Advent Sunday 1: Hope

Ah yes, the candle today was Hope. James and Paulina did the Advent thing for us this morning. Perhaps it was selfish of me to use them first, but I did, and that is how it was. I believe there are some in the pew saying whew to the thought that they did not have to do the reading or the lighting, though they could all do it well. I think of it now because the sun is twinkling in the west window, and Paulina has just driven out of the yard back to college. This is always the saddest part of the week for me. I hate to have her drive off. I wish I could have kept them all in the house next door, and I could have been like the mother in Everybody Loves Raymond, but that is not what my life is supposed to be about.

I don’t know quite what is the bother for me today. I feel all sort of discombobulated. I had this weird dream about James going to Hawaii without me, and some weirdo was bothering me while I was trying to watch Jaxon and Any. Then I woke to redo the sermon, and somehow as I was delivering it, I felt like I had missed a part or something. I may have to listen to it on Wednesday to see what I really said. Hopefully I didn’t flip two pages at one time or something. At any rate, I have posted it below, you can be the judges. My verse for the day is the final wording which I said comes from John 21, but in fact it comes from the poem, “On His Blindness” by John Milton. I believe this has happened to me before and the other time I caught myself. There is an internet site that gets you to believe it is in John 21, but the idea of it is in a sermon based on scriptures there. Wow, my lack of education is beginning to get to me. I am really seeing the need to enroll. Now I understand my discombobulation. Oh well. Here is the sermon with the corrected quote.

The scripture used: Isaiah 64:1-9, and Mark 13:24-37. The title was, “Keep Awake.”

Keep Awake! James and I are noticing more and more how hard that is to do. We sit in the house when it is just the two of us, after supper. He goes to his room with the television; I often go to my own. Whatever we are watching begins to drone on in a seeming monotone, and soon there we are each sleeping sitting up, head bobbing. Though I will have to admit, James at least pushes back the recliner and relaxes. I just end up with a stiff neck and sometimes stitches dropped off my knitting needle, or an iPad dropped in my lap. It is hard to stay awake after a long day, it is often cool inside and the dark comes upon us so quickly now. A good supper, a warm chair, and I bet some of you can relate.

As I share this, I am reminded of a Christmas Eve with James’ family. It was one of the first years we were married. It was our BC time, meaning before children. There was a blizzard in the forecast. We were safe at my parents in Herreid, but it was the Haak gathering on the farm, and we just had to get there. We drove a 1974 Plymouth Duster and though we practically had to get out and check where the road ended and the ditch started, we were going to make the event. We weren’t the last ones there, but close. His youngest sister, Noreen and husband stopped in Linton to get Grandmother Haak from her safe warm apartment, so we could all be together. I now understand why James’ mother was so very upset when she say Grandma walk into the room. She had listened to the forecast.

We were all there, all 10 children complete with spouses and children, and we had Christmas in the little apartment in the machine shed. And then the lights went out. There was one bedroom and a living room with a few chairs and a couch in the apartment. There were three bedrooms and a couple of couches in the main house, and one of the sons lived about a mile down the road. We were stuck in the blizzard. Two families made it to the house down the road, and the rest were divided up between the rooms that were left. James and I and another son-in-law, John, were the ones without a place to sleep. We decided to stay up and watch the water pipes and check the barn and such. It was a long night to keep awake. I think that I finally curled up on a love seat around 4 a.m. and called it a night.

In today’s culture and society we hear much about how to enhance our sleep. There are articles and news reports and comments on talk shows that we need to disconnect from the on-line world to let our brains relax. Parents are constantly being given advice like that in regard to how to help their children go to sleep at a proper hour. And I will agree that too much time in front of a computer or television or computer screen makes it hard to shut down. Apparently it has something to do with blue light. I am thinking that if we put more of those children or teenagers on the work end of a shovel or broom or pitchfork, sleep would come a bit easier to them.

The gospel of Mark is likely written by a man named John Mark. This is the gospel that centers on Jesus as the servant; Jesus as the one who does things. The focus is on the miracles, the healing and the practical things that Jesus did. Mark was more likely written for the Romans, who were more interested in what someone did than who he was in terms of lineage. Perhaps it works well as a book written for us today.

