November 28, 2021 – First Sunday of Advent – Luke 21:25-36

You’ve been in this situation, I know you have.  The whole family is in the car.  You’re starting off on some family trip – maybe it’s a vacation or a holiday visit to family or friends or a trip to the Big Apple to see the Christmas decorations.  It doesn’t matter where you’re going, it just matters if the trip is longer than, say, 20 minutes.  Because it is a fact, a cold hard fact, that if you’re in the car with kids longer than 20 minutes, one of them is bound to ask:  “Are we there yet?”

You yourself probably asked that question when you were a child.  Are we there yet?  Don’t you ever wonder why kids ask that question?  I mean, really.  When you’re flying down the highway at 70 miles an hour . . . does it look like you’ve arrived at your destination?  When you pull into a gas station, does it really look like grandma’s house?  And if you were really there, wouldn’t everyone be getting out of the car?  It’s a question that the child has just got to know the answer to, even before she asks it.  But that doesn’t stop her from asking!

“Are we there yet?” is also the question of Advent.  Are we there yet?  Have we reached our final destination – Christmas?  And we know the answer, just like the kids in the back seat: “No.  Not yet.”  It’s Advent.

But Advent is about so much more than the anticipation of Christmas.  It’s not just about waiting to remember how God stepped into our history once long ago in Bethlehem.  It’s also when we remember that the Son of God will come again, as Jesus spoke of in this morning’s gospel lesson, a final time, in the clouds with power and glory.  And the markers that the time is near are rather frightening – signs in the heavens, distress among the nations, the roaring of the waves of the sea.  It’s impossible to hear Jesus speaking of these things and not wonder if maybe the time is now.  There’s just a lot of crazy scary stuff going on in the world, which makes us wonder:  is 2021 the year that Jesus comes again?  Well, maybe.  But people have been wondering that every year since Jesus said those words because there’s always trouble and tumult somewhere.  So are we there yet?  Who’s to say?  It could be tomorrow, or could be 1000 years from tomorrow.  But as of right now – I don’t see Jesus coming in the clouds – so I’m going to say, “No, we’re not there yet.”

But there’s even more depth to Advent.  Just as this season is about more than God coming to us in Bethlehem, it is also about more than God sorting things out at the end of time.  During Advent, we also remember and celebrate that God comes to us here and now, today and every day.  So oddly enough, this time the answer to the question, “Are we there yet?” is “Yes!”  Yes, we have arrived.  This is the time of his coming!  He comes to us here in worship, through the reading of scripture and the celebration of the Eucharist.  He comes to us through the power of the Holy Spirit when we pray.  And he comes to us when we reach out to one another.  But unlike his coming in Bethlehem, which was heralded by a star; unlike his coming in the future, which seems like it will be pretty hard to miss, what with the signs and the clouds and the power and the glory; unlike his first or final coming, his coming in the present is something – well, something we have to be paying attention to notice.

So let’s pay attention.  It won’t be easy.  Heaven knows, there’s plenty to distract us at this time of year:  attending Christmas gatherings, making travel plans, planning and cooking meals, purchasing gifts, pursuing sales, choosing which charities to support, sending cards, baking cookies, decorating homes . . ..  There is so much to do, plenty to keep us busy for much more than the four weeks we have, that just being still for a moment to notice God at work in our lives might feel like a luxury that we can’t afford.  But the truth is:  we can’t afford not to take that time.  Because we want to be aware of God’s presence.  We need that awareness to keep us going.  And while sometimes God comes in really splashy, obvious ways, at other times, many times, God is more subtle.

  • So when the Christmas card comes in the mail, open it. Take the time to read it closely.  Think about what a blessing the sender is in your life.  And be thankful for the way God is with us in our relationships with one another.
  • When you see all the festive lights outside, pause. Look at the brightness and beauty of the lights.  And think about the one who is the light for our paths, the light of the world, Emmanuel, God with us.
  • When you find yourself being generous, reflect on what makes that giving possible: the love and blessing which have been with us our whole life long.

Be aware of God present in all these blessings.

But know that God is present here and now in our struggles, too.

  • When the holiday to-do list gets the better of you, breathe . . . and know that everything that really has to be done has already been done by the one who came to do what we could not accomplish on our own.
  • When stress brings on a headache, as you reach for the Tylenol, also utter a brief prayer for relief, knowing that an incarnate God understands our suffering.
  • When the persistent cheerfulness of the season doesn’t match the way you’re feeling inside, look deeper into the meaning of this holy time of year, and know that in spite of illness and anxiety and even in spite of numbness, God is with us.

So what do you say:  are we there yet?  Well, we’re not at Christmas.  We’re not at the time of Jesus’ triumphant return.  But we are at the time of Emmanuel, God present with us in the world.  In the midst of all the busy-ness that this season brings, may you have the presence of mind and spirit to pause and pay attention and perceive God in our midst.

Come, Lord Jesus.

 

 

 

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