The Rev’d Ralph Leavitt
I want to start by saying what a joy it has been to become a member of Christ Church Cathedral, and thank you Dean Betrand for inviting me to preach today on Advent One. Happy New Year everyone!
I speak to you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Amen.
Today I want to speak to you about our Gospel lesson and its three different sections. Listen again the beginning of the Gospel:
‘But in those days, after that suffering,
the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light,
and the stars will be falling from heaven,
and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.’
Whoa! As I first reflected on these words, they evoked in me a certain fear because on some level they reminded me of what we are all going through at this time. Our world seems to have turned upside down on us. The pandemic not only frightens us, but has also changed our lives. It does seem that the powers in heaven are certainly shaking things up. Dominic Ruso, who spoke to us at Synod this year, used an apt expression, he called the time we are in “holy disruption”, and that it is. Holy disruption.
Now, I should not take this passage completely out of its context. In its context I realize why our Gospel starts the way it does. Just before our reading today Jesus has foretold of the destruction of the temple, that persecution is probable and that there will be great suffering in the time to come. He has urged God’s people , “the elect” to be alert, particularly to false prophets and false messiahs. Now, as our Gospel begins, Jesus foretells of the real coming of the Son of Man. This dark beginning actually speaks of how the entire cosmos will proclaim the coming of the Son of Man with “great power and glory”. Then, Jesus says, God will “send out the angels and gather the elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven”. This is a powerful start to Advent.
Scholars have called this passage “the small apocalypse”. It is an eschatological picture of the final coming of the Son of Man. Very powerful. Very clear.
However, I still feel so uneasy with it. I know for sure that Christ will come again, but in my life right now, I feel I don’t know what will even happen tomorrow. Since March everything has been unclear. I know Advent is the season we wait for Jesus to come at Christmas, and I still look forward to that, but 2020 has been a year of waiting without any clear direction or any expectations. Such is the characteristic of a pandemic; my mind swirls, is it 1st wave, or orange zone, or 2nd wave, or red zone again, and how the the pandemic plan for Christmas work out? Who knows what will come next? To me the pandemic has created a shadow over Advent. It is certainly not the way I have ever entered Advent before. Where will I find those Advent graces of hope, peace, joy and love in this season?
Thank goodness for the 2nd part of our Gospel as Jesus explains the lesson of the fig tree. Here is a reference to nature, that I can grasp solidly. Yes, in the Spring the fig tree branches will become tender and put forth leaves. Here Jesus’ words snap our minds back into the present. He says to his disciples; Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. And he adds; Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. Suddenly I am reassured. God’s word will never pass away. Come what may, I have God’s word to guide and direct me. This brings me much peace. I also have God’s church, God’s people to guide and direct me. I have my faith to guide and direct me. I feel safe. I am safe. And so perhaps in this Advent even with with unclear expectations in the middle of a pandemic, hope is possible, celebration is possible. I have God’s word. It certainly mediates the darkness of a pandemic.
The final section of the Gospel continues as Jesus says; ‘But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come…And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.’
Jesus does not allow us just to find comfort in our faith and stay still, but urges us forward into action. “Keep awake” he says, “Keep awake”. He is telling us now we have to pay attention and find new ways to be disciples to build up the kingdom of God, even in a pandemic. Jesus is saying the best way we can do this is to stay awake and pay attention each and every day.
I want to share with you one personal experience. When the weather was warmer a few weeks ago, I was over in my daughter Eugenia’s backyard having an appropriately distant visit. Her 3 children were there. I am always so delighted to see my grandchildren. So there we were chatting away, when suddenly Alma, all of 4 years old, said to me; “Grandpa, you are too close”. Boy, she was staying awake, while I was not. She was having fun playing, but she knew the rules. As we were leaving, Alma wrapped her arms around herself and hugged herself as her way of hugging me, and sharing love. Bless you Alma for showing me the way forward! Now I do the same with joy. I mention this because we are all called individually to stay awake and find new ways to spread the love of God in our lives right now.
On a larger scale Jesus is telling his church to stay awake during these different times. This Advent is the season for our perspectives to be challenged and for our routines to be changed. How is this community being called to spread God’s love this Advent? Somewhat to my surprise and to God’s glory I see that the church is already rising up and moving forward. We are staying awake, we are woke, and things are happening.
There is now a Diocesan list of online services available throughout the Diocese for all people. I have been very impressed with the online Services here at the Cathedral and of how, now that people are allowed back in the church building, more changes have happened. The pandemic made us realize that having both in person worship as well as online worship is necessary. We want to stay safe and this choice helps that particularly for people who are older, or sick or infirm. They can now tune in and be with their community. What joy for them, what joy for the church.
Synod was on line and open for anyone to see. It was certainly a new experience for me to be on Facebook watching Synod. I was so glad I could do that. Our Primate Linda Nichols came online to give Sue Winn the Anglican Award of Merit. And the Primate also mentioned she was very proud of how our Synod was the first in the Canadian Anglican Church to pass a Motion concerning Black Lives Matter. The Rev’d. Jim Pratt and Lay Delegate Dion Lewis presented the Motion online asking the Diocese to adopt an Anti-Black Racism Action Plan. It is a call to admit to and change systematic racism in our Diocese. You will hear more of this right after this Service. In this process we will all learn more of how not to be racist and how to love all people more.
I felt one of the most moving moments at Synod was when this Motion passed, and suddenly online you could see Dion’s partner Chris give him a hug to congratulate him on all the work he had done on this issue that is so close to his heart. Bravo Dion. I must say I am proud of my church, it is indeed staying awake and tackling current issues, even in a pandemic. Bravo church for teaching more on how to share love as disciples of Christ.
And so in this different Advent season as we wait for the coming of the Lord, let us all keep awake, individually and corporately. Let us take these four weeks ahead of us and make the Lord proud. My prayer for us all is that the Holy Spirit will indeed keep us awake, and lead us forward to build up and celebrate God’s kingdom. And is so doing, may we indeed find God’s graces of hope, peace, joy and love waiting for us.
Thanks be to God.