Listen to the audio recording of the sermon:
Rev. Dr. Martha ter Kuile
First Sunday of Advent
December 1, 2019
The Future House of God
The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.
In days to come
the mountain of the Lord’s house
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
and shall be raised above the hills;
all the nations shall stream to it.
Many peoples shall come and say,
‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the house of the God of Jacob;
that he may teach us his ways
and that we may walk in his paths.’
For out of Zion shall go forth instruction,
and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
He shall judge between the nations,
and shall arbitrate for many peoples;
they shall beat their swords into ploughshares,
and their spears into pruning-hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more.
Judgement Pronounced on Arrogance
O house of Jacob,
come, let us walk
in the light of the Lord!
Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armour of light; let us live honourably as in the day, not in revelling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarrelling and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.
May God bless to our understanding these words from Holy Scripture.
First of Advent, first of December, two days after Black Friday, 24 days before Christmas. It’s an intense time of year. Christmas may be coming, but there’s a marathon to be run first. Students are looking at their assignments and exam schedules and wondering how to get through the term. Children are thinking about and writing lists for Santa with growing excitement. Parents and grandparents may be thinking about and reading those same lists with some dismay.
Our society is on its annual rampage of consumerism, with massive sales to launch the Christmas buying, and an exasperated pushback from those who reject the insistent voice of the marketing world. A lot of people made a symbolic gesture of not shopping on Black Friday, and it’s a good gesture, even when we are far from shaking loose from the relentless clamour of our own affluence. A young woman interviewed on the news yesterday ruefully noted the irony of going on the climate march, and then on to the Eaton Centre. It’s so hard to be consistent in the pressured, complex world we live in!
But the pressure in December isn’t all about buying. Complicated plans for seeing friends and family through the holidays brings a complicated mixture of pleasure and stress to some of us. And for others of us the prospect of loneliness in the special season seems as bitter as the cold dark afternoons – the poignancy of Christmas seems to make it worse. If you are living with a particular sadness, or worry, or grief, this season is a very hard one. The weather is intense too – with the freezing drizzle and snow today, and the prospect of a long winter. Whether you adore the snow or hate it, love the Christmas season or feel more like Scrooge with his bah humbug, there is a lot of feeling in the air.
At the church too, we are touched by the excitement of the season, with decorations in the Sanctuary, and special events coming up. We have children digging through the costumes and practicing for a Christmas pageant, the choir preparing a cantata, Bob’s pickup Christmas band getting ready to serenade us, people baking cookies for that day, and volunteers working on presents and games for the Refugee Outreach Christmas Party. Actually, it may sometimes seem a bit too much here too. Sometimes it may even seem that all our activities of preparation for Christmas actually impede the spiritual preparation we would want to make for the birth of the Christ child.
In principle, the season of Advent at church is supposed to be rather somber, and penitential – counter-cultural to the festivity of the season as practiced in the secular world. In the olden days people would sit vigils, and fast, and even now some churches are very strict about not singing Christmas carols before Christmas. Not allowed. No jumping the gun. But as the Apostle Paul urged us in the scripture reading, you have to wake up. Be ready for it. Advent is the time to prepare, and there are many ways to do it.
Our Advent candle-lighting carol this year celebrates the arrival of Christ as the arrival of love. Today we sang that Love the Guest is on the way.
There are various things that you do when you know you have a guest coming. Even before they turn up you may have sent an invitation – you will have thought about them, and realized how much you’d like to see them, and imagined them in your home, and then sat down to send off a message saying, please come. It’s worth pondering the invitation you might send send to Love. How would you invite Love? How nice it would be to have Love here, we might think, to spend time together and enjoy Love’s company. And then we would say, Please come and visit, you’d be welcome. Hoping to see you soon.
After the invitation is launched, we begin to get ready – you might tidy up the house, move things around so the visitor will have a place to sleep, put fresh sheets on the bed. Try to remember what their favourite foods are, or what allergies they have, and shop with them in mind. What would you shop for if Love was the guest – stock up on kindness and laughter, perhaps. Make sure that you can pour a tot of compassion. Be ready with second helpings of sharing.
And then as you await your guest, you often try to plan some outings and activities. With Love as your guest you may want to go for a walk in the woods, see if there is a cardinal to be spotted, or a chickadee, or to find a particularly beautiful view. My parents always used to take guests to the Scarborough Bluffs and the CN Tower. Or perhaps you’d want to take Love to a concert – or to church. Take Love with you everywhere, as your guest.
One can imagine that Love would be a good guest. The Guest who arrives at Christmas is the one described in the responsive psalm that Bill led us in – truthful, and loyal, and soft-spoken. The kind of guest who cheers you up, and considerately clears the table, or perhaps insists on taking you out to dinner.
The hectic pace of this season may seem less daunting if we can reframe it as a time of hospitality. A time to be awake and watch for our guest. As the weather closes in, and the nights grow longer, we are invited to be hosts and also to become guests ourselves. As we come together now around the Table of Communion, we come as guests and also as hosts.
Advent can be the moment for making time and room in our hearts to offer a welcome to the stranger, and to the promised Christmas guest, Love. By the same sacrament we are invited to be become good guests. We are invited both to receive and to offer the Love of Christ, and for this we give God thanks.
(Photo Credit: Torsten Dettlaff)