Pastor Wilbert Miller’s Sermon
“Living on God’s Clock”
1st Sunday of Advent (December 3, 2017)
The Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Holy Trinity
New York City at Central Park
Advent comes from the Latin word adventus which means coming. Jesus promised that he would come again but he left precious few particulars as to his exact time table. He did entrust us with this: “For you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or a dawn.”
Funny thing: while we do not know when Jesus will come again, we continue to anticipate his return, lighting candles one-by-one on this ringed wreath, clothing the church in the dark blue bruise of the winter’s morning sky just before sunrise, and marking our waiting, day-by-day, with the lovely Holy Trinity Advent calendar of your prayerful making.
Admit it: waiting can be tough as darkness envelops us and scares us half to death.
Author Annie Proulx recently said at the National Book Awards ceremony: “We don’t live in the best of all possible worlds…The television sparkles with images of despicable political louts and sexual harassment reports. We cannot look away from the pictures of furious elements, hurricanes and fires, from the repetitive crowd murders by gunmen burning with rage. We are made more anxious by flickering threats of nuclear war.”
In spite of the dire circumstances that tempt us to surrender all hope, quaint communities of courage and confidence endure, doing our best to act as Jesus would have us: “Keep alert…Keep awake.”
We come here this morning in these days of despicableness, fury, and rage and still, somehow, someway, cry out, “Stir up your power, Lord Christ, and come.” We plead to heaven to spare us from surrendering to dark bruise of gloom.
Nevertheless, as I have said and as you well know, waiting is hard, excruciatingly so when we are waiting on someone else’s clock. Anthropologists claim that the most difficult thing for travelers visiting other countries, except for dealing with a foreign language, is coming to grips with how others keep time.
We actually do that this morning whether we realize it or not. We the people of God are compelled to come to grips with the time-keeping of another strange and exotic country, the kingdom of God. As we snuggle here in God’s lap, we catch ourselves fidgeting like rambunctious preschoolers, glancing at our watches and fiddling with our cellphones. We have places to go, things to do, people to see. We are programmed to watch and wait for 58 minutes and 58 minutes only, the length of an episode of “Game of Thrones,” “Downton Abbey,” or “The Walking Dead.” Watching and waiting beyond that, even here on God’s clock, can seem well-nigh impossible.
Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, says that in our waiting, we all become Jews once more. We, too, long for God to keep the promises made to our ancestors. We yearn for God to surprise us, ambush us, and carry us off to the Promised Land; that yearning is magnified as we watch our world crumbling or when someone we love deeply does not love us back. The wait can be terrible. It is at the moment when there seems not an iota of hope remaining that we encourage one another to stay awake and be alert for Christ’s coming. That is, of course, what it means that we all become Jews once more.
Oh yes, some of us are not so good at keeping alert and waiting. We have been to the doctor’s office, anxious and on high alert. We waited and waited for the doctor. We got testy with the receptionist, showed no mercy toward the nurse’s apologies, and, when the doctor finally did appear, breathless from saving a life in the operating room, we shot him stares of chilly curtness.
When we get edgy and feel like we are the only ones who have ever faced perilous times, we do well to pray mightily that we might learn to live on God’s clock and not ours. This is when we are enormously blessed if we try to emulate the time-keeping practices of our Jewish brothers and sisters, so many who live right here in our community and quite a few, by the way, who worship with us at Bach Vespers every Sunday evening. They are the promised children of God, after all, who have been waiting for an unbearably long time since God’s first promises to Abraham and Sarah. So much has happened since then: their blessed Jerusalem was overrun by outside conquerors and, so many years later, their loved ones were slaughtered in the Holocaust. The Jewish people have been sorely tempted over the ages to surrender any hope that God will come to them; and yet, even when they have faced the unimaginable cruelties of countless maniacal despots, for centuries and centuries, they have trudged to their synagogues with their children and grandchildren in tow and believed that the Messiah will come.
Advent gives us a similar language of hope, an audacious language of longing amidst the wintery seasons of life where we live between our dreams and God making them come true.
The pastor Winn Collier says that “Advent provides an important corrective to the fables governing our lives. We expect our starts to bolt from the gate. Energy! Exertion! Strategic master plans! But with Advent we start by waiting. We Sabbath.”
It has been said that Advent is the best time to plant tulips, a strange thing to do as the days grow dark, the air becomes frosty, and the ground freezes. Remarkably, the church invites us to plant tulips in our hearts during these darkest days of the year and then to wait patiently for God’s presence to sprout within us and around us.
And so, here we are again, awake and waiting. Though perhaps lonely and ailing, unappreciated and shocked, we light candles nonetheless. As the one little candle flickers in the howling wind, let us join hands and confidently pray, “Stir up your power, Lord Christ, and come.”