The Very Rev. Tom Callard – November 29, 2020
Last week I saw something that I really want to share with you today. Linda was reading the Gospel from this Gospel book we use, and it was from the Sunday of Christ the King, which as you know is the last Sunday of the liturgical year. And so I was listening and watching from my seat over there, kind of looking over Linda’s shoulder. And I saw this great thing happen. I saw as she got to the end of the Gospel on this page over here. And then on the next page, on the other side, it said Year B, the First Sunday of Advent.
And I got giddy. Because I realized, we’re just about to turn the page. And like many of you I am so ready for this year to be over, and ready for us to turn the page on the pandemic. Perhaps any other year, I wouldn’t have noticed this or it wouldn’t have struck me the same way as it does this year that what are doing today on the first Sunday of Advent is something totally new and not like any other time.
Today is not like Christmas or Pentecost or even Easter. Today we are in a liturgical space that says to us: let go of the past and look ahead. Today says you’ve got to realize something new is coming. Be prepared. Get ready. Wake up.
And I’m going to take you, our Advent says, and show you that you are not simply spinning around in circles, or treading over the same ground again and again. I want to show you, Advent says, that you are not simply wandering around out there making no headway in life and finding no purchase for your efforts. But that you are going through a door, you are turning a page, and what awaits you now is amazing.
For a while when I was serving as a missionary in Honduras I drove a small pickup truck and I would drive it to the church on Sundays. And this church where I served was located halfway down a hill, between the road up there and a river down at the bottom. It was a beautiful location. But the problem was that every year in the rainy months, that road, which was made of dirt, would become slick and slippery with mud. And so I would be able to get my truck down the hill to the church, but then after the service I could not get back up.
I would turn out of the spot in front of the church and head up the hill, but in the rainy season I would get about five feet up the road and then suddenly the wheels would start spinning and I’d slip back down. And of course being a macho guy I am, I would insist on doing it myself, again and again. Until I finally would have to give up and begrudgingly ask one of the Hondurans if they would drive the truck up the hill, which they were happy to do. And they would usually make it.
So I learned that either I had to park all the way up at the top and walk down. Or I would have to let someone else drive.
2020 feels like a year in which we’ve been trying to get the car up the hill but it keeps getting stuck and sliding back down. It’s like the wheels don’t find anything solid to catch on, and just as we get going, just as we start worship with people here again in the church, it stops and we just slide backward. Life feels stuck and frustrating for so many people.
Like you probably, I’ve talked with teachers and students and parents and caretakers who feel like they’re just spinning their wheels with school. I’ve talked with people who work at hospitals and nursing homes and those who have lost jobs at restaurants who feel like they’re just going nowhere and not making progress. I’ve talked with those who have been sick and those who have seen loved ones die who just want to make it up that hill and move on to the next thing. And I’ve talked with clergy. And with average parishioners. And with people who just want to get back to normal. And come back to what we know. Because we can’t keep doing this.
And it’s not our fault. It’s the rainy season. It’s a muddy road. We’re still good drivers, but we’re facing something nearly impossible. And so we’re going to have to let someone else drive. We’re going to have to let Jesus take the wheel from us and make it up that hill.
And we begin by walking in today, the first Sunday of Advent, the first Sunday of the new year, and acknowledging that today is not the same as last week or last year, but that a line has been drawn and we are now standing facing something new.
And if you can, at home or wherever you are, or even with those who are sitting here with me in church, if you feel comfortable I invite you to stand as you are, and if you cannot stand, rise up in your mind.
And I invite you see there before you is a line on the ground, an imaginary line which is what Advent One is, the barrier between back then and what is to come, between the past and the future which is up that hill. Between the year that 2020 was and the year that 2021 will be. And between everything you brought in with you today, carrying in your hearts, every fear, resentment and piece of struggle, and that which is ahead, which God has in store for you.
And we stand here for a second with this line before us, contemplating Advent and the journey we will face together ahead. And before we cross that line, before we walk across it, I want to tell you whats waiting for us. I know some of you are standing, so I won’t take long. But what we are promised about what is to come is this – and all of this comes from the scripture today – what comes before us is life immortal, help, salvation, restauration, and light.
And elsewhere we are told that what awaits us on the other side of that line, what we are heading toward, what we are moving into is this: it is peace. An end to war, a kingdom of justice, especially for those who have been denied. A time of restauration for those who have been deprived. A giving of gifts, like gifts of sight to the blind, freedom to the captive, strength to the weak, and food to the hungry.
For on the other side of that line, that toward which we are heading into today, for which we must have strength to see and vision to comprehend and faith to believe, over there and up ahead and waiting for us is Jesus Christ, the presence of all that is good. And it’s not that we don’t see him on this side of the line, it’s not that we don’t know that he’s there with us, and it’s not that we don’t have faith.
It’s just that we’re so busy trying to drive that car up the hill and imagining that we’ve got to do it alone, and caught in fear of what may come and caught in ourselves, that we don’t live to him. We live to the struggle. We live to the games we play of wealth and ego. We live to the temporal concerns of the day, and to the fear and the hatred and the pettiness that is all around us.
And until we cross that line and walk into Advent, we’re not living to him, but to all sorts of things from back here, from 2020. And what we want, and hope to have, and what we walk toward today, is him. And he’s there right now saying to us again and again: keep awake. Because we are asleep.
And so every once in a while we’ve got to do this. Every once in a while we’ve got to stand up and cross that line into something new. So let’s just step across it now.
And so what does it look like on this other side of the line. Well, it looks exactly the same as it did back on the other side. And if you’re standing, please feel free to sit. It’s true, over here on this new side of the line, once we enter Advent, it looks exactly the same as it did before. Except perhaps now we can see things anew
The gift of Advent, like the Baby Jesus, is a gift of newness and beginnings.
In Zen Buddhism there’s a term Shoshin which means “Beginner’s mind,” which is a characteristic of being open and excited and eager and having a lack of preconceptions about things. Because that’s how you are when you start something new. You’re excited and eager for possibility. And the sages and experienced masters of Zen would try not to be experts in their faith. But they would try be beginners, and see things as beginners. Because for beginners there are so many possibilities, but for experts there are so few.
Sometimes we the faithful are so good at being experts of the church, and we know how church needs to be and how Sunday needs to go and how Christmas needs to happen. And we are trapped from seeing the possibility of anything else.
We bring today all these ideas with us as we come to Advent today. And it’s no wonder that Jesus comes today and says: listen you experts, you who know my church and my work so well, I hate to say this to you, but I want to take these ideas from you so you can start again, and so I’m going have to just come and darken the sun and blot out the moon, and shake the powers of heaven, and even let heaven and earth pass away. Because I want to shake up all you know so you can see me anew, with the mind of a beginner. So you can wake up.
Advent wants to take everything old from us, heaven and earth, so we can start anew. For as long as we hold onto our heaven and earth, as long as we cling to that old year, that old way of thinking, that old page, back there, we’re just going to drive up that muddy road, and find our wheels spinning, as we slip back to where we were.
So we’ve got to let Jesus drive. And let these things pass away. And start as beginners now. Give up our selves, our old world, our old ideas. Let heaven and earth pass away. Because here on this side of the line, we’ve got something better, Jesus Christ in our midst.
We come here today, the first day of the new year. We come before you, blessed Jesus, who is our grace and the lover of our souls and the prince of peace. Let us walk toward you now.
The truth is that waking up doesn’t just have to happen today. But it can happen every day and every second when we let go and give up the old, and turn the page. Every moment of creation is new. Happy Advent Happy beginning. I’m looking forward to what’s next.