Advent 1 : Hope is the First Step

\https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ArEjPAMaUxU

So, also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the Kingdom of God is near. Luke – 21:31

Well, everyone, it’s Advent!  Today we lit the candle for the First Sunday of Advent, which is the Sunday of the candle of Hope.  We have four, Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love.  Then the fifth in the center there is the Christ candle that gets lit at Christmas.  These are the things we celebrate along the way to the manger.  Think of us as kind of on a journey, like the three Kings or like Joseph and Mary, walking towards the place where we’ll meet Christ, and each candle here is one leg of the journey.  This is our first step, so to speak, one which we take in hope, hope that we’ll meet Christ, hope that somehow when we encounter Christ our lives will be changed. 

Hope is well reflected in the Gospel lesson today, though you might not think that at first to look at it.  It is another segment of Jesus talking about tough times, but how if we turn from our earthly spaces to heavenly places, if we with our minds search our souls, we’ll find God, we’ll find Christ, we’ll find hope.  If we are to follow Jesus if we are to call ourselves Christians, then we are a people of hope.  Sometimes it may fade, that happens to the best of us, but no matter the trials, no matter the troubles, no matter the rumbling and the shaking of the earth or of the empires that have spread over the face of it or even of the tumult in our own households, we are people who believe in a better tomorrow and that a better today is possible.  Because while we live in a world that does not always seem so hopeful, we know that God is with us and is working it out as we make the journey to meeting Christ, both at Christmas and then again once we are called to cross that final river and into the hereafter.

You see, often times when there is trouble in our world, there is a divine world at work, a spiritual rescue brewing, in the heart of God and in the hearts of the saints, but presently living and gone before us.  Our world is often, well, let’s be real, always in some kind of trouble, and then the spiritual realm, the divine realm, is where God starts working things out.  We should not make the mistake so many have done over the years and consider that both worlds are necessarily opposed. Certainly not. Was the humanity of Jesus opposed to his divinity?  No.  Weren’t they both required for the Incarnation to be possible? Yes.

The point of Jesus Christ in all of this and the hope of the Christian is that in this created universe that has two parts, like a house with two rooms in it that share a wall, Christ makes us one, unites us with one another and with God, and brings us into the fullness of that physical and spiritual power that lifts us up and brings us peace, both right here and now and later on down the road, even unto death and beyond the grave.

Most books in the New Testament assume this dual world we are talking about and the New Testament uses things like apocalypse to talk about our seeing how God is working in our lives.  Now the word apocalypse is tricky these days.  Now it has been misunderstood to mean something like the end of the world, but the original meaning of it and the meaning in the Bible is that of a something being unveiled, like a curtain being pulled back from a window.  That’s why the Book of Revelation is also called the Apocalypse of St. John, because apocalypse actually means “an unveiling,” – it’s a revelation.

The New Testament focuses on this veil being lifted so that we can see how everything is connected, how it is all one in God.  When God lifts that veil we begin to see the connections between the two worlds and how they relate to one another and in seeing that, we are given hope.

In the reading this morning, we see an image of trouble in one room of the house and salvation coming from the other, sorrow on earth and power in Heaven.   Here, Jesus is discussing the coming of the Kingdom of God and of the Son and how that relates to the world around us, the everyday, the mundane. The sun. The moon. The stars. Seasons. Sea levels. Blooming plants. Signs of the Kingdom of God are to be seen in all of these things, but only if you’ve got eyes to see them. Jesus speaks of the heavens trembling power and the earth groaning for relief from the sin and violence that is ruining both the earth and her people.

For you see the time of Jesus was a time of violence and racial tension in Jerusalem.  It was a time when great nations spread their influence the world over, but might have been spreading themselves too thin.  It was a time when terrorist acts and acts of violence and the slaughter of innocents and regular folks were very much feared and always rumored to be brewing somewhere.  The time of Jesus was a time of political uncertainty, fear, and in some places desperation, of refugees in need of help and finding themselves with no good place to go, of needy children, of the sick, of the elderly, and the lonely left to fend for themselves while the rest of the world crawled in desperation and selfishness and a few good souls tried their hardest to care for them.

What Jesus points out to us this morning, what he shows us in great power and glory, is that these signs of turbulence, wherever they may be found, are not to be seen only as signs of destruction. Part of the beauty of our Christian thinking is that tough times and pains in life are not the end of the story. There is another world at work in our often sorrowful and shameful reality. Our story is one of living in both worlds, in the tension, in the terror, in the relief, and the love.

