Sunday, December 3, 2023
The First Sunday of Advent
What matters in Advent
The Rev. Mark D. Wilkinson, Rector
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church
Katy TX 77450
There has been a movement over the past several years called the Advent Conspiracy. This is a movement dedicated to getting out of the race to Christmas. There is also a video that I showed during the wreath workshop that’s worth watching. “Advent in 2 minutes” is a great explanation of advent and you can find it on YouTube. The best line in the video is, “If you’re sick of Christmas before the 25th you haven’t done Advent right!” This goes right along with a member from a different congregation who said to me in early October, “Now Mark I really don’t want you planning all kinds of stuff in Advent because I’ll be too busy getting ready for Christmas.” As those words came out of her mouth she turned bright red and said, “Oh I didn’t mean it that way.” But the truth is, she did.
As we enter into Advent I want to give you some thoughts on how to enjoy and honor Advent while getting ready for Christmas.
I remember back when I was new to the Episcopal Church. I had never been in a liturgical church before and did not understand Advent, Lent and the other seasons. I came that first Sunday in Advent and heard this bizarre reading from Mark. I remember thinking to myself, “I thought Advent was about getting ready for Christmas. Where is the story about Mary and Joseph? What is the Son of Man coming on a cloud?” I was really confused.
Nick the rector explained to me that in Year B we read primarily from the Gospel of Mark and that there is absolutely nothing about Christmas in Mark. This of course was the first of many shocks to my theological system. There is no nativity story in Mark. Mark starts with John the Baptist. If you want the nativity story you have to go to either Luke or Matthew.
And now back to the Gospel of Mark. Nick explained to me that what I had heard was part of Mark called the little apocalypse. A brief statement about what will be at some time in the future. The key is that Advent is not just about preparing to remember and celebrate Jesus’ incarnation but is also about preparing for when he comes again.
Mark’s gospel does not have a Christmas story because his theology did not require any information about the incarnation. Mark’s gospel is all about the movement to the cross. In fact that is the focus. Mark’s gospel does not contain any information about the birth or for that matter the resurrection of Christ. Mark’s gospel concludes with the women fleeing the tomb and they do not say anything to anyone. Mark’s gospel has no resurrection appearance. What is there has been added at a later time.
Over the next four weeks we hear about the second coming today, then we hear about John the Baptist pointing towards an adult Jesus first in Mark and then in John. Advent four is the only Sunday we hear about the baby Jesus and that is the Annunciation to Mary by the Angel Gabriel. The theme is waiting, paying attention, and staying awake.
Amazing things can happen when we do these things especially the paying attention. How many times do we walk by the same place and then suddenly notice something that we had never seen. This sermon started on the playground between my office and the church. I was walking across the playground to do something at the church and I looked down and saw the largest acorn I had ever seen. At least it looked like an acorn. I remembered a conversation I had with Iris Poteet. She knows a person who has a tree farm that focuses on native trees and when they found out we had a burr oak on our property they asked if we would collect the acorns so she could plant them and eventually sell them. Iris had asked me to be on the lookout for them. As I picked up this enormous acorn I wondered if this was what she was looking for. I Googled burr oak and sure enough they have the largest acorns of any oak tree.
Now I have been here almost four and half years, but I have never noticed these acorns. Maybe they had never dropped before. After all there seems to be a bumper crop of acorns this year all over. Driving into my garage sounds like I have a gravel driveway. Maybe I just never noticed them as I hurried between the buildings. And in that statement, you have the essence of Advent. We have the chance to either see something that has not happened before or the opportunity to take the time to notice something that has but we haven’t noticed. No matter which we must take the time and pay attention.
What is unimportant to some is of great importance to others. Those acorns became important because they were needed to help restore native trees to our area. What might be our undiscovered and overlooked gifts? In our 1Corinthians reading we are early in the letter. Paul is being nice and complimentary which was probably a good idea before he launched into his criticism of the church in Corinth. One of the issues they have is the gifts that the congregation has and how they use and abuse them.
God had given them grace and the gift of Christ Jesus. In that grace are a variety of spiritual gifts to use while they are waiting for the return of Christ, the coming of the kingdom. Please remember this is a principal theme of Advent, what we do while we are waiting. How do we work to bring the kingdom closer while we wait.
What the church in Corinth missed is that everyone has gifts and for the community to prosper and grow all the gifts must be used and no gift is more important than another. This last piece, no gift is more important than another, is what the church in Corinth overlooked. We are greater than the sum of our parts and if a part a gift isn’t working or being used the whole body suffers and that was the issue in Corinth. They had lost their connections as a church community.
In our stewardship letters, the second one is in the narthex for you to pick up, we have a theme of connection and mutual support. The theme speaks of how forests are all connected through root systems that share gifts between trees. The ancient people understood this, but we have just recently proven it scientifically. This is an important lesson and good Stewardship asks us to use all our gifts for the good of the whole body of Christ and of our greater community. We need strong internal structures, good worship, prayer, formation, but if that’s all we have then we are not truly using our gifts because we have not connected outside our four walls. We are truly an evangelistic church, one who spreads to gospels, when we reach out beyond our walls and that is something we have continued to work on and an area I hope with a successful stewardship campaign an area where we can be even more effective. No gift is too small. No gift is insignificant. Maybe it’s just an acorn but think of what that acorn will grow into!
As we move towards Christmas and then Epiphany when we will turn in our pledge cards, I want you to think, no pray, long and hard about how you want to share your gifts with the King who is coming. What are the gifts that you have that will further our work in making the kingdom a reality on earth as it is in heaven. And then be prepared to present those gifts on Epiphany.