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Advent 1: Hope

Scripture: Mark 13:24-37


There’s a story told about my homeland of Brazil, about a village that waited for the rain in a season of drought. In the northeast of the country, the sun beat down mercilessly upon the village, turning the once fertile ground into a tapestry of cracks and dust. The years 1877 to 1879 were etched into the memory of every villager as the years when the sky withheld its blessings. The land, once abundant with crops, lay barren, pastures once filled with cattle had become graveyards, and the river beds were as dry as old bones. The people's hearts were heavy, their prayers for rain a daily litany.


Yet, the villagers woke each morning with a ritual as steadfast as the sun’s rise in the east. They cast their eyes upwards, searching for the merest hint of cloud, for the slightest shade of gray against the relentless blue skies. This was a ritual of hope, a testament to their unyielding belief that the skies would eventually open and rain would come.


Amid this waiting, a child's voice broke the silence one sweltering afternoon, a beacon of innocence in the stifling heat. "How will we know the rain is coming?" the child asked, voicing the silent question in every heart.


The village's oldest resident, a woman whose age seemed as timeless as the earth itself, answered with a voice that carried the weight of years, "We will know it's coming when we begin to prepare the fields for it."


Her response was a riddle wrapped in wisdom. It puzzled the child and made the adults wonder. The elder continued, "Hope is not the act of waiting. It is the act of preparing."

Today we stand on the threshold of a sacred time—a time colored with the deep blues of anticipation and the warm golds of hope. There is a palpable sense of expectancy in the air, much like the anticipation felt by those who await for rain, or as we feel when waiting for the arrival of a cherished friend or loved one who has traveled far. But in this season, the season of Advent, we are all expectant, waiting on the edge of our seats for the fulfillment of a promise, the promise of Emmanuel, God with us.


Too often, when we think about the season of Advent, our minds travel back in time, eagerly awaiting to hear anew the story of the Christ Child—a story that stirs within us every December as we retell the timeless tale of that starry night in the city Bethlehem. But Advent is more than a memory; it is a prophecy foretold and a future foreseen. It is the active anticipation of God breaking into our world anew, here and now, in our hearts, and in our midst. The season calls us to prepare our hearts, to make room for the transformative presence of God, and to be awakened to the signs of Divine movement in our lives. This anticipation is not passive; it does not simply wait for things to happen. It is an anticipation that prepares, that makes straight the path for the Lord.

The words of Jesus in our text today resonate with a call for vigilance, an invitation to live in a state of spiritual alertness. "Watch out! Stay alert! You don't know when the time is coming." These words were meant to inspire readiness, an eagerness to greet the coming of the Lord with joy and faithfulness. Ideally, over the centuries, followers of Christ would have woven this watchfulness into the very fabric of their lives, always striving to live in a way that honors the imminent return of the Savior.


However, the passage of time has a funny way of altering perceptions. The very texts and prophetic utterances that were once beacons of hope for the early Christian community have, for some, cast shadows of trepidation. The anticipation of Christ’s return, meant to be a joyful and hope-filled expectancy, has become permeated with fear and anxiety for many people.

This is not the purpose of these passages. When Jesus spoke of staying alert, He was not advocating for a life lived in fear of the unknown, but rather a life lived in the fullness of the present, with the hope of the future ever in our hearts. The purpose of these words is not to induce fear but to encourage a hopeful watchfulness that awakens our faith and enriches our daily walk with God.


What does it mean to prepare our hearts and lives in hopeful anticipation of Christ’s coming, both as a fragile baby and reigning king? To prepare our hearts and lives in hopeful anticipation of Christ's coming is to engage with the profound paradox of the divine narrative. On one hand, we ready ourselves for the reality of the Incarnation: the fragile baby born into the complexity of Bethlehem, a town under the shadow of Roman occupation. The Christ Child took his first breaths amidst the hostility of an oppressed land, in an inhospitable place, surrounded not by human prestige but humility. God’s entrance into the world as a vulnerable baby speaks to God's willingness to draw near to us in the most tender of ways. To prepare, then, is to cultivate within ourselves a sanctuary of love and humility, more permanent and disrupting than the temporary stable of the Nativity. It is to create space that reshuffles priorities and loyalties, a welcoming hearth within our souls that demands sustained focus and catalyzes a metamorphosis of our entire being.


