had we been on our own, as tourists with minimal knowledge and experience of that area, we would not have even known about that lake and local campground.  It was beautiful up there, surrounded by rocky peaks of the Swiss Alps, a perfect place to park that motorhome, save the mud of course.  Had we been on our own, we wouldn’t have known about that day hike, or what trails to take, and for sure wouldn’t have even made it past the barking dog.  We would have thought we were trespassing and must have taken a wrong turn, but instead we were more than welcome.

Had we been on our own, we would have missed experiencing the life of a young family with their daughter crawling around the floor getting into things while mom and dad get a special meal put together for company.

But we were not on our own.  We didn’t just see Switzerland, we experienced Switzerland.  We had a local connection, friends excited to share their lives, their culture, the things they find important and enjoyable, and our Sabbatical experience was far deeper and meaningful because of this care they shared with us.  We are not mere tourists trying to enjoy the scenery, taking selfies at arm’s length.  We are family friends, where relationship is more than transactional, but involves an engaged, interested connection taking the wellbeing of the other into account.  Relationship is grounded in love, and this is expressed through hospitality, trust, a sharing of resources, and reciprocity based not on duty or obligation but thankfulness and genuine concern.

So here’s the deal: as we come into the First Sunday of Advent, opening ourselves more and more to Christ and preparing to remember and celebrate the birth of Jesus, we come not as tourists.  This morning we approach Isaiah, and the Apostle Paul, and Mark as those greeting us like companions on the journey of faith.  They are the local connection sharing an experience of love.

Typically, Advent begins the Christian year with a look at the end.  The Apocalypse, the end times, the coming of judgement; aspects that many promote as Advent themes.  This morning’s scriptures have some elements of this, but they are filled even more with simple, welcoming invitations from friends.  We are invited to awaken to the nearness of God, even now.

David Lose recognizes this in his commentary on this morning’s readings, especially Mark’s Gospel.  He says, “Because while many read this passage and others like it as Jesus’ predictions of the end, I think it can instead drive us back into the present with renewed energy to see the people and situations around us as gifts of God that we are called to love and care for.

Notice, for starters, that there is no mention in here of the end of the world, no indication of final judgment, no call to flee the day-to-day realities and […] responsibilities of life, only the promise that “he (the Son of Man) is near” (29). Indeed, if we recognize that the key temporal markers of the parable that concludes this passage – evening, midnight, cockcrow, and dawn – as identical to the temporal markers of the passion story about to commence […] then we realize that much if not all of what comes before – darkening of the sun, the powers being shaken, etc. – also correspond with key elements of the passion narrative (Mark 15:33, 38, etc.). Mark, in other words, isn’t pointing us to a future apocalypse (“revealing”) but rather a present one, as Christ’s death and resurrection change absolutely everything. For once Jesus suffers all that the world and empire and death have to throw at him…and is raised to new life!…then nothing will ever be the same again. Including our present lives and situations.”  (http://www.davidlose.net/2017/11/advent-1-b-a-present-tense-advent/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+davidlose%2FIsqE+%28…In+the+Meantime%29).

Mark is our friend on the inside.  To project these passages into some future revelation is to miss the local connection of the here and now.  To keep awake, to be alert, to live a life of expectancy that the Risen Christ is in each moment as God comes to us as we are, being awakened to now changes everything.  “Heaven and earth will pass away;” this is an image of how transformative the nearness of God’s grace in Christ really is.

From Mark’s call to stay awake, to Isaiah’s reminder that we are they clay and God is the potter, lovingly shaping the work of God’s hand, to Paul’s reminder that God is faithful and we are called through grace and peace into relationship in Christ.  This is Advent!  This is now!  Claimed in God’s love, live in divine Presence.  Thanks be to God!  Amen.