Written by Pastor Ed
November 27, 2016 Advent 1
Romans 13: 11-14
Matthew 24: 36-44
It was Carly Simon who sang about Anticipation.
“We can never know about the days to come
But we think about them anyway
And I wonder if I’m really with you now
Or just chasing after some finer day.
Is making me late
Is keeping me waiting”
And then some of you might remember that Heinz Ketchup used the song in a commercial, playing on the idea that it was so thick you had to wait for it to come out of the bottle, anticipating the great taste.
Anticipation, that waiting time. Waiting for something to happen, something perhaps we know is coming, or perhaps don’t know for sure. We’ve been anticipating the arrival of a refugee family for 9 months. The committee has been planning, getting ready. At times we thought it was imminent, and then those hopes were dashed. At times, we probably almost forgot about it, and then a phone call, or a message would reawaken hope. And now finally, we hope, we think, it’s going to happen on Thursday, and the excitement builds.
Anticipation – for the birth of a child, for a visit from a friend, or with your grandchildren, for the arrival of something you ordered from the internet, for the snacks someone prepared for coffee time – we anticipate all kinds of things in our lives, sometimes with patience, and sometimes with dread.
Because not all anticipation is positive. We also anticipate things like surgery, a visit to the dentist, and even death. Many of us know what it’s like to walk with someone who has been told that the doctors have done all they can and it’s now only a matter of waiting. Anticipation.
“And tomorrow we might not be together
I’m no prophet, I don’t know nature’s way” Carly sang.
So what do we anticipate in this season of Advent? “In the days to come,” Isaiah says. “Salvation is nearer now than when we first believed,” writes Paul. Or do we anticipate anything? Perhaps we have gotten so tired of waiting that we don’t even think about it anymore. Oh, we’re reminded each year that Advent has something to do with Jesus coming, but mostly we anticipate Christmas and all that may mean.
The 1st century church had a similar problem. For a period of time they were quite sure that Jesus would return very soon. After all, Jesus had promised to return, and had said that no one knew the hour or the day, although that’s never stopped people from deciding what year it might be, or even what day. He had talked of signs, both natural and man-made and warned people to be alert.
“If the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into.” (Matt. 24: 43) But it didn’t seem to be happening anytime soon, and so the anticipation dwindled and Paul had to remind people that indeed, while it might not have happened yet, it was closer than when they had first become believers. Throughout the centuries people anticipation of that coming of Christ has waxed and waned.
Claus Epp, in the late 1800’s was sure that Christ’s return was imminent, and would happen in Central Asia and so led a group of Mennonites from Russia to the promised land. Eventually a remnant became disillusioned and made a long journey to the US, and many settled in Beatrice, Nebraska where I pastored direct descendants of Claus, many of whom still live with the stigma of their ancestors, although that story has been reclaimed somewhat more recently.
Yet Paul’s words continue to be true. That day continues to be closer. Our Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective says, “We place our hope in the reign of God and in its fulfillment in the day when Christ our ascended Lord will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.” (Article 24)
Do we anticipate that? Do we have a vision such as Isaiah’s of a time when the peaceable kingdom will be fulfilled? When swords will be beaten into plowshares and war will be no more? Can we even imagine that?
The people of Colombia have lived with war and conflict, many of them for their whole lives. Many of our brothers and sisters in Berna have never known a time when peace prevailed, and the church in Rincon del Lago is there because of all the displaced people who occupy the vast settlement of makeshift houses south of Bogota, living without many of what we consider the necessities of life. Several months ago, the government and the members of FARC, the largest of the rebel groups, signed a peace agreement and anticipation ran high that finally the conflict would end.
Yet, when it was put to a vote of the people, it was rejected by a narrow margin and fears began to rise that the conflict might be renewed. But the forces of peace have persisted and a new agreement has been reached, hopefully one that will meet with people’s approval. In the midst of all that conflict, the Mennonite church in Colombia has worked at living out the vision of Isaiah, trying to be a light in the darkness of war, modeling a different way, planting trees for the future, both figuratively and literally.
And in reality that is what all of us are called to do as we wait. All of those passages we read, after talking about the need to be ready, to anticipate that coming day, say, “therefore, be ready.” (Matt. 24: 44) “Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armour of light.” (Rom. 13:12) “Come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!” (Is. 2:5)
Whether he actually said it or not, Martin Luther is often credited with the saying, “If I knew that tomorrow was the end of the world, I would plant an apple tree today!” When we anticipate something, we don’t just stop and wait for it to happen, we get ready. We go about our daily tasks, doing what needs to get done, all in light of what we expect to happen.
So it is with our anticipation of Christ’s coming. We don’t know when it will be, but we know it is nearer now than it was when we first believed. God’s peace is at hand. Come, walk in the way of God’s heart and in the light of the Lord.
Let us join in a prayer of confession as it is projected.
Prayer of confession
L: God of peace,
P: we yearn to walk in your way
but often choose our own path of turmoil and pain.
Save us, Lord,
from the pride and foolishness of choosing our own course,
that we may humbly and confidently
follow your lead,
through Jesus Christ, Amen.
Words of assurance
L: Throughout the tumult of life,
God holds you close in love.
because God’s wisdom is your guide,
God’s compassion is your strength.
God’s love is your redemption.
ALL: Come, let us walk in the way of God’s heart!