Happy New Year!!!!! No, this is not a very early New Year's wish. The First Sunday of Advent is the beginning of the Christian Year, so this Sunday is like New Year's Day of the Christian Church. We begin a new phase of our three year lectionary cycle so we are now in Year A, back at square one after traveling through all of the cycles and this year we will have Matthew as our main Gospel of focus. All that many not mean much to the average church goer but for pastors it makes sense. We are beginning again on our travel through the Christian Year.
The First Sunday of Advent marks the season of waiting, watching, and hoping for the return of the Messiah. Advent offers us a two prong perspective--we wait for the Messiah to come at the End of the Age (whenever that may be) and we wait for the Christ-Child to come once again into the manger on Christmas Eve and into our hearts daily.
Advent reminds us of the familiar stories connected to the birth of Jesus, taken mainly from the gospels of Luke and Matthew. Those stories give us two perspectives taken from the points of view of Mary and Joseph as they hear the good news of the birth of the Messiah. Of course, at first it is not good news to them. Mary is a teenage unwed mother and Joseph is her fiance who is considering calling off the wedding because he thinks she has been unfaithful to him. Luckily, God intervenes and both are convinced that this is a special gift sent by God to the world.
This week's readings are not as cheery or holiday mood inducing. Matthew gives an apocalyptic portrayal of destruction coming to Jerusalem with the warning to "stay awake" and "watch" and "be ready" because you do not know when it will happen. Paul warns the church at Rome to "wake from sleep" and to live honorably because the end could be near. Isaiah is not as foreboding, however, and promises that a day is coming when throngs of people will stream into Jerusalem learn the ways of peace, putting their weapons aside in favor of farming implements. All of humanity will learn to walk in the light of God.
This First Sunday of Advent prepares us for the future. The end is coming, indeed! One day God will right every wrong and all will live in peace and safety. We do not know when that may happen but we are to be ever vigilant, on guard, watching for the signs that will point us toward this reality. It also teaches us to watch and wait, and stay busy doing what Jesus taught us to do while we wait. Jesus did not want people just to sit and wait idly while the rest of the world evolves into evil and sinfulness. He taught us to minister to those who needed us and to spread the good news of his love throughout the world.
The revelation of God's grace may not happen in a large dramatic way in our lifetimes. It may take eons before it comes to pass, but we are urged to be on guard and ready, for we do not know when it may happen. God's vision of peace and harmony among the nations is something that only God can make happen but we are God's messengers of peace and until it is a reality we are to be proclaiming that vision for all to see with eyes of faith.