01 February, 2018

Homily for the First Sunday Advent (B) - Stay awake!

Mark 13:33-37
‘What I say to you I say to all: Stay awake!’ (Mark 13:37)
In our society New Years’ celebrations are usually quite cheerful affairs, sometimes featuring a staggering amount of food, drink, and fireworks; all of this in order to break as much as possible with the old, and usher in the new. And once the partying ceases, we make improbable New Year resolutions wishing to become that new person who is as different as possible from our old self.
Then, perhaps, we might find it odd that the new Christian year opens by repeating the gospel message we have been hearing for some time now. Last week the Feast of Christ the King brought the Sunday cycle of the Christian year to an end with the reminder of Jesus sure return as Lord and Judge of all creation. But as today we officially begin a new liturgical year, Mark’ short parable – about the man travelling abroad who leaves his servants in charge of his household – takes us back, not only to last week, but also to a number of other parables we have read recently. And it’s meaning, like that of all those previous parables, is quite clear; when we will find ourselves face to face with Jesus, he will judge each one of us according to our deeds; according to our trustworthiness and commitment to him. But, perhaps, we may find it even more surprising that the new Christian year should open with sombre notes and reduced singing, rather than with a loud bang and cheerful noise. In this, Advent looks a little bit like Lent. Both Advent and Lent are marked by a pressing call to prepare ourselves for that which it to come. Both of these seasons are defined by the colour purple (or violet), the colour of penitence, introspection, and repentance; and the singing of the Gloria, like the flowers that usually adorn our church get put away. So much for New Year cheerfulness!

Even the Scripture readings set before us are geared up, not so much towards the joy of Christmas, but rather towards the more sobering thought of being confronted by our faults.
This morning the prophet Isaiah holds up a mirror to us all, and gives us a talking to, as it were.
‘We were all like unclean people,
- all that integrity of ours like filthy clothing.
We have all withered like leaves
and our sins, like the wind, have carried us away.’ (Isaiah 64:6)
And Jesus then says,
‘What I say to you I say to all: Stay awake!’ (Mark 13:37)
This combined message is simple enough and yet difficult to hear at a time when we are all so busy with shopping, parties, and making everything just perfect in time for Christmas. Nevertheless, Advent calls us to assess candidly the state of our society so that we might wake up from injustice, consumerism, and selfish behaviours to prepare our world for the coming of Jesus, and so be found ready to meet him when he will come to us as our judge. We must stay awake in a spiritual sense, so that through prayer and good works, we may be prevented from sleepwalking into the hidden snares of vice.

The collect from the BCP for this season helps us to put the Advent message into prayer…
Almighty God,
give us grace to cast away the works of darkness
and to put on the armour of light,
now in the time of this mortal life,
in which your Son Jesus Christ came to us in great humility;
that on the last day, 
when he shall come again in his glorious majesty
to judge the living and the dead,
we may rise to the life immortal;
through him who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, 
now and for ever. Amen.

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