Sermon: “Living Lives of Holy Expectation"
St. Paul’s Episcopal – Brookings
Fr. Larry Ort
Isaiah 2.1-5; Psalm 122; Romans 13.11-14; Matthew 24.36-44
As a child, it seemed like Christmas would never come! Two of our aunts – school teachers --always asked what we wanted for Christmas. My three sisters and I would spend considerable time thinking about our list. We always knew we would never get everything on our Christmas list, so we had to choose carefully. We would usually receive our request, if it were reasonable, along with a good book. I passed my gift of Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories on to my children and grandchildren. I still wish I had the four-engine metal airplane I received one Christmas. I have no idea what happened to it. I suspect my mother gave it away when I grew older.
Christmas was a time of expectation – of waiting for the celebration of Jesus’ birth – holy expectation. Well, when young, we were looking for gifts, so it may not have been all that holy – more likely some admixture. We were anticipating good things; there was an air of expectancy. Advent is all about holy expectation; we anticipate the coming of Christmas and reflect on Christ’s promise to come again.
Advent celebrates the Already and the Not-yet!” To slightly alter the words of the Eucharist, “Christ has come. Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.”
As Christians, we celebrate the new life we have received through Christ’s life, crucifixion, and resurrection. Over the years I have given considerable thought to how hard this is for us to understand, accept, or envision. What really happened in Christ’s death and resurrection? Can we ever come close to understanding the significance and the beauty of God’s love for us? Given a life-time of contemplation we may never achieve understanding – hence, the role of faith.
One of my favorite spiritual writers, Fr. Ron Rolheiser, set forth some observations on the cross of Christ that are well worth noting:
What the crucifixion produced is moral wisdom. That’s why the cross of Christ, as Rene Girard put it, is the single most revolutionary moral event that has ever happened on this planet. What the cross of Christ does, as the gospels tell us, is rip away the veil the separates us from seeing inside the holy of holies.
And our own crosses and humiliations can do that for us too. They can rip away a blindness and wake us up morally (https://liturgy.slu.edu/1AdvA120119/reflections_rolheiser.html ).6
Think of that, “the cross of Christ is the single most revolutionary event that has ever happened on this planet!” The cross of Christ reveals how we might respond to hate in a spirit of love if we are willing to accept the grace of God that comes to us through the inworking of the Holy Spirit. Yes, we are living in the Already, and the Not-yet.”
St. Paul touches on this in the passage from Romans when he reminds us of what time it is: “It is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near” (Romans 13.11-12a; NRSV). When we first surrendered our life to Christ, we entered the realm of the Already in that Christ now lives in us, but the day of salvation, the day when Christ will come again is ever getting closer. That is why it is nearer to us now than when we first believed. We live in Holy Expectation.
Hence, Paul encourages us, “Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us live honorably as in the day” Romans 13.12b-13a; NRSV). Paul then names the works of darkness we are to put aside: reveling and drunkenness, debauchery and licentiousness, quarreling and jealousy. Paul continues, “Instead of these things, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires” (Romans 13.14; NRSV). Yes, we are to put on the armor of light, we are to put on the Lord Jesus Christ. They ae one and the same. As Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life” (John 8.12; NRSV).
In the gospel passage from Matthew, Jesus told the disciples, “But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Matthew 24.36; NRSV). Jesus said his return would be as in the days of Noah – People went on eating, drinking, marrying and giving in marriage until the day Noah entered the ark. When the Son of Man comes, two will be working in the field – one will be taken and the other left. Thus, Jesus said, “Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. … Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour” (Matthew 24.42, 44; NRSV).
We are to live lives of Holy Expectation. It may be too much to expect that Jesus’ eminent return be ever before our minds, but we need to live into Christ such that we are daily transformed. It might not even hurt to occasionally ask, “What would I do differently, if I knew Jesus would return tomorrow?” Let us be awake, and live in Holy Expectation!