Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Waking Up in Advent

Readings for the First Sunday in Advent

Click on video to listen to the sermon

At the age of 25 I had earned a BA in Biology with a concentration in Pre-medicine and a Master of Divinity degree from Yale Divinity School. I had traveled, studied and worked hard. Yet I humbly found myself sitting on the couch my first day home after graduation with a type A personality, and nowhere to go and not a clue what I wanted to do. I was advised to just start making phone calls.

One of those calls lead to a conversation about potentially becoming a priest which I of course responded with “maybe but not now.” I was so unsure of what I wanted to do and the prospect of going back to school again right after graduating seemed daunting.

So, I continued to do my due diligence exploring my options. I taught for a few years and did some hostess work at a restaurant. I was a career specialist helping people find work while behind close doors I was the one fighting to figure out and really accept my own calling. Eventually I couldn’t fight it any longer and through many ups and downs I stand before you today an Episcopal Priest.

I share this with you today to show that sometimes we have to be patient in figuring things out and it’s not always easy or perfect or compliant with societal expectations to have this done at this time, to be at a particular stage in your career by specific age or to be married or to own a home or to retire or to move into an assisted living facility. The list goes on and on.

But what I realized was while we are being patient we have to continue to work and progress until our calling is revealed at any stage of life. The disciples weren’t given the time of the second coming. They were left in the dark but continued the path that Jesus had set them on to do the Lord's work.

While the patience and effort that I put forth during my path to the priesthood and many others have put towards their careers isn’t anywhere near as inspiring as the disciples, it does show that even now, everyone has the capability of diligence and patience to keep moving forward while in the middle of the not knowing.

And that is the advice Jesus is giving his disciples today--to keep moving forward by keeping awake and being ready. We will never know when he will return, even Jesus says he doesn’t know the exact day or time he will come again--only God is privy to that information.

But Jesus encourages us to take advantage of this time of waiting. To use this time to be patient with ourselves to figure out where God is calling us to when it comes to jobs, relationships, purpose, travel, retiring, finances, moving, etc. The waiting period is really the listening time--the time we attempt to listen in our lives where God is calling and saying, “hey, over here time to go or time for change.” It took me quite of few years to listen but it is interesting where we end up when we do.

It is in this time of waiting that we have to stay patient with ourselves and with God. Jesus even gives us the story today of the people knowing the flood was about to come but still they didn’t listen by not using the waiting period as a time of preparation for safety and survival. Knowing that the Lord is coming, how do we make sure we listen?

Well, it falls under this call for preparation, where we move forward each day by “keeping awake” as Jesus commands of us in Matthew. What does this look like to keep awake and be ready? We are now in the season of Advent, a time dedicate to wait for the birth of Christ, and to be ready in this waiting for Jesus is by inviting God into the preparation. By reflecting on the ways we are spiritually alert and awake.

To be awake and to see on our journey of life, we need light, and that is why Paul tells the Romans to put on the armor of light. The armor of light is our call to live lives that honor and glorify God through the hope, peace, love and joy that we have in Jesus Christ. The hope we have in Christ’s coming again is the light that we are blessed to have in our lives. That is what we need to keep awake for in this time of waiting.

Staying awake and waiting when we are tired is not easy. We live in an age where waiting is not really acceptable and avoided. There are even apps on our phones to alleviate it. I’m an avid Starbucks customer. When I say avid I mean that the drive thru Starbucks near my house knows my name and order--grande non-fat, flat white with two Splenda. But now they have a feature where you can order your coffee without waiting in line.

But as frustrating as waiting can be, some of the lines I have waited in at Starbucks have been when I’ve met the most interesting people and have had the most beautiful experiences.

While waiting one day, a man saw my theology reading and asked what I was studying. I told him I was in seminary and he looked at me and said, “don’t let the intellect get in the way of the spirit.” When I turned away and then immediately looked back he was gone. I like to think he was a little angel reminding me to not get caught up in having to be this perfect biblical scholar and allowing the spirit to move in me.

Finally, I was waiting in the line at Starbucks once again and ran into a girl I went to college with who was in my chemistry classes freshman year.  One Saturday night I saw her in the library and she was telling me about how she was hiding out from her abusive boyfriend. It had been raining horribly and she was soaked to the bone. While she was hiding out in the common room of our dorm I remember giving her one of my favorite t-shirts to wear. When I saw her Starbucks 10 years later and I got to see how well she was doing, and she asked if I would be there for a little while. Since I make every Starbucks my personal office space I reassured her I would be there. So, about 30 minutes later she reappears with a gift bag and in it was the t-shirt that I let her borrow all those years ago. She kept it just in case she ever saw me again.

It’s not about the t-shirt or the coffee but that in the waiting we are awaken to the beauty and love of God. When we are patient and watchful we get to see the Kingdom here on earth through the light of others. This advent season as we light the Advent Wreath each week may we be reminded to embody the hope, love, peace and joy that each candle represents as we keep moving forward as we wait and bring light to our world. Amen.

The Rev. Jessica E. Sexton

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