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Sermon for Advent 1, November 29, 2020:  Drop down ye heavens  (The Rev. Walter Ramsey):

Roráte caéli désuper, et núbes plúant jústum.

Drop down, ye heavens, from above, and let the skies pour down righteousness.

Rorate Caeli is an Advent hymn imploring God to send us His most Glorious Son. The Church interprets the sadness of humanity without redemption, waiting in earnest for its salvation. This hymn expresses the expectation for the Just One Who shall open the pathway of salvation. Thus, she anticipates the glory and joy of the coming Nativity.(1) In today’s lessons, Jeremiah and the psalmist cry out a lament and a longing for God to come down and return for Israel’s salvation.

The season of Advent, the beginning of the Church’s calendar, anticipates the “coming of Christ” from three different perspectives: the physical Nativity in Bethlehem, the reception of Christ in the heart of the believer, and the eschatological Second Coming. A time of waiting and anticipation.

Here in this first Sunday of Advent, we begin to trace the mystery of our salvation, not with holiday cheer, but with Jesus offering us a looming “little” apocalypse full of frightening images, confusing metaphors, and shocking warnings. We do not encounter the sweet baby Jesus people wait for during Advent this first Sunday, but the stern, adult Jesus, picturing the whole universe being shaken and turned upside down, in his apocalyptic warning.

The basic message of all apocalyptic visions is this: The rebellion against the reign of God is formidable, as the wicked oppress the righteous. Things will get worse before they get better. But hang on just a little longer because right when you are sure you cannot endure; God will intervene to turn the world right-side up.

As difficult as it is to hear, as troubled as the text may make us feel, in it are resources that help us focus on the true meaning and purpose of Advent.

In it, Jesus challenges us, as he did his original listeners in the Jerusalem temple, to look up, pay attention, and be ready, to wait and stay awake.

Jesus’ parable of the fig tree sprouting leaves teaches us how to read the signs of Advent. We see the leaves, and we know something is happening. Summer is near. It is a new season, with new life, new growth, pristine fruit. That is the promise and good news of the Advent signs. Still, that promise, that good news, is fulfilled not apart from but through the reality of our life’s circumstances and our world’s events. The signs are our hope and reassurance that God will never abandon us, that God loves and cares for us, comes to, and participates in our lives.

The signs that Jesus tells us of are words of hope and reassurance, but far too often, they are heard as words of warning and threat, like when the signs are used to predict a future of impending doom and loss, or indicators that the world will end. This misunderstanding of the signs can push us further into the darkness and deeper into our fear of being left behind. Our misunderstanding of the signs blinds us to the coming of the Son of Man with power and great glory.

We do not live with the constant threat of persecution, torture, and death as the Evangelist’s community was writing for, but we certainly live in a world of great uncertainty.

Famine, war, and disease still plague our world, and people struggle with addiction, mental illness, and misplaced priorities closer to home. More than that, we are in the middle of a terrible pandemic that forces us to isolate ourselves from one another. Christ’s call to his disciples and us to be alert and continually praying for God’s kingdom to break through into our world is as relevant a call for us this Advent as it ever has been. Our broken and hurting selves and the world need Christ to come, and we must take time this Advent to prepare to receive him.

In this portion of Mark’s Gospel, Jesus addresses those who must live in the meantime, the challenging meantime between the “already” Jesus has come and the “not yet.” He will come again, By keeping alert and awake, by living our lives in accord with the One who has already come, died, and been raised, not only will we be prepared to live in the promised realm of God when it comes, but we may experience even now some of what life in the realm of God is like.

In a world as conflicted and violent as ours, the Church must be a place where Christians learn to identify with our opponents and to experience God’s power to bring about transformation. Then the Church will realize its calling to be a sign of hope and a witness to God’s offer of life to the world.

Today’s collect for the First Sunday of Advent asks for God’s grace that we might “cast away the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.”

In this Advent season, we place a wreath of four candles and one in its center in our Church’s Chancel. We light one candle each Sunday of Advent to represent Jesus’ light coming into the world. Each lighted candle can also be thought of as sprouting fig leaves that tell us that the summer of our salvation is at hand, the kingdom of God has come near us. We can look at the world with a new sense of compassion and hope. God will strengthen us to do the work God has given us to do. We are called to proclaim a mission of love to others, especially those who do not know or have a relationship with their creator and redeemer. The armor of light should be a visible beacon to those who sit in darkness.

The Church is not a diversion or a pastime. It is a vivid sign of God’s having entered the world to redeem it. Advent is a good time for us to live like people who are being redeemed.(2) Jesus does not intend for us to predict when he will return. Instead, he is urging us to stay awake and live as if his return were just around the corner. There are no signs (despite the regular attempts to speculate on such things), no advance warnings. Just the ongoing command to God’s people in Christ to be faithful to him, not to compromise with the standards and fashions of the present age, but to keep awake, watching, as Paul again says, for the day to dawn, in whose light the dim flickering candles of the present age will be needed no more. God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.(3) Amen!

  1. Roráte caéli – Tradition in Action.

  2. Lo, He Comes with Clouds Descending…, Advent 1 (B ….

  3. Lo, He Comes with Clouds Descending…, Advent 1 (B ….

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