Today is the First Sunday of Advent. And Advent is the time of the church year that tries to help us rekindle feelings of hope and anticipation, just like those that lived before Christ came. They lived with the hope of a messiah, and awaited his coming. This season is intended to instill in us a similar hope, a similar type of anticipation. To remind us of the hope of an abundant life.
Those that were waiting for the prophesied messiah lived in a culture that was occupied by outside forces, strangers who did not care for their ways or live according to their values. These occupiers took advantage of them, treated them harshly at times, and viewed them more as a means to increasing their own wealth, than a people with whom they could partner.
It’s no wonder the Israelites were hoping for a messiah.
They were looking for an end to the occupation, an end to their own suffering, and an end to days when they would be ruled by people who cared nothing for their religion and morality. A day when they could live in their own country, under their own rule.
Their situation almost demanded a mighty king, one who would pull them out of the occupation by his mighty deeds and great leadership. One who would put the occupiers in their place, and show them that their God was mighty indeed.
And then Jesus came.
And he was different than they expected.
In fact, Jesus was so terribly different than they expected, that he did not, in fact, reduce the occupying forces to dust, nor did he take over the rule of their earthly kingdom, and he certainly did not set up an Israel that governed itself.
He was clearly not the messiah that they expected.
And as he continued to preach, and as he continued to teach, and as people realized that he would not be a king who would save them from the suffering they were enduring, they began to grumble and leave. They discovered that Jesus’ teachings were more involved, that they required some sacrifice on their own part, and that they could not simply sit back and watch as their troubles melted away. Jesus offered a new path to freedom, but one that they did not expect.
And, for some, their hope vanished, because Jesus did not fit the very specific niche they had created for him. They had put their hope of a messiah into a box of their own making, and found that Jesus did not fit.
And so some of them left.
You see, those who had hoped for a messiah that would fit into what they thought they needed were focused on an end to their suffering, and end to what was going on around them.
And hope that focuses on an end to things is hope that is focused inward. Hope that focuses on an end to things is hope that expects a brighter future, but does not see that future around it in the present reality. Hope that focuses on an end to things is not a hope that lives in the reality of a future that is promised but not yet manifested.
They saw only the failure of Christ to live up to their own hopes, rather than seeing the greater hope of abundant life that Christ came to share.
And they missed out.
So where does that leave us? Those of us who now live in an age when the messiah has already come? What anticipation and hope can we create for ourselves as we come near to the remembrance of Christ’s birth?
Part of the reason that our scriptures point to Christ’s second coming, and our eventual life with him in heaven is because we do know that Christ has come, and this is the hope that we look forward to – heaven.
Part of our passage from the Gospel today tells us that we ought to “be on guard, so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life.”
“The worries of this life.”
If we want to be weighed down by the worries of this life, we could easily allow ourselves to find all the suffering and injustice in this world by watching the news. We could watch the documentaries and exposes that show where the rich and the powerful are taking advantage of the poor and needy. We could find ways in which governments obstruct their citizens from voting, and examples of judges letting murderers walk away from punishment.
If we wanted to be weighed down by the worries of this life we could certainly find the ways and the examples.
We might focus on how these evils and these worries of this life are never-ending.
And then we might hope for Christ’s return.
We might focus on the future promise of life in heaven.
And then we might find ourselves hoping that everything would just stop and that we could see the face of God, to bring us home and put an end to the evils of this world. We may be hoping for a messiah, and putting God into a box of our own design, and marking it “Hope.”
But hope that focuses on an end to things is hope that is focused inward. Hope that focuses on an end to things is hope that expects a brighter future, but does not see that future around it in the present reality. Hope that focuses on an end to things is not a hope that lives in the reality of a future that is promised but not yet manifested.
We may, in fact, have hope. And live with that hope. But what we need is to live with anticipation.
What’s the difference, you might ask?
Hope is the expectation of a desired future.
Anticipation is living in the reality of that future as though it has already come to pass.
It is not merely hoping for a future end to things, but living with that hope as though they can and will change. It is not merely hoping for a future, but living as though that future is already here and now. It is living in the reality of the future Glory of heaven, while still being a part of a broken, unjust world.
It is seeing the face of God despite the worries and cares of this world.
Anticipation is an active hope. A hope that lives in the reality of what will be, rather than in the mindset of what should not be.
You may have heard it said, when you come to this table and receive the Eucharist, that “You are the body of Christ, and this is the bread of heaven.”
The eucharist is at once a reminder of our present commandment, as well as a promise of our future reality.
You are the body of Christ. I am the body of Christ. We all are the body of Christ.
And if we are the body of Christ then we are also the hands of God, we are the feet of God, and we are the hope of new life to a world that lives without the same promise of a future reality that we actively anticipate.
And if we are the hope of Christ, then we also may come to realize that the only face of God that some people might ever see is the face of Christ that is reflected in us. Reflected in you. Reflected in me.
We are the body of Christ.
We are the image of God’s hope, reflected outward to a world that needs to understand why we live in the anticipation of a reality that has not yet fully come, but which is also a reality that exists even now.
We do have hope. We know what God has prepared for us.
But let us not only hope for an end to the worries of this life. Let us also live in the anticipation of that future reality, and allow that anticipation to break into our present day.
Break into our present reality, by being the body of Christ, the hands, the feet, and the hope of Christ to all those around us.
And as we live in that anticipation, we may come to realize that the future promise of heaven seems just a bit more real here and now.[This sermon was delivered at The Episcopal Church of St. Matthew in Tucson, AZ on November 28, 2021.]
Mike is a jack of all trades, master of none. He’s a data analyst, programmer, and loves to cook. If he doesn’t have his face buried in a book or is staring blankly at a computer screen, you can find him on a motorcycle, enjoying the ride.
Mike holds a Masters of Divinity from Fuller Theological Seminary, and is a postulant for Holy Orders in the Episcopal Diocese of Arizona. He will attend Sewanee School of Theology for a year of Anglican Studies in the Fall of 2022.