On the other hand, we also anticipate the return of Christ the King, whose reign is marked by justice and peace. We await Christ’s return with a blend of joy and awe. This is an event steeped in glory and divine power. It's about acknowledging His ultimate sovereignty and aligning our lives with His kin-dom principles. This means actively working towards justice, peace, and righteousness in our spheres of influence, in anticipation of His good and perfect will being fully realized on earth as it is in heaven.


This aspect of preparation calls us to a higher standard of living — one that actively seeks to mirror the reality of God with us through acts of justice, mercy, and a commitment to peace. It is to recognize that the One we await is one who champions the cause of the poor, who dines with sinners, and who calls us to love our neighbors with a radical, self-giving love. To await and prepare in this way is to live in a state of expectancy, not just for a future event but in the way we conduct our daily lives. It's to live as though His kin-dom is already here, in the choices we make, in the love we share, and in the service we give. It's to hold onto hope in a world that can often seem hopeless, to show grace in places where there is strife, and to embody the peace of Christ in the midst of turmoil.


Today, we find ourselves living in a world filled with fear and uncertainty. The political corrosiveness that was once contained within television screens has spilled over, becoming an all-too-common guest at many family gatherings, dinner tables, and permeating many of our daily interactions. The peace that previous generations believed they had secured through hard-fought battles has dissipated, as morning dew under the relentless sun. The language of divisiveness and hate, which many thought had been consigned to the annals of history, has resurfaced with alarming regularity, becoming almost fashionable in some circles. The poor continue to face insurmountable barriers; education, once heralded as the great equalizer, no longer seems to hold the promise of a better life. And the church, which once stood as the moral compass guiding the nation toward the call of justice, now finds itself fragmented, confused, and at a crossroads, grappling with its identity and mission in a world that has changed dramatically. The church's voice, which should be a clarion call to love, justice, and service, has been muffled by internal and external strife.


But this does not have to be so. Our faith invites all of us to become embodiments of hope, as a tangible expression of the world as it ought to be, as it one day will be when Christ comes again in final victory. Our faith calls us to remember that hopeful anticipation is active; it’s a faith that does. It does justice, loves kindness, and walks humbly with God (Micah 6:8). It is not passive waiting but engaged readiness, a life lived in the present that honors the past and looks to the future with a heart full of expectation. A faith that holds the tension between the gentleness required to nurture a newborn baby—seeing the divine in the least of these—and the militant demand in our call to discipleship, a commitment to stewardship of the gospel, and the courage to stand for truth.


Today, we find ourselves living in a world filled with fear and uncertainty. The political corrosiveness that was once contained within television screens has spilled over, becoming an all-too-common guest at many family gatherings, dinner tables, and permeating many of our daily interactions. The peace that previous generations believed they had secured through hard-fought battles has dissipated, as morning dew under the relentless sun. The language of divisiveness and hate, which many thought had been consigned to the annals of history, has resurfaced with alarming regularity, becoming almost fashionable in some circles. The poor continue to face insurmountable barriers; education, once heralded as the great equalizer, no longer seems to hold the promise of a better life. And the church, which once stood as the moral compass guiding the nation toward the call of justice, now finds itself fragmented, confused, and at a crossroads, grappling with its identity and mission in a world that has changed dramatically. The church's voice, which should be a clarion call to love, justice, and service, has been muffled by internal and external strife.


Watch out, my friends, and stay alert! Hear the words of Jesus not as a harbinger of doom but as a promise of the joy that awaits us. The call to stay alert is a call to live fully, to love deeply, and to serve joyfully, all the while looking forward to the fulfillment of God’s ultimate promise – the return of Christ. It is a call to hope, a call to anticipate with confidence that, in God’s perfect timing, all will be revealed, all will be restored, and all will be made new.


In this time of Advent, we are invited to embrace the hope-filled spiritual discipline of waiting — not the idle waiting that leaves our hands empty, but the active waiting that prepares the fields (hearts, minds, and lives) for a reality that is already here and is yet to come.


Thanks be to God.


Amen.




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