Advent I Sermon 2020

By Rev. Robert Shearer
Advent I • November 29, 2020
Isaiah 64:1-9 • Psalm 80:1-7, 16-18 • 1 Corinthians 1:3-9 • Mark 13:24-37

In the Name of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Amen. A person who is listening to another person propound upon
weighty matters, might ask, “Who has influenced this person’s
thinking? What are the sources, what is the background that
influenced this person’s approach to the world?”
For myself, if we are talking about my home, it is my mother who
has set the tone and background structure for me. If we are talking
about being a pastor, it was my first mentor, Reverend Donald
Smith who taught me most of what I know about being a pastor.
If we are talking about liturgy, it would be Canon Edward West of
St John’s Cathedral in New York and Fr Rick Fabian of St
Gregory’s in San Francisco.
But how about Jesus? What were his influences? The first person
was probably his mother Mary—she was an outlier, an unmarried
young woman who was pregnant and who showed Jesus how to be
a non-conformist, an outlier. Then Isaiah, the greatest of the
prophets in the Hebrew Bible, seems to have been Jesus’ major
traditional influence. And then John the Baptist, who was Jesus’
mentor and teacher, and whose rallying cry Jesus
adopted—“Repent! The kingdom of God is at hand.” At least, this
is what I see when I read the stories of Jesus in the Gospels.
Isaiah’s lesson this morning speaks of the intense personal
relationship between the prophet and his Maker. It is an appeal for
God to come down in all his terrifying power, surrounded by
earthquakes and fire—a God who is both loving and also terrible
in his anger at human sin—a God who hides himself and lets us

suffer the consequences of our bad behavior. “Yet, O Lord, you
are our Father,” Isaiah says, “we are the clay, and you are our
potter, we are all the work of your hand. Do not be exceedingly
angry, O Lord, and do not remember iniquity forever. Now
consider, we are all your people.”
This sounds very much like Jesus’ intense relation to his Father in
heaven. There is nothing casual or off-hand about the God whom
Jesus considered his Father. This God is both strict, demanding
that we love one another in word and deed, but also always
forgiving when we fail. The standard that God puts before us is
impossibly high, and yet he is gentle and forgiving when we fail as
we learn how to get through life under his rule. After all, as Isaiah
appeals to the Father, “… we are the work of your hand … we are
all your people.”
Advent, as you know, is the time of anticipation, a time of waiting
for what is to come, a time of “what-is-not-yet,” a time of “what
is-yet-to-come.” So, of course, Advent is the four weeks in
advance of the yearly remembrance of Christmas, the birth of
Jesus. But more importantly, it is a call to be awake to what is
possible, what could be, but what is yet to come.
This is a pretty good attitude to take toward all of our lives, all the
time. To live in anticipation of what is to come, whether terrifying
or comforting, is to be truly alive. With this Corvid-19 crisis, for
example, you and I can stay in fear and anxiety, dreading the
present condition in which we find ourselves. Or we can just take
measures to avoid risks and then anticipate what is to come—the
days when masks are no more, the days when we have the
opportunity to get a vaccination shot, the days when we can hug
each other and eat together.

Even better, we can be open to the remarkable opportunities that
present themselves every day, chances to be of service if we are
awake to what we are presented with. And what Jesus says to us is
“Stay awake!” Keep your eyes open, he says, the eyes of your
mind, so that you see God as he appears in the form of a little
child, or an old lady, or a grocery clerk.
“Stay awake!” You cannot know when God will appear, or how he
will show himself. After all, the promise is that God will not stay
hidden forever. So, Jesus says, “Stay awake!”