14 November, 2021 – Second Sunday Before Advent, Proper 28
Homily preached by The Rev. Dr. Richard Burden
Sermon preached by The Rev. Dr. Richard Burden
Below is a DRAFT text of the homily. It may vary considerably from the recorded version. Please excuse typos and grammatical errors, and do not cite without permission.
So, the Temple is going to be destroyed…people will come and lead many astray…there will be wars and rumors of wars…earthquakes…famines…the world is clearly coming to an end…must be Advent.
Today’s gospel is what is know as an apocalypse—(which, doesn’t really mean “the end of the world” it means an “unveiling…a revelation”). Today we hear Mark’s apocalypse. In a couple of weeks we’ll hear Luke’s version of the same thing. Advent is very apocalyptic…lot of endings…and beginnings…portents…signs…it’s all very liminal…very unsettling.
It’s unsettling because it’s very much where we are…Institutions we thought of as stable and secure…have been revealed to have deep fractures in them…We’re enduring seismic shifts…in our communities…in our understanding of ourselves…our sense of who we are…and what we are becoming…We’re are plagued by famines…not always of food…but of resources…a dearth of understanding…famine of truth…many have been led astray…many more have been left adrift…Today’s gospel sounded like the morning news, didn’t it?
But doesn’t it always?…Did humans ever live in a time when these kinds of revelations were not taking place? When these things weren’t happening…somewhere? Maybe we like to imagine there was…some golden age where everything was good and right and proper…but come on…we have always lived…in times of testing and turmoil…in times of risk and reckoning…We have always lived in between…”Between the idea/And the reality […] Between the conception/And the creation […] Between the essence/And the descent” [T. S. Eliot, The Hollow Men). We have always lived in the midst of this. We have always lived in Advent. We are an Advent people.
The marking of Advent as the 4 weeks before Christmas is a completely artificial boundary.The early church prepared for Easter with 40(ish) days of Lent, and so, in the early Middle Ages, as the celebrations around the birth of Christ began, a period of preparation also grew up, but the length of that preparation time varied.
You can tell that we’re entering Advent, because of the numerous cues in the liturgy…Not least of which are the beautiful new altar hangings (thanks to the generosity of many of you who contributed to the Gifts for God’s House campaign).
Advent doesn’t necessarily have firm edges, because it’s a liminal season…a season in between…a season of overlapping endings and beginnings…Advent reminds us—reveals to us—that we always live in and with liminality…we live in between… Something is always ending…something is always beginning.
Today Jesus proclaims, “The Temple will be destroyed”…but didn’t we also hear Eli’s hope that God would answer Hannah’s prayer. Endings and beginnings…
Today, the Temple still stands, and Hannah is still unable to have children…but God’s future is already taking shape…is already present…Barren Hannah will conceive…and her prayer today will reverberate in the song of Mary—the Magnificat—in a few weeks…The Temple will fall, and Mark’s community (and Mathew’s and Luke’s and John’s and so many others) will grow up in the aftermath of that destruction. The Savior we are preparing for…is already on the way. Is already here. Already born, crucified, resurrected, and ascended…always already present, and waiting to be revealed. We live in Advent. We are an Advent people.
But mostly, we don’t want to be. The liminality…the uncertainty…the in-betweenness of Advent…is something most of us actively try to avoid. We want to know All The Things…to be able to do All The Things…and then demonstrate what we know…show off how much we’ve acquired… prove how right we are about All The Things. We want all things to make sense. We want an unwavering viewpoint, and a clear understanding of how to get where we think we should be headed. We want to strive and believe that if we just try harder we can overcome all of our obstacles……and we never…never…want to let anyone see that we are weak, or needy, or vulnerable. And so we resist Advent…in part by making it all about Christmas.
But Advent calls us to a different way of being. Advent wants us to move from knowing to unknowing, from advocating to attending, from striving to surrender [source]. Can you hear it in the difference between the disciples, “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?” and Hannah’s, “if only you will look on the misery of your servant, and remember me, and not forget [me].”
Advent invites us to suspend our habitual ways of thinking and acting…to release our grip on all those things that we are so sure of…so certain about…to let go of our need to control everything…and pay attention to the mysterious unfolding of God.
Advent invites us to sink down into unknowing…and admit that we probably don’t know where we’re going, because we’re not even sure where we are.
We are living with some profound disorientation right now…the pandemic, the reckoning around historic and systemic injustices, the climate crisis…and undoubtedly a whole bunch in your own lives. And because we are disoriented, we can see people all around us becoming dogmatic and single-minded…and aggressively so. And that’s even more disorienting…But Advent invites us to resist our need for opinions, narrow causes, and specific outcomes, and to simply see and hear and be fully present…to open ourselves up to being exquisitely attentive to and focused on the people and situations directly in front of us… to what is really happening…so that the new thing that God is emerging can be recognized.
Advent is an invitation to surrender…not in the sense of giving up…but in the sense of accepting…receiving…yielding…accepting the past—all of the past—for what it is…receiving and even embracing the present in all its powerful reality for what it can teach us…and yielding…yielding to what wants to emerge—to what God is generating in us and through us.
Welcome to Advent. Sink down. Open up. And watch for what God is doing.