December 1st, 2013
The Rev. Rob Fisher
St. Dunstan’s, Carmel Valley
First Sunday in Advent, Year A: Isaiah 2:1-5; Romans 13:11-14; Psalm 122; Matthew 24:36-44
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
We just returned from being with my family for Thanksgiving. My brother-in-law and my sister now have two kids, but it doesn’t seem that long ago when they were just dating.
I remember when we met Tony for the first time, at our home in Pasadena while our own daughter Zoe was an infant. We offered for Tony to hold the baby, and he emphatically declined. Though it seems like an easy thing to hold a baby, back then he worried that he might drop her or something. And babies are too precious for that kind of risk. It’s wonderful to see him and my sister now, changing diapers with ease, and doing all sorts of other brave things. You can see the transformation in them.
Before our Zoe was born, the friends we had at the church we attended at that time used to say things to us like: “Two things will change for you once you have your baby. One, you will never sleep the same way again. And two, you will never be afraid to put your hand into anything.” This has basically turned out to be true.
The other thing that quite a few people said was: “There is nothing you can do to prepare yourself for what is coming.”
The words in the Gospel and Epistle readings today have a double message. On one hand they are saying: “Be prepared!” And on the other hand, they are saying, “No one can be prepared!”
Paul says, “Now is the moment for you to wake from your sleep.”
Jesus says, “The day of the coming of the Lord will arrive like a thief in the night.” In other words, it will come when you absolutely least expect it. No one can know the day or the hour.
Today is Advent 1. It is a time of expectation for the baby Jesus to arrive. That is of course the “First Coming.” The lectionary gives us also these readings today about the Second Coming, when Christ will return, and all things will be made complete.
In regards to the First Coming, Dallas Willard points out that Christ’s birth and his life of teaching did not actually bring heaven to earth. Rather, heaven was already present on earth, and Christ only revealed this truth. The kingdom of God is within you, only waiting to be born.
And the Second Coming will be when the incomplete will become complete.
Nothing can prepare you for it.
Paul’s words in his letter to the Romans paint a picture of a time between night and day. He writes that “the night is far gone; the day is near…
“Let us lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.”
If all you have ever seen is darkness, you will have a very hard time preparing for the daylight.
How can you prepare for something you’ve never seen before?
As for me I used to want to have a baby some day, but I never liked babies. I wanted to have a baby, but only in theory.
I believed then that babies were noisy and messy.
It turns out that they really are messy and noisy. But there is also a light to them—one that in my dark, unenlightened view I had not imagined.
Some of us don’t see that light readily, but even those who sleep can wake up when the light dawns on their eyes.
There is a wonderful radio show called “The Moth,” and it is simply a collection of stories told by people in front of live audiences. The storytellers are sometimes professional writers and speakers. Sometimes they are just people with stories to tell. You never know what you are going to hear, but it is always memorable.
A few days ago I heard the story of Darryl McDaniels. His stage name is DMC, and you may have heard of his influential rap group called RUN-DMC. He and his friends were from a humble upbringing in Hollis, Queens. Darryl McDaniels studied hard in Catholic school growing up, had a good relationship with his parents, and then created this group with his friends that went on to unprecedented success. They were pioneers. McDaniels described how later on as an adult he was on tour with his band, making 40 or 50 thousand dollars a night, when he could not shake a depression that made him feel so heavy he felt like ending his life.
He looked at all his success, and he could not explain why he could not shake this heaviness. Something did not fit in his life, and no success could correct it.
One night while riding in a limousine the driver asked if he wanted the radio on, and he said “OK.” The driver asked what station, and McDaniels said, “Anything is fine.”
When the music came on, it was a song called “Angel” by Sarah McLachlan. He could not believe his ears. It was like hearing music for the first time. He wanted to know who it was that wrote such a beautiful song. He eventually bought all of Sarah McLachlan’s records and for a whole year all he listened to was Sarah McLachlan. The people he toured with said, “Why do we have to listen to this all the time?” It drove the others crazy, but he didn’t want to listen to anything else.
You have to understand, Sarah McLachlan is not the kind of music you’d expect a major rap artist to listen to at all, let alone hearing the song “Angel” over and over on repeat. But McDaniels felt that this music was saving his life.
One day he went to a music industry party and to his amazement got to meet Sarah McLachlan herself! He was beyond star struck. He gushed on and on telling her what her music did for him. But it did not really drive her away, though it must have been awkward. Her respectful answer to him was to say “Thank you very much. That’s what music is supposed to do.”
While still struggling to put the pieces together, McDaniels started working on his autobiography, and he called his mother to ask her the date, time and place of his birth. She answered his questions and they each said “I love you,” and then hung up. A very short while later the phone rang, and it was his mother calling back, this time with his father on the line, too. They said, “Darryl, we have something we need to tell you.
“You are adopted.”
All of a sudden it all came together. He finally knew the missing piece. It didn’t make everything perfect, but a part of his life that was incomplete became complete.
He felt compelled to ask Sarah McLachlan if she would record a song with him. He wanted to write about the experience of being adopted. She said yes, and invited him to her studio in Vancouver, Canada.
At the end of his story, when they were finished with their recording and saying goodbye, she said to him, “There’s something important that I have to tell you. I was adopted, too.”
There is nothing we can do to prepare ourselves for the experience not only of parenthood but of life itself. We cannot prepare for the things God has in store for us. We have to just bravely move forward knowing that there will be all sorts of earth-shaking surprises ahead.
And yet in the end we have reason to hope.
Hope is our preparedness.
The great surprise of Jesus’ birth is not that he was born to a virgin in a humble place, but that he reveals to us our own true identity.
Messy and noisy though we may be, we are endowed with light, too. We are the precious children of a loving God.