Sermon for the First Sunday of Advent Based on Mark 13:24-37

This past week was quite the week. The resonances from last Sunday still echo. Frankly, I have never seen any installation service like that before, and I have a lifetime full of them. Appropriately celebrated on Christ the King Sunday, the service was a superb Holy Spirit-filled occasion for us to give thanks for what we have been, and to rededicate our ministry with faithfulness to God’s care of us and the world’s. I am so thankful to so many of you for its planning. More so, I am so thankful to God for the privilege now of ministry for you and ministry with you. It was a great day.

And then we went back to our daily lives, feeling more inspired for a bit longer time, but still back to our daily lives of washing the dishes and taking out the trash and forgetting to brush the dog’s teeth. It is all part of what we call the mundane or quotidian. But there has been another difference lately. The quotidian seems burdened now with cognitive and emotional overload. What with how exasperation and anxiety seems to grow unchecked in the coincidental timing of verbal and ICBM volleys from governments near and far; with the curtain peeled back from men egregiously misbehaving; with our children suffering more from neglect and depression and suicides on the upswing; from illness and frailty of body and conscience that beleaguer us and our dear ones; with all this and more the quotidian today feels worse than mundane. It used to be that mundane was just, well, mundane: routine and boring. Spiritual highs like last Sunday used to get us further through the work week. Or so we perceive and feel. And the dog’s teeth still need to be brushed.

I did one different thing this week, something I long resisted but finally had to do. I leased a car. You know, “for business purposes.” Of course, cars now are about more than getting from place A to place B. Now they are personal pleasure spaces, as insulated as possible from outside noise while maximizing the quality of noise inside. This car tells me when I am drifting from my lane, thus removing the need of a passenger whose job it is to scream that I’m going to die, and it has great personalized entertainment options.

“Cool,” I thought, I can get I-Heart Radio and other apps for free now and I can listen to far away stations. So, just for kicks, I tuned to one of my favorite stations from a different life long ago, KFOG. It is still as Hippy-Dippy and alternate universe a station as it ever was, like its home of San Francisco–which, if St. Paul were around today, he’d liken very much to Corinth, but with hot tubs. So I cranked it up to 18 dimensional high-amplitude surround sound. I soon discovered that even that world is just like ours, and maybe even more honest about it. It was a catchy Amy Winehouse song. It went, “They tried to make me go to rehab, I said ‘no, no, no.'”

And there it was. In the quotidian of even a way weirder place like Babylon by the Bay, there was the diagnosis of today’s societal situation: denial. So much of what wears us down is our self-justification, our desire to acquire and to control and to do so all on our own terms. But it is precisely when all, when all is done on one’s own terms that the world spins off center. When we are so sure that we can control everything, our personal security systems heat up. That’s when we start to project our own faults onto others; when the self-delusion of “keeping appearances” begins to wreak havoc on one’s own spirit and on others. Tension increases in the household and beyond and the prospect of violence loom larger. That’s when other devious powers play on fear for their own purposes. In other words, if you want to study the evolution of sin (not a happy research project!), start with denial, aka self-justification. And when the consequences of self-justification become as large and death-dealing as a tsunami, we simply do and must cry out for salvation from a savior in terms most dramatically different from the quotidian.

It is so fitting, so right, then, that today Christians begin the season of Advent. So right that at this time in our personal and communal lives Christians cry out in a language like Mark’s. that is so dramatic, so severe, and, finally, finally, so honest. It is a dramatic language, an apocalyptic language, severe and honest, that calls out to the God of the universe with words that strain to point far beyond their literal meaning, because only such words beyond words can speak from desperate hearts. Only such words can speak of God whose divinity and love for us unimaginably transcends the personal and public distress that feel so beyond description.

We begin Advent not just looking as a routine practice yet again of preparing for another Christmas like years bygone. We begin Advent not by jumping into the popular culture’s routinized songs again so to anesthetize ourselves just long enough to make it to another turn of the calendar. We begin Advent by stating truth in terms beyond simple reason that we live in scary times, as did the first Christians, as did God’s faithful people always before. When Mark recited Jesus’ words, the temple had been destroyed and Christians were scattered by an arrogant government once wonderful but now decaying. But such decay, on the large social scale or within the even larger infinite scale of one’s personal soul would be only for a time for them. That’s what Mark said to his own people in 70 AD in quoting Jesus. It is what Jesus through Mark says to us now. The dark night of the soul is only for a time. The dark nights of society are only for a time. The length and end of such time we cannot know. But its only for a time.

Only for a time! At some time into your most personal and secretly kept life the master will come with anti-quotidian apocalyptic reverberation. The master will come and turn your life inside out, again. “Watch for it! Keep awake!” he says. Which is also to say, you no longer will be able or want to self-justify, to deny. It may be drama in the quiet of your breath at three in the morning. It may be in a car driving and listening to a signal from far away. It may be in church, sitting, singing, eating and drinking. However it may be, it will be with others who also have been through the mill and around the block and discovered the uselessness of living dishonest lives, who would much rather now do such things as pledge generously to support and live and learn God’s love. To such eyes and ears comes the great gospel message of needing no dependence on one’s own psychic or material arms. To such eyes and ears comes the great and dramatic while also often quiet news of peace, news of the one master who comes, more than figuratively to take residence in you. It is a rehab to which we say “yes, yes, yes.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Duane Larson     Christ the King Lutheran Church   Houston, TX     December 3, 2017