December 1, 2002
Rev. Virnette Hamilton
First Congregational Church, New Milford, CT  06776
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Scripture Reading

Mark 13:24-37

24 "But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, 25 and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. 26 Then they will see 'the Son of Man coming in clouds' with great power and glory. 27 Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.

28 "From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. 29 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 30 Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

32 "But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. 34 It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. 35 Therefore, keep awake -- for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, 36 or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. 37 And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake." (NRSV)

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Sermon Title: Night or Day?

I love Advent. It is something that only Christians do – and it is so counter-intuitive. The calendar tells us that the year is ending. The rest of the world is winding down. Finish all of the financial year things – pay ahead anything that you can to reduce your taxes. Check that last years list of New Years resolutions – did you succeed? Get ready for the last big retail holiday of the year – try to improve those 4th quarter numbers.

And here we are – as Christians - looking at a beginning. The first Sunday in Advent is the beginning of our Christian Year. It is the prelude to the story of our faith. It marks the starting point for our remembrance. We are on the edge of the light – looking forward to something incredible – looking forward to the mystery – once again.

As we go through this counter-intuitive time we can become confused – unless we keep in mind that beginnings and endings will blend together – sometimes it is difficult to tell where you are –

For instance, is Sunday the beginning of coming week? Or is it the end of last week. That is a small confusion.

There are larger confusions … new jobs, new babies, new homes, kids going to college. It becomes harder to know the difference between an end and a beginning, as the 2 blend together.

And there are the really big confusions… like death… When we were in the Midwest, and my father in law took ill, it was clear that what looked like an ending to his wonderful life, was really a beginning of a new life. For all of us, not just for him. We were to remember how he lived and to learn from him – now we are on our own – but guided by his example. A new life for all of us.

We can probably say that for every ending there is a new beginning. Or there is light at the end of every tunnel.

Advent – a faint and distant glimmer of light. Advent, a growing and deepening hope. Hope for the future. Not “certainty”, but hope.

Hope that a new world is possible. Where all children go to bed secure in their world.

Hope - that resurrection will be a repeated reality in our everyday lives, for those who suffer and struggle.

Hope - that diseases can be cured – that the pain and suffering of life’s end can be alleviated. Hope that mental illness can be conquered.

Hope- that that people everywhere will have food and shelter. Hope that bombings will cease and the peace of God will prevail.

Hope - that God will be with us, at all times, and in all places, Supporting us, guiding us, carrying us, wiping our tears and tending our wounds.

We need hope because we do not yet live in the full, pure, clear light of God. We are still living in the darkness, with glimmers of light all around us through our memories of the times when the light of God burst into our world and changed our lives. Night and day become blended – so that it become difficult to know where we are exactly. We can get lost or confused. Hope can allude us. That is what Advent is about. It is a time for us to reorient our lives. It is the time for us to focus on the light as it beckons to us through the darkness. This is the time to prepare for Christmas – the birth of hope. … the foundation of our faith. and it is our job to share this precious gift with our children.

So - We will begin this time of preparation. We will sing the carols and retell the story of our faith – we will remember the young girl elected to bear the son of God, the humble beginnings of a tiny king, the fear and trembling of the shepherds, the alleluias of the angels, and the gifts of the magi. And we will share our personal memories of the times that Christmas came to us, when hope filled our hearts and the darkness was dispelled. We will retell the stories as we light the advent candles and open the doors on our advent calendars. We will shop for the right gifts to give and bake the sweet treats that mark these days as special. And we will begin this time of remembrance at the Lords table, where we will break the bread and share the wine and relive the story of the resurrection.

And the glory of the dawn will shine upon our hearts and they will be opened to the hope of the world. The mystery will be alive once again.

As we dine at this table, may assurance flow through our hearts – that it may be with full and total confidence that we say Christ is died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.  

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