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St. Paul’s – Advent 1 – November 29

On April 7, 1789, the US Senate created a position called doorkeeper.  They appointed James T. Mathers to the position. Mathers’ job was to ensure that all senators showed up and stayed in the Senate Chamber ready to do the business of the government at hand. Because the United States Constitution required a Quorum to do business, all members needed to be present and ready when needed. At first, the Senate had difficulty establishing its first quorum. Their goal was reached the day before they elected their first doorkeeper.

The doorkeeper’s duties required him to make sure all senators were alert and ready for business, and it required him to keep them doing business for the duration of the time, undisturbed by others. They could not leave or check-out when things got dicey and disruptive. They needed to stay the course until decisions were made and any new paths forward were forged.

The doorkeeper kept them present, ready, alert, and willing to engage. To be a doorkeeper meant to be vigilant, active, on task, and aware. To be a doorkeeper meant keeping those outside away from disturbing the swirling waters of agreement or contention within the quorum group. To be a doorkeeper also meant keeping those inside vigilant, active, on task, engaged, and aware! No falling asleep on the doorkeeper’s watch!

Sometimes, the doorkeeper needed to be prepared to deal with noise, intruders, or crowd control, so that the Senate could continue to do its duty even during and after 

disruptive events. Always alert and aware, the doorkeeper is often seen as the calm, friendly face of the senate, a stamp of approval for the healthy disruption that goes on within the Senate chamber.

Sometimes the debate within the Senate is orderly and attentive. Other times disagreements can be loud and boisterous. But the quorum must remain.

The Biblical writers this morning are asking for God’s disruption in our lives by naming and lamenting God’s hiddenness. O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, cries Isaiah in our Old Testament reading for this first Sunday of the season. Restore us, O Lord of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved, pleads the Psalmist. The sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken, says Jesus in Mark’s Gospel, describing a state of godless catastrophe I wish I didn’t recognize in the world around me.

In Jesus’ continued close conversation with his disciples, this time in Mark, he follows his instruction to them about the coming destruction of the Jerusalem Temple with the advice to look for signs of the difficulties to come in establishing the kingdom of heaven. Here Jesus uses apocalyptic style descriptions to let them know that though they will endure hardships and pain on his behalf, they will be vindicated and rewarded in the end. His advice to them is to keep awake, to stay alert, that God will win in the end. Look, Jesus says, for the disruptive presence of God to break through into your current reality.

We don’t often think of God as disruptive. We like to think of our vision of God as a calm, serene, peaceful God, who leads us beside still waters and carries our burdens. But in our scripture for today, we see also the disruptive nature of God, not disruptive in a negative way for those who worship Him. But disruptive to the forces of evil, to sin, to wrongdoing, and to injustice. Even disruption in death.  In fact, you could say that the very onset of advent in a sense is the sign of the beginning of God’s disruption of our ordinary world with God’s extraordinary presence. The disruption of our mundane and transitory world with God’s sacred and eternal promise. The disruption of our mortality with God’s offer of resurrection life.

The truth is, God in God’s very nature is disruptive. And our job is to be vigilant and look for the signs of God’s disruptive presence in our lives and our world. And then we must allow God in fact to disrupt us and move us into new truths and new places and spaces.

This is the excitement and beauty of allowing the Holy Spirit to lead your life and energize your church. You can always know the Holy Spirit’s presence by the level of disruptiveness in your life and in your church.

Let’s face it.  Human beings tend to be a people who value stasis. In the church, stability, safety, and the status quo are feelings we protect and treasure. We hate to feel upended. We practically chafe at any suggestion of voluntary change or innovation, new ideas, or new interpretations. And yet the Holy Spirit is all about stirring the waters and moving us out of our comfort zones, sometimes with a good, strong kick.

In times of trouble, when we most want to double down and hide ourselves under the covers of complacency and safety, God is most calling us out into the storms to disrupt the forces of darkness by pointing to God’s present Light.

We are the doorkeepers for God’s disruptive presence. We are the ones who can see the signs of God in the world and in the lives of people everywhere, and let them know to pay attention, as the Holy Spirit disrupts our spiritual slumber and ushers in extraordinary acts of love and healing, goodness and beauty that serve to counteract our fears, pain, complacence, and mundanity.

If you are thinking that this virus, this political climate, the divisions between people, the state of our economy, the disillusionment of our young, the sadness of our churches is winning the battle in this world, then you are missing the signs of God’s disruptive Spirit. You are missing the readiness and the alertness that Jesus tells us is so vital to our role as disciples of Jesus in this world.

When God disrupts, what does this season of Advent encourage us to respond.What are the gifts this season provides for us to respond to this disruption? The first gift of Advent is the permission to tell the truth, even if that truth is laced with sorrow. We are invited to describe life on earth as it is, and not as we mistakenly assume our religion requires us to render it. Into our surrounding cultures of denial and spin, apathy and hedonism, we are called to speak the whole truth: we need God.  We need God to disrupt.  We need God to stay.  We need God to love, hold, deliver, and restore us.  We were created for intimacy with a just, gracious, and profoundly compassionate Savior, and when that intimacy is missing, we suffer.

