First Sunday in Advent

Year C, RCL

December 2, 2018

North Fork Ministries

Gospel:

Luke 21:25-36

Jesus said, "There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth

distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see 'the Son of Man coming in a cloud'with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.

Then he told them a parable: "Look at the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.

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Happy New Year! It's the first Sunday in Advent,

the beginning of the New Year for the church. It is

a time to experience the thrill of anticipation -

waiting for the birth of the Christ child. But it’s

more than a waiting game.

In today’s gospel reading, Luke tells us to, "Be on

guard so that your hearts are not weighed down

with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries

of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly,

like a trap.” “Be alert at all times.”

We just left the season of Pentecost – 26 weeks of

green vestments. In the church the season of

Pentecost is also called Ordinary time. But there is

really no such thing as ordinary time. Every day

presents an opportunity to awaken to the life

force that surrounds us. However, in the church

we recognize that we are human and we do fall

asleep and we occasionally need an alarm clock.

Sometimes these alarms go off quite naturally –

when birth, death, marriage, separation, grave

illness occurs – these are wakeup calls. These

events tell us to pay attention – something is going

on that is more important than the routine of the

day. There is no ordinary time. All time is precious

and we dare not squander it.

The spirit of Advent teaches us that we have

something to wait for… and something important

to do while we wait - to practice for what is to

come. To perfect the craft of being human. We’re

not just waiting around for the Son of Man to

appear, we are preparing the way.

The summer I turned 10 years old, I was given a

gift for which many a child has longed and few

have received. I awoke that morning, now more

than a half century ago, to find, tied to the pecan

tree outside my bedroom window - a gleaming

black, Welsh pony. Standing a few hands taller

than a Shetland, but smaller than a quarter horse,

the young filly was chosen to precisely fit my

slight frame. My Dad, cupping my left foot into a

stirrup formed by his strong interlaced hands,

effortlessly hoisted me, onto the filly’s bare back.

He handed me the reigns. Seldom providing more

instructions than he thought necessary, my father

offered me these commandments, “If you want her

to go, nudge her with your heels and click your

tongue. To move her to the right, press the left

rein against her neck. To guide her to the left, do

the opposite. To slow down, or stop, gently pull

back on the reins, and say, ‘Whoa.’ If you fall off,

get back on. And be easy with her, son, she’s

tender.” “One more thing” he said, “when you can

ride this little filly, bareback, at a full gallop, then

we’ll talk about a saddle.”

I’m not sure exactly what Dad had in mind. Maybe

there simply wasn’t enough money for a both a

horse and a saddle. Or perhaps his wisdom was

greater than I knew. Either way, I learned more

that season about waiting and watchfulness, than I

have during any Advent since.

With Dad’s minimal instructions, the filly and I

learned to ride. Together we traversed the

pastures and forests of our land and the larger

ranches of friendly neighbors. We traveled the

lonely dirt roads connecting the distant

homesteads. And riding the trails alongside the

railroad tracks, we both trembled when powerful

locomotives roared too closely past us. We

learned to dodge limb-breaking gopher holes. We

swam across rain-swollen creeks. And as my

thighs strengthened, I discovered that my legs

alone could keep me atop the filly, and I no longer

needed to find a handhold in the coarseness of her

waving mane.

Without a saddle between us, I learned to feel in

my thighs the rise of tension in her back - when a

bothersome horse fly was about to cause her to

buck. Riding together on a hot Texas afternoon,

her sweat mingling with mine told me when we

had enough of the heat. I could smell when she

needed a bath. Her twitching ears, would warn me

of the threatening approach of a speeding pickup,

long before I heard the engine growl.

I was waiting for a saddle, but I was being

prepared for more. I fell off the filly more than

once that summer, but learned that I could climb

back on. I learned to use my senses and to rely on

the senses of another sentient being. But what

really happened, in the waiting and watchfulness,

was an awakening to life.

One afternoon, late in the summer, knowing that

Dad’s truck would soon pass through the gate

leading to our house, I mounted the filly at the

bend at end of the road, a quarter mile stretch

from home. Spotting the truck, our hearts beating

like jockey and Thoroughbred, we exploded from

the starting gates. The filly always ran faster

toward the barn than away, but on that day we

flew. Dad looked up when he heard the hooves

pounding against the road’s hard clay. He pushed

back his hat and smiled when he saw the trail of

dust rising after boy and beast.

Fall came and then Advent, and finally Christmas

morning. Waiting for me under the tree, as

promised, was a fine, hand-tooled leather saddle.

And it was good – the reward that I had awaited.

Maybe even heavenly. But the truth is, I don’t

really remember much about that Christmas

morning.

What I remember, as if it were yesterday, is every

single moment I spent learning to ride bareback

atop a galloping filly. The paradise we are assured

of may indeed be glorious. But the new life we are

promised is with us now, if we awaken to it.

The opportunity that my father, and our Father,

has given us to awaken from the slumber of our

youth, is presented in it’s fullness during the

season of Advent. We are given the chance to put

aside fear and live life expectantly. May we echo

the cry of the Psalmist, “Show me your ways, O

LORD, and teach me your paths.”