Text of the sermon preached on Advent 2c (December 6, 2015) by the Rev. Katie Hargis at St. Cornelius’ Episcopal Church in Dodge City, KS.
Canticle 16 (The Song of Zechariah)
The musical “Godspell” made popular today’s Advent theme, “Prepare ye the way of the Lord.” As a second flame is kindled on our Advent wreath,
we are invited as a story-formed people to listen carefully to a story about a voice crying in the wilderness — “Live prepared.”
Advent is a state of mind as well as a season in the church year. As a state of mind, Advent is not intended to be preparation for Christmas, the first coming of the Christ child. Rather, it is a season in which we make present again that miraculous event as we prepare for Christ’s second coming, his return to complete what he began long ago.
Recall that this Jesus, born more than two thousand years ago, entered history to proclaim and witness to that long awaited and hoped for coming of God’s reign. The long awaited and hoped for kingdom of God was no longer a future promise. It was a present reality — it had come, it was in sight, it had been birthed and established.
Those who believed in him were to pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven,” and then with God’s help, to act as if it has come and thereby cooperate with God so it might come in its fullness, in God’s good time. Advent therefore is a season which offers us the opportunity to pray for Christ’s return and prepare for his second coming, when the world as we know it will end and creation as God intended it is brought to fruition.
And so on this second Sunday in the season of Advent, we focus our attention on the prophetic voice of John the baptizer who invites us to live prepared for Christ’s second coming. How we ask? And John answers, “Repent.” Now there was a time when repent implied expressing deep sorrow and regret for our sins. With this understanding in mind, Advent, cloaked in purple, became much like Lent, a second penitential season.
But in our day theologians have rightfully turned Advent into a contemplative season cloaked in blue, a season in which we are invited to contemplate future possibilities and how we might live faithfully between the times, between Christ’s first and second comings, between the already and the not yet of God’s new creation.
Repentance is not the same as remorse or regret. It is not listing all the ways things could have gone differently. It is not wishing you were a better person, that some things had never happened, that bad things wouldn’t keep happening to you. It’s not feeling guilty or ashamed. It’s not feeling afraid. It’s not something that leaves us stuck, or standing still, or spinning in circles, going nowhere. Repentance is about movement, letting yourself be grasped by God, getting new bearings, and relying on God for directions.
The new life that follows repentance, the new direction that comes with a fresh start is what John was proclaiming in the wilderness. John’s message is a call to action — repent, turn around, accept help. God is coming to meet you on a road in the wilderness.
To repent, therefore, must have a new and different meaning than it once did, namely, to reflect on the direction we are traveling both as faithful persons and as the Body of Christ, the church, and change course when necessary.
I think a really good metaphor for what it means to repent could be sailing. Sailors set a course for some far off destination, sometimes a destination they have heard about and dreamed of reaching — and then set out in anticipation with the hope of reaching it.
As sailors set sail, they know that they will have to contend with the wind, surf, tides, and undercurrents. There will be fierce rain and dark nights without the stars to guide them. There will be times of dead calm when they drift out of control and times of severe storms when they will be tossed to and fro. They will surely get off course many times. Sometimes they may need to actually turn around, but surely they will always need from time to time to adjust their course to make sure they are traveling in the right direction. And that is what it means to repent and to live prepared during the season of Advent.
May we not forget, however, that living prepared is more than our getting ready for God to do something. Rather, it is to reflect upon what we ask God to do in our prayers so that we might make sure that we are cooperating with God to make those prayers possible. Remember, by nature we humans are wholly dependent on God, but also remember that God has chosen to be dependent on us. We can do nothing without God’s help and God will do nothing without ours.
From God’s perspective, we the followers of Jesus have lost our way and need to make dramatic changes in the direction we are sailing. Like storms at sea, our small ships, yours and mine, are surrounded by conditions that point away from God’s rule — a time in which the poverty, homelessness, genocide, war, violence, ignorance, instability, injustice, oppression, prejudice, ecological disasters and much more are eliminated and God’s reign of justice and peace is realized. We live in a world that appears to have lost a vision of new possibilities and has settled for survival in this the best of all possible worlds. We have become so focused on being right, of being certain, that we are unwilling to make any changes in the course we are traveling. Too often we forget that there is no political, no economic, no cultural system that can claim to be Christian, no nation that can claim it knows and does God’s will perfectly.
In every Advent season we are offered the opportunity to reflect on our
journey and to make sure that we are sailing in the right direction. We all have the unique opportunity to recommit ourselves to a vision of God’s reign and the to focus our attention on Christ’s second coming.
In the process, may we remember that God’s future may not always be the future we desire, the future that benefits us. We need to critically reflect on our lives to be sure that the future we live for is the future God envisions, the future God desires.
May God grant us the grace to have faith in a future that transforms our imaginations and makes it possible for us to live for impossible possibilities, for dreams that correspond with God’s.
Repentance can happen when you are confronted by something, maybe remorse, maybe disappointment or regret, maybe the sense that you are lost at sea. Maybe it comes from something as small as wishing you hadn’t said something, or wishing you could take back an action. Maybe it comes from something as large as the report from the doctor that indicates more tests are needed, and you decide that whether it turns out to be something or it turns out to be nothing, whether you have three more decades or three more weeks, you want that time to count for something. To be something you can offer back to God. Maybe it comes when you realize there are other people with you on your journey and that your decisions affect them too and the wilderness is not a good place to be forever.
Repentance comes in many ways. When God turns us around, offers us a way to get back on course and move ahead with a new way of life, we say thank you.
It is with God’s good news ringing in our hearts that we will be enabled and empowered to live faithfully with anticipation and hope between Christ’s first and second comings. May we choose to make this Advent holy by avoiding the temptation to celebrate Christmas too soon and use these four weeks to ponder where we are headed and make changes in our course. Or as John the baptizer put it, “Repent,” that is, “live prepared.”