The second gift of the season is less a gift than a discipline.  It is the discipline of waiting.  During Advent, we live with quiet anticipation in the not yet.  We stop rushing, and decide to call sacred what is yet in-process and unformed.  As Paul puts it in this week’s reading from 1st Corinthians, we wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ.

This is no easy task in today’s world, which applauds arrivals, finish lines, shortcuts, and end products, far more than it does the meandering journey or odd way station. Eugene Peterson calls the Christian life “a long obedience in the same direction,” and I don’t think we can get more counter-cultural than that. If the secular world speeds past darkness to the safe certainty of light, then Advent reminds us that necessary things — things worth waiting for — happen in the soft, fertile dark. Next spring’s seeds break open in dark winter soil. God’s Spirit hovers over dark water, preparing to create worlds. The child we yearn for grows in the deep darkness of the womb.

Thirdly, Advent prepares us for the God who is coming — a God who will turn out to be very different from the one we expect and maybe even hope to find. A God who disrupts.

I am always struck by the difference between the Biblical passages we read during Advent, and the ones we shift to when Christmas finally arrives. This week, Isaiah longs for a Very Big God to do Very Big Things. Recalling the history of the Exodus, he asks God to once again do awesome deeds — disruptions that will make the mountains quake and the nations tremble. Come to us as fire, he pleads. Fire that kindles and burns, fire that sets the world boiling. Who among us has not prayed such prayers? For the past nine months, my prayers have been as outsized as Isaiah’s:  Bring an end to the pandemic.  Protect the most vulnerable.  Strengthen healthcare workers.  Help the unemployed.  Spare the children.  Save the world!

But why stop there? Why not go further? Eradicate all illness.  Clean up the mess in Washington D.C.  End world hunger.  Root out corruption.  Destroy systemic racism.  Thwart corporate greed.  Protect this wounded planet before we ravage it past saving, and most of all shield us, O Lord, from our sinful, self-destructive selves. O that you would tear open the heavens and come down!

During Advent, we are asked to prepare ourselves for something else.  Someone else.  Someone so unexpected and so small, I’m tempted to either laugh or cry at the thought of him. The world is falling apart, my heart is exhausted, people are dying, and God chooses to send me … a baby to disrupt our lives?

Be alert, Jesus says. Stay awake, he tells us. Be ready for your mundane and ordinary life to be disrupted by sacred and sacramental things, by extraordinary things.

  • Be ready for your predictable life to be disrupted by  unpredictable things.
  • Be ready for your rational and realistic life to be disrupted by mysterious and fantastic things.
  • Be ready for your easy and complacent life to be disrupted by challenging and amazing things.
  • Be ready for your shame and guilt and sin and fear and doubt to be disrupted by the healing and redeeming power of the living and returning Christ.
  • Be ready for your difficult life to be disrupted by the love and grace of the Holy Spirit of Christ.
  • Be ready for your spirit to be renewed so you can mount up like Eagle’s wings and proclaim the glory of the Lord in this advent and Christmas season.
  • Be ready.

Because you don’t want to miss this moment. You are God’s witnesses.

  • Be intentional about your faith. For the Holy Spirit is coming.
  • Be vigilant in looking for the signs of God all around you. For strange things are coming. And God is breaking into the midst of our lives and our world.

So.  Here we are.  Exactly where we need to be.  Here we are, wrestling with the brokenness of the world and the hiddenness of our God.  Waiting for God’s next disruption in our lives. Here we are, voicing our laments and registering our yearnings.  Here we are, waiting.  Here we are, preparing ourselves for the God who is coming.

Oh, that you would tear the heavens and come down. This is an honest prayer, and we need not fear it.  It’s okay to pray into the silence, the hiddenness, and the absence.  It’s okay to struggle with Advent and its complicated gifts.

So pray and wait.  Wait and pray.  As much as you can, be patient.  Be still.  Hope fiercely for this disruption….  Deep in the gathering dark, something tender is forming.  Something beautiful — something for the world’s saving — waits to be born.

Invitation to the Offering

In struggle and in joy, God is faithful to us.

Let us bring forth our offerings to demonstrate our faithfulness to God.

OFFERTORY Prayer

       O Faithful One,

                    accept these gifts of our hearts and hands. 

                    May they be multiplied and magnified 

                    as the living presence of Christ  in the world. Amen.

Blessing

We do not know when Christ will return,

so may you wait, and in the waiting

May you share hope with everyone around us.

We do not know what the coming days will bring, 

May you be alert, noticing all those who need the help 

we can provide.

We do not know the opportunities we will be given,

May you keep your eyes open,

so youcan welcome each person

as if they are the Christ.

And know you are present with the Blessing of God almighty….