November 27, 2016

1st Sunday of Advent
‘EMBODYING GOD’S KINGDOM’

BIBLE READINGS
Isaiah 2:1-5
Psalm 122
Romans 13:8-14

Matthew 24:36-44

REFLECTION

Now, many of you here would know that I don’t follow Australian Rule Football. But, I do like cricket Indeed, of all the sports that we play and love here in Australia, cricket is one of those games that I do love watching (and I can watch it for hours!).

And, lately, the Australian cricket team is in tatters (there’s an improvement, but the damage has already been done). The visiting South African team has outplayed them in the first two test matches on Australian home soil. And, as it usually happens when a team has underperformed, people start looking for scapegoats.

Now, I’m not a sports expert, but I remember one elite level coach said that victory was achieved or lost not when the game was played, but on the training field. What happens during the game is only a reflection of what the players do during training.

When they are in the game, players should not think hard about what they are doing. Their game must come automatically. This is achieved through hard work in practice because it all comes down to muscle and mental memory. If they train correctly, everything will fall into place during the actual game.

Indeed, great athletes achieve victories by visualizing their game before it happens. Now, I don't want to say that we too can achieve anything in life by visualizing our goals or thinking positively. Reality is more complex than that. Life can become stranger than fiction.

But, we can learn from this approach. To achieve victory, according to these people, we have to embody victory. Likewise, to be the people of hope we have to embody hope; to make our hope a reality, we have to embody what is it that we are hoping for.

I believe it's the same with our life as Christians. We are called to embody the values of the Reign of God that Jesus has taught us. We are to ‘train’ ourselves in these values until they become a fundamental part of who we are. We are to make the future expectation of God’s Reign a present reality.

This is the core message that we find in our readings from Paul’s letter to the Romans and the Gospel according to Matthew.

In Romans, Paul used the image of waking up from sleep to drive home his message. Now, I love daylight saving. For those of you who voted against daylight saving, don’t walk away from this church yet; let me first tell you the reason.

I love daylight saving because (pay attention because this may change your mind) it gives me another hour to sleep in the morning in summer time. Now, before the same people call me lazy, let me again tell you the reason: I can't sleep once the sun is out.

And I’ve tried everything. I’ve made sure to pull my bedroom window’s curtain down before I go to bed. I’ve tried covering my eyes with whatever. But, nothing works. Once the sun is out, I have no other option but to wake up (it’s getting better, but it’s still a problem).

But, what often happens is that instead of waking up, I would lay down in my bed, half awake half asleep. Half of me knows that the most optimal time for me to have a decent sleep is over and it's time for me to get out of my bed. But, the other half of me often still wants to be in the bed. So, I often wait for another hour or so and, as the result, I wake up feeling groggy and tired.

This is the kind of thing that Paul talked in his letter. The night is over and we have to wake up. The new day is breaking and we need to get off our bed and get ready to welcome the day.

But, Paul wasn't expecting a new day. He was expecting something, or someone, more significant. For him, the time was pregnant and soon the joyful birth would arrive. And, that joyful birth was the coming of Christ to live in our midst once again.

This time, however, will be different. This time his arrival would usher in a new era. It would put an end to the old world with all its wickedness and injustices. His arrival would replace our world with a new one where God would reign supreme.

So, for Paul, it’s daybreak already and we are to prepare ourselves for the new day. Living the day as if it was still night would make us live like zombies: half dead half alive; half asleep half awake; just like what I usually feel when I choose to stay in bed when it’s already bright.

During the day, we have to be children of the day not night. We are to be fully awake and not asleep. And, we must do what people usually do at daytime. We are to live as children of light not darkness any longer.

Friends, no one knows when exactly is the time when Christ will return. Only God knows. But, we are not to try to find out when exactly is the time. We are to be ready all the time.

And, we may get discouraged. The reality that we face today is so different from the reality that God promises.

This was the kind of disparity that the prophet Isaiah also had to address. There was a yawning gap between what he prophesied and the reality that the people of Israel still faced.

In his time, people still didn't follow the way of Yahweh and nations were still waging war against one another. But, his prophecy was a challenge to the people of Israel to make the vision in his prophecy a reality.

Indeed, his prophecy ends with the call to walk in the light of God. If they wanted to bring light to other nations, they themselves must first walk in the light. If they wanted to teach other nations the way of Yahweh, they too must first walk in the way of Yahweh. Likewise, if we want to change the world, we have to first change ourselves.

Mahatma Gandhi is often believed to say that we are to be the change we wish to se in the world. Now, he didn’t actually say those words. What he actually said was that “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change.”[1]

So, friends, it begins with us. Waiting for God is an active waiting. Our waiting means preparing.

Many of you would know that my wife and I are waiting for the birth of our first child. We are hoping that the baby will be born either in January or February next year.

But, there are already things to prepare. My wife has recently done some shopping. She bought some clothes for the baby, as well as nappies, and other things. When I visit her in December, we will make an appointment with the hospital where the birth will take place. We will also rearrange our rented house in Indonesia to make space for the baby. And, there are still many other things to do: preparing for the birth certificate and his/her Australian citizenship eventual migration to Australia, choosing a name, etc. Indeed we have to sacrifice things that we usually enjoy before so that we can save enough money to welcome and care for the baby.

In other words, both my wife and I are called to be parents NOW and not later. Our journey of parenthood starts now and not in January or February next year.

It is the same with Advent. Advent is the time of waiting. But, we are not only waiting for Christmas Day. In Advent, we don't only look back to the past, on that first Christmas Day when Jesus was born.

In Advent, we also look to the future. In Advent, we wait for Christ to come again to usher in the fullness of God's Reign in the world. We are waiting for the time when joy will replace sadness, light overcomes darkness, and hope overtakes despair; when every war will cease and peace reigns and justice is upheld; when swords are turned into ploughshares and spears into pruning hooks and nations unlearn war.

But, it has to begin NOW not later. Most important of all, it has to begin now in our life. To proclaim the coming Reign of Christ we have to let Christ reigns in our life first.

Friends, the theme for this first Sunday of Advent is peace. In Advent, we wait for the arrival of the Prince of Peace. But, we don’t have to wait for his arrival to start learning the way of peace. We are to become the sons and daughters of peace now and not later.

Let me finish by reading to you the lyrics of one of my favourite Christmas carols, Let There be Peace on Earth by the songwriters Jill Jackson and Sy Miller.

Let peace begin with me
Let this be the moment now
With every step I take
Let this be my solemn vow
To take each moment
And live each moment

In peace eternally
Let there be peace on earth

And let it begin with me

Amen.

Rev. Toby Keva

[1] Brian Morton, Falser Words Were Never Spoken, (August 29 2011) on
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/30/opinion/falser-words-were-never-spoken.html