1st Sunday in Advent
November 27, 2016
Matthew 24: 36-44 and Romans 13: 11-14
The Armor of Light
It used to drive me crazy. The professor would begin to get into his lecture – warming to his subject and imparting information that he or she thought a Psychology student would want to know, would want to master, and some kid in the second row would ask, “Will this be on the test?” Jesus has just spent some serious time with his disciples talking about the end of time, and the days when he will come again. When? Is the question of the day. Even Jesus doesn’t know the specifics – just like the instructor can’t tell you what’s going to be on the test. You have to pay attention to the information at hand, and you have to be prepared. So on this first Sunday of the Church New Year, we talk about waiting, and being prepared and we talk about Jesus’ coming to earth – both the first time and the next time.
It’s important for us to remember – 2000 years later – that the early church lived in a time of turmoil. The Roman occupation was hard on Palestine, partly because the Jews chafed under it. Their salvation story told them that God brought them out of slavery to freedom and they expected the Messiah to be the one to do it again – throw off the Roman yoke and set them free. By the time the Gospels were written, the worst had already happened; their temple was destroyed, the solid gold temple fittings and their prime young men had been carried off to Rome as spoils of war. Jesus had not come back to save them. Some scholars believe that the Gospels were written specifically to encourage believers to pay attention to the promises of Jesus and to continue to be faithful, even in the face of failed expectations.
Jesus’ words are meant to prepared them – and by extension us – for the prospect of hopes being dashed and horrors befalling the faithful. Things will go along as usual and people will live their lives coping with everyday things. Life will seem unfair – one will get cancer and one will not, one marriage will last and another will not, one person will get a good job and one will not. But do not be distracted by the bad things and the good things that happen, continue to be faithful to the promises of God through Jesus, and keep doing the work you were sent to do in the world, loving, lifting, accompanying, blessing, forgiving, doing justice.
Paul’s letter to the Romans speaks to the same situation. He wants believers to get busy with their work in the world. No sitting around waiting for Jesus to show up so you don’t have to make relationships work, raise and train your kids, do your job. Paul imagines believers putting on God’s promises like armor to protect themselves from just giving up hope that anything will change and that the world to come that Jesus has promised will never happen.
I think we need to hear this scripture written to a worried and anxious community 2000 years ago. Our world feels so uncertain to me. Physical disasters happen all around us – earthquakes and eruptions, and rising tides. Disasters strike our health and the people we count on become the people we need to take care of; or our own health fails and we are not able to care for the people who depend on us. Jobs are lost, finances fail, wars flare up, ideologies clash, and people’s lives are changed forever. These days we are watching the transfer of power from one set of elected officials to another and our hearts are torn as we are so polarized that our trust in our leaders to help us has been so eroded. How are we to live in this time between creation and judgement? What is our responsibility as Christians, the faithful? How do we stay awake? What is the armor of light, how do we put on Jesus in the meantime?
I think it begins right here in this assembly, our Beloved Community. I think the armor of light that protects us from doubt and fear is the light of our memory of what God has done for us. For each of us, and for us as a community. Our life together is built around remembering God’s words to us, God’s invitation to us in our baptism to become part of God’s family forever, God’s presence with us when we share this bread and wine, God’s dreams for us and encouragement of us when we can’t see them. When your faith fails, we are here to hold faith for you. When your prayers don’t feel strong enough, we are holding you in our prayers. Paul says that we are not to revel in the darkness of division and argument with each other, but to put on the light of Jesus as the armor that protects us. We don’t have to know what time it is, we are not really expected to know what will be on the test or when it will happen. We are only expected to live, to act, to be faithful right now to the needs of the world in which God has sent each of us a gift, and to trust that in the days to come, that is enough.