And because we see reality as such, part of what we do is we wait and we watch to see what God is doing and where we are being led.  We may not always get it right.  The Early Church did a lot of waiting and watching. They believed that Christ would return in the immediate future, sometime within their lifetimes, and you can see that in a few places in the New Testament. This has, of course, been shown not to be the case. That is fine, simply because they were off on a detail doesn’t mean we have to throw the baby out with the bath water.

Their great insight and the holy and hopeful inspiration tells us that the two aspects of reality, the spiritual and the physical, heaven and earth, are so connected in Christ that we can see signs of both of them right here and now as we live and breathe.  They come together and our everyday world gives us signs of God’s presence among us, because while we may at times give up on God, God doesn’t give up on us.  In our daily lives, no matter how boring or how happy or how desperate, God is present if only we’ll watch for the signs in our lives and in the world.

When you are spiritually connected to God and others, God is present.

When you are giving help and resources to those in need, God is present.

When you are there to comfort the sorrowful, stand with the oppressed, and call out in a loud voice against those things which may be oppressing you too, God is present.

When you refuse to payback evil for evil and choose compassion as the way to healing and change in this world, God is present.

When you fall short, when you fall down, when you fracture your relationship with God, with others, and with the rest of creation, God is present and working in your life! Now, I know what y’all are thinking. “Caleb, really? God is present when I am sinning? What kind of hippie nonsense is that?”

Yes I mean it! When we are at the lowest of the low, more broken than we’ve ever been, when we are in sin’s darkest and most oppressive hell and it seems like there is no way out, God is present.  Christ breaks through and by the power of the Holy Spirit helps bring us out of that broken state of being and raises us to newness and wholeness in the Lord!

The fact that we even have wisdom enough to know when we have done wrong is a sign of the Kingdom of God.  It is God’s good Grace raising our awareness of our own actions and helping us to continue our spiritual journey and growth. That is not just hippie nonsense; that is Gospel Truth!

Signs of God’s sacred presence are all around us; good works, healing, repentance, spiritual progress, prayer, acts of justice and acts of mercy.  These are the signs that we are watching for so that our hearts are not distracted with the mundane worries and cares of the world which is groaning in its own redemption. God is the spirit of good and positive change in the world and we must open our eyes to look for the movement of the living Spirit among us.

There are many ways to be more alert and aware of the nearness of the Kingdom of God. We don’t always know when God is acting until we take some time to sit back and reflect on it. Advent is a good time of year to do that. Sit back, take ten or fifteen minutes of your day and contemplate and pray on that.  If you have prayer beads or a rosary, that is great, use those. If you prefer to do it by taking a meditative walk, go for it! Maybe it would help you to start a spiritual journal so that you can write of your experiences and start to think of your life in light of the Christian faith.

These are all Advent-y kinds of things to do and I promise you if you take one of these practices up, you really won’t regret it. Once you begin to stay in touch with both worlds made one in Christ, you really begin to see the difference Christ makes upon entering into your life and you’ll start living into the hope of God that is both among us and goes far beyond anything we could ever dream.  Amen.

De la misma manera, cuando vean que suceden estas cosas, sepan que el reino de Dios ya está cerca. Evangelio de San Lucas

Hoy encendimos la vela para el Domingo primero de Adviento — la vela de la esperanza. Tenemos cuatro, Esperanza, Paz, Alegría y Amor.  La esperanza es la lección espiritual del día y está presente en nuestra lección del Evangélico de Lucas.   En esta parte del Evangelio, Jesús habla de problemas en la tierra y la ayuda que viene del cielo, de Dios. Él está hablando de la fuerza que viene del mundo espiritual. Esta ayuda espiritual es nuestra fuente de esperanza porque va a perdura eternamente.  Dios es el espíritu de esperanza y cambio bueno en el mundo y tenemos que abrir nuestros ojos para buscar el movimiento del Espíritu viviente entre de nosotros.

Hay muchas maneras de ser más alerta y consciente de la cercanía del Reino de Dios y la actividad del Espíritu. No siempre sabemos cuándo ni cómo Dios está obrando en nuestras vidas, por lo que deberíamos dedicar tiempo para reflexionar sobre esto.  El Adviento es un buen tiempo del año para hacer eso. Siéntese, tomar diez o quince minutos de su día y contemplar y orar sobre eso. Si usted tiene cuentas de oración o un rosario, utilice esos. Si prefiere ir en una caminata de meditación, ¡hazlo! Puede ser útil para algunos de ustedes para comenzar a llevar un diario espiritual. Estas son las buenas prácticas espirituales durante todo el año, y especialmente en Adviento.  Si nos ocupamos de nuestras almas por hacer estas prácticas espirituales vamos a estar cerca del Señor y fuertes en la esperanza divina que nunca nos abandonará.  Amén.

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