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November 26, 2023

1st Sunday in Advent *

Isaiah 64:1-9

Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19

1 Corinthians 1:3-9

Mark 13:24-37

Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,

grace and peace to you from the one who is faithful. Amen

Waiting is hard.

It is also a skill we can practice and get better at,

at least if children’s tv shows are to be believed.

As we’ve begun to watch some children’s shows with Joy

it’s been astounding just how many of them

center around the themes of waiting and being patient,

how difficult it is and invariably an example of some strategy

for making the wait easier.

There’s an episode of “Bluey”

which for those of you not up to date on your current children’s entertainment,

is a show out of Australia about a family of Blue Heeler dogs.

The main character is a six year old named Bluey,

and along with her four year old sister Bingo

they have adventures and learn lots of lessons with their Mum and Dad.

Anyway, in this particular episode,

Bluey and Bingo get their Dad up early

to take them to the park to play on the monkey bars,

the kids are riding in the wagon which dad is pulling,

and as they walk along

they keep meeting other adults that Dad stops to chat with.

These interruptions annoy Bluey to no end,

they are supposed to be heading to the monkey bars!

At the first stop she interrupts the adults’ conversation,

so she and Dad have to come up with a strategy for how to handle other interruptions,

the next time the strategy works

but Bluey is still very frustrated at the delay,

they need to get to the monkey bars!

Her Dad encourages her to watch what her sister does the next time,

and sure enough as adults are chatting away

and Bluey is getting impatient once more,

she turns to look at her sister,

who has brought along a toy and is playing pretend,

the pause in the journey is just another opportunity for more play.

Bluey joins in

and soon the game they create while they’re waiting

becomes more fun than the end goal of the monkey bars.

Advent is the season of the church year

where we practice waiting,

waiting not just for the baby in the manger

but for the Lord to return,

a wait which keeps getting extended

and therefore all the more difficult.

Each of our readings for today

illustrate a different strategy for this wait,

some more helpful than others.

In Isaiah we see the people vacillate between crying for the Lord to come and soon!

And blaming the Lord for their problems.

‘You are the only God that anyone has perceived’ they cry

‘and you work for those who wait for you’

and then in the next breath

“but you were angry, and we sinned; because you hid yourself we transgressed.”

All of a sudden the sins of the people are God’s fault

because God seemed absent to them,

and this starts the cycle of the people blaming God

and God getting angry

and then the people get angry again.

Sometimes the wait feels like abandonment,

and we react negatively to that.

One of the Pastors I do text study with each week is Pastor Rob,

who is Pastor for the prison ministry.

When we were looking at this text

he observed that this is such a human reaction

and that it’s a recurring theme among the prisoners he works with.

Because of the various circumstances in their lives,

they think that God hates them,

and so they hate God

and his role is to help them understand that God loves them

and that breaks the cycle.

The people and God went round and round in this cycle for years,

until God interrupted it with love,

sending Jesus to be Emmanuel, God with us,

to teach and live out God’s love for people.

Now because Jesus came as a human he had to die,

whether it was on the cross or through natural circumstances

and because he is God

the death would not be forever.

So Jesus had to prepare his followers

for the fact that he would be gone for a time

but that he would be back,

he was not abandoning them.

Now of course when someone is going away and coming back

the natural question to ask is: “when will you be back?”

“But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come.” Jesus tells his disciples,

knowing that as time goes on

some of them will get distracted or give up, fall asleep.

Others will go too far in the other direction

and keep looking for signs

trying to predict just when he will return

and these signs will become a distraction

from the life they are to be living.

Sometimes we become so focused on the future

we forget to notice the important things

that are happening in the present.

And while it seems like there may be signs of Jesus’ return,

Jesus indicates that they will be as natural and as subtle

as a fig tree getting ready for summer

and that people should keep on doing what they do.

“It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”

The slaves are to keep going on with their work,

the master’s absence is not an excuse

for neglecting their duties,

in fact since the timing of the master’s return is unknown

it is all the more important for them

to keep doing what they’re supposed to do

so that they will be ready even at an unexpected time.

Paul echoes this sentiment in his first letter to the Corinthians,

and it seems that they too may be finding the wait a bit difficult

because he offers them this encouragement:

“you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”

God is faithful

and not only has God not abandoned us in the wait,

God has called and equipped us for the wait.

God has made sure that we have everything we need

to keep living into and sharing

the good news that the kingdom of God has come near,

to start living out that kingdom right now

even as we wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ.

In a way Paul’s encouragement is also a challenge:

you have all you need,

why aren’t you using it?

Bluey was always capable of using her imagination

to pass the time on the interrupted walk to the Monkey Bars,

but she needed to have it pointed out to her

, to see her sister in action

before she fully utilized what she was capable of.

We too are capable and have what we need,

For the wait for the return of our Lord

but we also need to be reminded, shown examples, of that waiting

that’s what God gives us in the season of Advent,

examples of faithful waiting,

the reminder that we have what we need,

and most of all the promise that God is faithful. Amen

*Yes, technically it was Christ the King Sunday but we moved Advent up a week this year so we could observe the full Advent season and let Christmas Eve be Christmas Eve.

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