O God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.
Coming from Los Angeles, as I do, when I’m in another part of the
country speaking, I can usually say something about our wonderful
weather and your bad weather. But today there is such beautiful
sunshine here that I’m deprived of those opening comments. As a matter
of fact, I understand that it may be raining in Los Angeles.
This morning we meet Jesus in the Gospel, the Gospel according to
Matthew, for this First Sunday in Advent. Jesus and his Disciples are
engaged in a discussion, and they have asked Jesus a question, and
today’s portion of the Gospel is a part of Jesus’ response. Now the
Disciples’ question was prompted by something that Jesus had said. The
Disciples had admired the Temple. Jesus told them then that this great
building will be destroyed. If this great building was going to be
destroyed, surely they reasoned, this must be the coming of the end of
the world. And they want to know from Jesus, “when will these things
This was the question.
These Disciples we may recall are ordinary, undistinguished people.
Simple men. They have been invited by Jesus to join him in learning
about and speaking about God in a new and powerful and life-transforming
way. The Scripture say they left immediately when they were called by
him. They left what they were doing when they met Jesus and they
accepted his invitation. They heard and accepted the power of his
message and the power of the man, and because they had each been touched
and changed, they wanted to be with Jesus.
And now they find themselves traveling about first in the Galilee
with him. During these travels he is delivering a message that is
radical, that turns the conventional wisdom of the world on its head.
He taught blessed are the poor. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst
for the world to be right. Blessed are those who mourn because it is
not. Blessed are those who live in a way that they do not elevate
themselves over others. Blessed are the peacemakers. And blessed are
you by God when you are persecuted. Because you try to do right, God
will cause everything to come to you.
Now when they all reached Jerusalem, Jesus and his Disciples see the
concentration of power that is there, the evidence of the oppressing
power, and the power and domination represented by the Temple, and they
hear Jesus say again that what he is representing will overcome these
powers, they question, “when will this be?” And now doubt, “how?”
And here we meet them. Jesus responds to them, “No one knows the day
or hour. Neither the angels in heaven nor the sun but only the Father.
Keep awake, therefore, for you do not know the day on which your Lord is
In my imagination I can hear Jesus telling them more directly, “Keep
your focus on God, and what you are called by God to do and to be. Do
not become attracted and distracted by the powers of this world. Stay
vigilant. Keep working for what is right. Remember what God
blesses– poor and the marginalized, those who desire to do right.”
What of us in this day and time are called to be Disciples of Jesus
Christ who have made our own commitment to follow Jesus?
Who, like the Disciples who were with Jesus, have been attracted by the
man and the message? We, too, want to be with Jesus. But as they were,
we are challenged by the powers of this world. We, too, may ask, do ask,
“How long will it be? When will God show God’s self in
power and might and vindicate the holistic and inclusive desire of
Our temptation is to make God smaller in the face of this. That God
will be concerned with me and my family and my group. God will cheer me
on and bless my successes. Do we not on this Advent Day, once again
hear the voice of Jesus saying to us, “Stay the course. Stay awake.
Remain vigilant.” We don’t know the day or the hour. “I don’t know,”
Jesus said. Only God knows. In the meantime, keep working. He said to
them, “Remember, he who puts his hand to the plough and looks back is
not fit for the Kingdom of God.” We must, therefore, in our time as
Disciples of Jesus Christ, pay attention to the righteousness of God
beyond ourselves and our families and our group.
The powers of this world are great, persistent, and in many ways we are
tempted to give in and to accept defeat to them.
In our own country recently, a government report indicated that one
in every one hundred and nine men in the United States is in prison.
And at the close of 2003, over one million, three hundred men were
sentenced. And more than 44% of those males who were sentenced at the
end of 2003, were black. And many of them young. Given the number of
blacks in the overall population in this country, how can this be?
To pick a place in the world, outside of the United States, the
Sudan, where there has been war for a generation, children have been
fighting in this war. Women and children have been captured and
I spoke recently with a bishop in our own Anglican Communion who was
about to retire. I asked him what he was going to do when he retired.
He said, “I will have nothing, no income. I will have nothing, but I
must somehow provide for my family and for my brother’s family, because
he was killed in the war. He said, “In our own family, children have
been killed. In our own family, they have been raped and enslaved.” He
said, “We must have help.”
These are problems which are large and far away. But they are
examples of what we come to accept as just the way things are. Jesus is
reminding his Disciples in the Gospel for today, and we are being
reminded therefore, that these things have to do with the work to which
God has called us. Does not Jesus call this day upon those of us who are
his Disciples to go deeper, to maintain our focus on God and why it is
that God has called us to heal divisions among people, to facilitate the
coming together of all of God’s creation, to remain focused on the poor,
to be peacemakers, to work for what is right in the world, and when we
are in trouble, to remember that God will give us everything that we
need. God is ever faithful, Jesus is saying.
I once had a friend who was a tremendously attractive person. He was
successful in every way that one could imagine success, in the way he
lived, in his career. He was a person who was well known in our parish
and well liked. He was the kind of person who when he came into a room
it was as if a light would come on. He had charisma. He discovered
that he was HIV positive, that he had AIDS. At first, he was quiet
about this, but then he decided that his faith called him to open and
share his life and his struggle with others, to say to other people like
himself that it is people like me, like us, who get AIDS. And so he
began to share it, and talk about it, and teach about it and live in a way
that people could see him. He gave himself to work among other people
who struggled with this disease.
On his dying bed he said to me, “I am happier now than I have ever
been in my life, having given myself to helping others even at a time
when I needed help myself.” He said, “I only wish that I could have
done more.” But he said, “I am happy with what I have done.”
gives us everything we need.
This Advent, 2004, as we look forward to the celebration of the
Incarnation we are reminded by Jesus, “Stay awake! Remember who you
are. Be vigilant. Keep working. We don’t know the day or the hour.
Finally, be of good cheer,” Jesus has also said,
“I have overcome the world.”
Now to God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit, Amen.