The Rev’d Margery Kennelly is the Episcopal Chaplain at Harvard University.
What a joy it is to be with you here today on your Feast ofTitle.
I know your beautiful church – although not because I have been able to attend many of your Sunday services.
I am familiar with your church- with its closets and passages, its cats and upper stories and strange things that squeak in the night because about six years ago I prevailed on your dear father Sammy Wood and Father Warren to let me bring my confirmation class here for an overnight.
The first time was a bit raucous. We didn’t deserve to be invited back…but mercy prevailed.
We created a partnership with another Church of the Advent celebrity – the Reverend Marc Eames who was formerly a parishioner here before becoming a priest.
For these past five years we all concluded our year-long confirmation classes with an overnight here in your wonderful church whose walls are truly steeped in the fragrance of prayers. We called our overnight Awake – because – well because we knew nobody would get much sleep – but also because we believed in this idea that there is something deeply life giving in keeping watch. In praying late at night.
While our Awake overnight was not during the season of Advent, it would have been seasonally appropriate.
The intent of that retreat was to give our confirmands an opportunity to invite Jesus to come into their lives. And that of course is a very Advent theme!
The ancient prayer of the early church was Marana tha. It is an Aramaic phrase which we find in 1 Corinthians and in an early church manuscript called the Didache. It means “Our Lord come.”
The whole heart of Advent is expressed in this text message of a prayer which is most simply understood as an expression of our deepest Longing. Longing….
What is longing?
When you think about it there are two necessary ingreients to experiencing longing:
The first is: dissatisfaction:
You can’t really experience longing if you are already satisfied.
The second is Waiting: You can’t really experience longing if you don’t have to wait.
The Season of Advent asks us to focus on two things most of us do not like to experience: Dissatisfaction and waiting.
Yikes! No wonder it is so tempting to take refuge in chocolate and revelry…during Advent.
Who wants to wait?
Who wants to be dissatisfied?
But temptation aside, the deep call of the season is to engage in that difficult state of longing…not to skip over to the happy cozy baby Jesus in the manger silent night moment followed by cookies.
It is actually important to wait in the dark space before. Actually to take in the dark space and let it frame your prayers.
I don’t have the full answer.
But here is part of it…
During Advent we are actually encountering three different Advents.
The first is the one that already happened – Jesus being born. We’re getting ready to remember that with lessons and carols – with pageants and crèches. That part involves remembering and wrapping our minds around what CS Lewis called the chief miracle that all other miracles point to the miracle of a holy beyond our understanding God becoming a baby – taking on flesh and dwelling among us.
The second Advent we prepare for is Christ’s return in glorious majesty – one day in the future… the timing of which no one- not even Jesus knows…that is an event we are supposed to long for also. More about that in a minute.
The third Advent is Jesus being born in our own heart. That of course is the only Advent over which we have any real say.
These three Advents are all strands running through the scriptures over the Advent season.
Now I don’t know about you, but for a great deal of my Episcopal life, I had no idea about the second one! I didn’t know that Advent had anything to do with Jesus returning! Christmas was about Jesus the baby. But the scriptures for Advent point forward in time as well as backward.
Yes, they talk about the birth of Jesus, but they also talk about his eventual return in glorious majesty. That is what Jesus refers to when in our passage he talks about “concerning that day or hour no one knows.”
God’s rule on earth is not complete as we can see looking at the news or our own lives for that matter. But Jesus says that one day he will return to finish what he began.
We live during the in between time – we live after Jesus came, but before he has put all things right.
We have some instructions for how God’s rule is supposed to be – just and merciful, and as God’s people we are supposed to be unsatisfied with how things are.
So if you feel distraught and powerless and frustrated about the state of the world, you are exactly in the right place to begin Advent.
You can check that little box on your Christmas to do list:
Feel dissatisfied with how the world is…check
In Advent we are invited into longing…and longing is about dissatisfaction with the way things are.
We are supposed to want God’s justice and beauty and goodness and mercy enough that we long for God himself – For him to return in glorious majesty … as our collect says, to judge both the living and the dead.
To be honest, I can find the whole thought of Jesus actually returning as judge dreadfully nerve-wracking. I’m not proud of that fact, it’s just true. For that reason, when I have prayed “Come Lord Jesus!”, I think from God’s point of view I must sound pretty uncertain – I might have even said subliminally, No need to rush.
But this year – well, this year is different.
For the first time, I can really pray “Come Lord Jesus.”
Perhaps that is true for you as well.
At some points in history it is easier to see how much we need a savior.
We see the political upheavals, the damage done in natural disasters, the huge numbers of people suffering and we can pray with conviction “Come Lord Jesus!” That is longing for the second Advent.
But I alluded to a third strand of preparation. That is the Advent of Jesus being born in our own heart. This is the only Advent over which we have any real say.
Jesus gives us a wonderful image to consider in our Gospel today. It is of a doorkeeper waiting for the return of the master of the house. So let’s think for a minute about the role of a doorkeeper.
The doorkeeper has several duties but the most significant one is to welcome home the resident- to open the door, to carry in any baggage, to greet with warmth. Jesus emphasizes that the doorkeeper must be ready at any time – in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows or in the morning (these were the four watches of the day). The doorkeeper must not fall asleep – the doorkeeper ought not slap a sticky note on the door saying “back in five.”
The doorkeeper’s primary duty is to wait for the return of another…in order to welcome him or her in. It is quite a deferential role. A good doorkeeper would not be talking on his or her cell phone while opening the door. The whole demeanor of the doorkeeper is undistracted attentiveness.
And that is a snapshot of who we are to be in Advent. We are supposed to be a doorkeeper waiting to welcome Christ himself into our heart.
How do we do that? How do we – masters of over scheduling, victims of a consumer culture bent on distraction – proud badge carriers of the I did too much club… How could we even start to approach the waiting humble posture of the doorman?
Here’s a thought. What if you let your dissatisfaction prompt your prayer of welcome?
This is about using your actual life – the one you are living now – and welcoming Christ into it.
What if you started saying/ praying at any point in the day, Welcome Lord Jesus.
It is quite simple. It is so short you can do it almost anywhere. You can welcome him into your morning commute, you can welcome him as you begin your desk work, your time writing checks to charity – that’s a dangerous one – but it will bless you. You can welcome him as you wash up dishes after dinner or you can welcome him into your sadness when you miss someone who is no longer with you, welcome Lord Jesus into this weary world… Welcome Lord Jesus into your weary self. This week try it out. Sometime this afternoon – waiting in line somewhere – just pray it silently. “Welcome Jesus.” See what happens when you do it.
Because just as Advent holds our longing for God, it also holds God’s longing for us. Jesus says as he looks over Jerusalem – not long before he knows he is going to the cross – he says, “how much I wished to gather you as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings and you were not willing.” God longs for us…through thick and thin.
Welcome Jesus, welcome.