Mark was just a young man barely more than a boy at the time Jesus lived. The belief is that it was his mother, a woman named Mary who owned the home with the large upstairs room where Jesus and the disciples met for the Passover feast that we have come to know as the Last Supper. Mark was likely the young boy in the garden grabbed by the soldiers on the night Jesus was arrested, who escaped by slipping out of his clothes and running for his life. Mark worked with Peter and Barnabas during the formation of the early church, and today we read what Mark writes in terms of Jesus telling his disciples and us about the end of times.

During Lent we talked of how the three chosen disciples were not able to keep awake while Jesus prayed in the garden, wakefulness is a reoccurring theme in these stories about Jesus. I remember that evening as we pondered how sometimes it is hard to stay awake. I used to notice it mostly when I was in the passenger seat in a car trying to stay awake to help watch for deer. Today it seems that happens as soon as 9:30 rolls around. I suppose sleeping past 5 a.m. some days would help.

It might be nice to consider this scripture as a topic about keeping awake and staying alert, but we might wonder like last week, what does this passage have to do with the beginning of Advent? Aren’t we supposed to be studying all of the verses in the gospel and in the Old Testament that point to the coming of Jesus? Well the truth is that we are. We are talking about the coming of Jesus. These passages are about the Advent, the anticipated arrival of Christ at the end of time.

But we might say, “No this isn’t what we want; we are in the season awaiting the anniversary celebration of the baby, these scriptures we read today are just too farfetched.” People outside of a church, people of the world, this is where they draw the line with Christianity. Many of them agree that doing good and being kind is a wonderful way to live your life, but talk about this…no here is where they get up an leave. Most of us don’t like to think about what this scripture implies either let alone talk about it out loud. Really now, the only way we can imagine someone coming through the clouds is if a plane or a space craft, as in one that was put into orbit by one of the countries on earth, would land or crash in the area.

Yet Jesus is clear when speaking to the disciples. He lets them know that he is coming back. And though the words attributed to him say it will be in their generation, he also says only God knows the exact time. Jesus tells all of this to reassure his disciples that their work has a purpose. What he is asking them to endure will not be forgotten. The suffering and persecutions that they will face will be rewarded. And he will take them home to live with him, away from the evil and the destruction of the world.

It seems that the author of Isaiah wishes that day would be sooner rather than later. As the passage we read today opens, we heard the words, “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake…” It was the same wish that the followers of Jesus had in his day, a wish that God would come with vengeance to end the persecution of the upright and the down trodden. To bring justice to those who couldn’t find any.

Though we have no personal idea of the physical and mental sufferings of the early Christians just for following Jesus and his teachings, we all understand our own kind of pain. We have all suffered losses, some of us more and some of us less. Some of us have had our own bouts with an illness or ailment or some type of physical condition or mental anguish. This is all part of life, and Jesus lets us know that through any and all of it, we are loved. But through it all we are also reminded to keep our focus on him.

As much as we might want to hang on to the words of Keep Alert as sitting up through the night like James and I did or at least tried to do through the blizzard, or staying awake like a good “shot gun” rider in helping to watch for deer or the occasional coyote or fox crossing the road. There is more to keeping alert for Jesus. As we have learned over the past many weeks of study together, Jesus version of Keep Alert is doing. Though some passages give us the lineage of Jesus as the descendant of King David, Jesus purpose on earth was not that of human royalty.

Mark gives us the stories of the servant Jesus. He is the Son of God who came to Earth to be a servant to all. And as Jesus was a servant, we too are asked to follow in that example, to be doers. This year as we begin this Advent Season, as we prepare our homes and schedules for all of the events of the holidays, let us also remember to do some of the things that Jesus would have us to do. There is no better way to keep alert than by doing the work that we are called on to do. Although through all of the reading and pondering that went with this message today, I can’t help but be reminded of the final line of a John Milton poem, “They also serve who only stand and wait.” This Advent, let us be sure to wait for the real Jesus. Amen!

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