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Advent 1 November 27, 2016 - The Rev. Samuel Torvend
Sermon for November 27, 2016 | Advent I
ALMIGHTY God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life, in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal, through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. [Collect for Advent I, the Book of Common Prayer]
Jesus said to the disciples, “But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But understand this: 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. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.” [Matthew 24:36-44]
During the past year and, indeed, the past weeks, I have discovered that a good number of people – or should I say “entities”? – are quite interested in keeping time for me. Here’s one such happy message I received just the other day: the Neptune Society wants to cremate me when I die and, in truly consumerist fashion, is eager to offer an undisclosed discount on an undisclosed price tag if I sign up with them by December 31. Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Powell’s Books, and Land’s End have been warning me that time is running out – time is running out for you, Samuel!!! – the emails note with an expansive use of exclamation points, to prepare for Black Friday and Holiday purchases. The automated voice message from Volkswagen exhorts us to turn in our car before the end of the year in order to get that once-in-a-year saving on a new automobile. “Who wants to drive last year’s car?” asks the robotic voice – failing to disclose that cars, clothing, and computers are actually engineered to “go out of style” in order to serve a corporation’s profit margin. “Does your life insurance benefit need to expand?” asks the personnel office where I teach, knowing that I am not 30 years old and no longer at the beginning of my career.
Perhaps you are familiar with this very American vision of your time and mine: time experienced on the basis of economic utility and financial profit, your life and mine valued only – only – to the degree that you and I engage in “useful” or “productive” work, valued only to the degree that you and I are able to purchase “up-to-date” merchandise, “contemporary” things. For who wants to be perceived as “out of date,” as over-the-hill, as “traditional”? But, here’s the problem: you and I and many others pay dearly for the empty privilege of being viewed as “with it” – for your wisdom, your affections, your dreams, your losses, your relationships and mine are considered fairly insignificant in a culture that rewards economic gain and financial security above all else. If you don’t believe me, just ask the president-elect.
Marianne Sawicki, the Episcopal biblical scholar, speaks of the American propensity to value one’s time in economic terms as a distortion of human experience, as a wound suffered by aggressive competition in which a few win and many lose, as the terrible colonization of our sense of time by market forces. Indeed, I wonder if this ever-present view has almost overwhelmed any other sense of living in and with the present and the future. I wonder, then, if you and I, as Christians, must struggle to recognize and then lean into, lean into, the rhythm of time offered us by the One who draws us into another experience of time made available to you and to me in the life, the death, and the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
It is the first Sunday of Advent and one small light burns brightly on the wreath of God’s time. Rather than a story about the preparation of Mary or Joseph or the world for the birth of the infant Jesus during the first century, we hear the adult Jesus speaking about the sudden appearance of the Son of Man, of the Human One, who is the agent sent by God into our experience of time. It can be helpful to recognize that Matthew, the author of this gospel, has a two-fold view of history. He would have us grasp that one experience of time is beginning to pass away and another is emerging. That first experience of time is symbolized by the story of Noah in which God recognizes that violence has become normative in society, that injustice grows, and many are deprived of an equitable sharing in all that God gives freely. In that ancient story, one was “seized” or “taken” by the flood [by death] and others – the righteous – were “released” or “left” free from destruction. But that story is not simply “ancient” but also alive in the time of Jesus and Matthew, also alive in our time as well.
Matthew wants his congregation to know that an alternative to a time marked by violence, harm, and injustice has emerged in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  In this emerging age, mutual support and blessing between humans and the earth will mark the experience of time. Rather than rabid competition for the products and resources of the earth – in which a few win and many lose – there can yet be an equitable or just sharing of God’s many gifts. What does Matthew suggest? The beginning – but only the beginning – of this second experience of time has been inaugurated in Jesus of Nazareth and grows – growswhenever women and men accept and lean into this other experience of time, an experience of time that is shaped by our commitment to nonviolence, to peace making, to resisting the forces that dehumanize life and degrade God’s earth, to those virtues that nurture human relationships rather than see them simply as a network of economic or nationalistic competition.
Dear brothers and sisters, for some Christians in our nation it can be surprising to learn that there will be no airlifting out of  our earthly existence, our experience of time as both curse and blessing. There will be no shimmering helicopter that will pluck up some while others are stuck here on earth. Rather, when Matthew’s Jesus says “Be ready and be alert!” he is calling his followers, he is calling you and me, to live into the virtues of the gospel: into nonviolent interactions, into the building of peace, into resisting the forces that dehumanize life and degrade God’s earth, into mutual support and care for the vulnerable and weak who are perceived to have little value in a world that rewards the allegedly powerful.
And, here is the remarkable thing: our living into the virtues of the gospel is another way of saying, “Put on the armor of light” or this: “Let your light shine before others.” The simple wreath of time with its four candles is far less about marking the days until Christmas [for heaven’s sake: we know the date!] and far more – far more – about the growth of light, the growth of God’s light, and assuredly, the growth of our light in what may appear to be growing darkness.
What does Matthew say? “Let your light so shine before others that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”
If there were ever a time in which we need to hear his invitation, is it not now?
Fr. Samuel Torvend
Associate Priest for Adult Formation