First Sunday of Advent

November 29, 2020

St. Anselm Church – Sudbury, MA 01776

Readings:  Isaiah 63:16b-17, 19b; 64:2-7 / Psalm 80 / I Corinthians 1:3-9 / Mark 13: 33-37


Watch!  Stay awake!  Be alert!  These words from our Gospel today remind me of times as a kid, when my brother and I were allowed to stay up late – or made to stay up late – for something special that was going to happen.  Things like…

  • Midnight mass on Christmas Eve. 
  • Or a New Year’s Eve party at a friend’s house where we waited FOUR HOURS past bedtime til midnight came, with songs and toasts to the new year. 
  • Or going to the airport to meet family arriving on a late night flight.

As a child, my feelings on such occasions were a mix of excitement, and also heavy drowsiness!  And at times the drowsiness overcame the excitement and I fell asleep, even with a party going on around me.

The season of Advent, these four weeks of watching and waiting and preparing for Christmas, can be like this – a mix of excitement and drowsiness.

Just think of a usual thanksgiving week… The crowds that line up from Thursday night to be the first into stores on Friday morning to snatch up the sale items… they are no doubt drowsy from their night vigil on the cold pavements.  Yet they are excited in the hope of a good deal, the perfect gift, or the desired enhancement for their home; or maybe they were just excited that hard-to-afford necessities would be steeply discounted.  These shoppers fight off their heavy-eyed drowsiness and stayed awake, because of the importance they gave to those things they desired, what they hoped to get.  Maybe we can relate to the Black Friday crowd, or maybe not. 

But all of us can get in touch with the desires we have, whatever they are, and the pain we sometimes feel for what we lack.

What do you deeply desire?  Is it forgiveness and healing of a damaged relationship?  Is it for a cure from physical illness?  Is it to find some joy in life when loneliness or depression is your unwelcomed companion?  Or do you desire that our communities and nation could really be ONE harmonious family, no longer divided along all kinds of lines — black and white, rich and poor, the in-crowd and the out-crowd, the strong and the oppressed?  What do you long for? 

These are the things Jesus in the gospel calls us to stay awake toawake to the deep desires and longings of our hearts, of our communities, of our world.  AND awake and watchful for the arrival of the Lord – the God who brings redemption even to situations that seem without hope. 

It may seem ironic that we celebrate Christmas at the time of year when the days have grown darkest, the weather coldest, and nature the most still and lifeless.  But it’s because in this time we are most expectant, most in touch with our needs.  The world lies waiting for newness – new light, new warmth, new growth.  Can you and I, this Advent, engage the hope that we have too… for new light, new warmth, new growth in our lives, in our parish, our town, and in our world?

The year is nearing an end, and yet in the middle of the darkness, the cold, the quiet and stillness, maybe even our sorrow, that’s where Jesus is born into the world. God’s saving revelation is announced –here, right now. 

Can we stay awake in expectancy and hope?


The Jewish people in exile in Babylon cry out to God in their need.  We hear about this in the first reading from the Prophet Isaiah.  They wait in hope of a God who would redeem them, crying

Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down!”

They begged God to intervene and hear them, to work deeds for them like they remember he had done in ages past for their ancestors – parting the Red Sea, saving them from slavery in Egypt, sustaining them in the desert, and settling them in a productive land where they could flourished.  They remembered, amidst their dark exile in Babylon, and in the wake of destruction and dispossession; they remembered God’s goodness:

“No ear has ever heard, no eye ever seen, any God but you

doing such deeds for those who wait for him.”

And because they remembered, the went back and waited for the God they knew they could depend on.  They brought their suffering and their hope together in ONE voice to the God whom they trusted.

And this exiled people did it humbly.  They acknowledged their profound need, the suffering they endured, but they didn’t play a blame-game. They owned their own part in creating the bad situation…

“we are sinful;

all of us have become like unclean people,

all our good deeds are like polluted rags;

we have all withered like leaves,

and our guilt carries us away like the wind.”

Holding their need in one hand, and their own unfaithfulness in the other, they fearlessly hoped in God and surrendered to his love:

“we are the clay and you the potter:

we are all the work of your hands”

I wonder if these Jewish exiles in Babylon about 2500 years ago have a lesson for us, with what we face this Advent…

This past Thursday, we celebrated Thanksgiving as a nation, and I hope that runs deep and soaks into all of our hearts.

Yet our needs – for justice, and peace, and healing and forgiveness are many.

And our sins — against one another, today and stretching back through history, are also many. 

So much work remains to be done so that we may truly be a people of love, of the sanctity of life, of dignity and sufficiency for all people.   

Oh, God, that you would rend the heavens and come down!”

Like the Jews in exile in Babylon 2500 years ago, we too can name the tragedy and also own our own part in creating it?  And, then, bring it in prayer before the God who is our one true hope…

Hope we must

Hope moved the Jews to imagine a return to Israel, remembering how God had worked marvels for them before. 

Hope can move us to imagine a nation that is more just, where harmony and equality replaces bigotry and division. 

Hope isn’t an abstraction.  It is something you do.  Hope is active cooperation with our God, to do what might seem like unbelievable things. 

Christ’s birth, which we celebrate at the end of this Advent season of Hope, is the most marvelous and unbelievable thing of all: 


A child born of a virgin,

Emmanuel, which means “God-with-us”.

And Jesus,

at the end of a life lived to bring salvation, healing & redemption to our broken world…

killed because of how threatening God’s goodness is to our human tendency towards evil,

he rose from the dead – the ultimate sign of hope. 

Evil won’t ever have the last word. 

All is possible with God. 

There is no reason

to be afraid, to stand back, to not get involved, to blame others,

to disown the suffering and hurt of the world as not our own

Our hoping must move us to act. 

What will we do? What concrete things can we do (here and now, starting from this community perhaps) to bring active hope to our Advent waiting, waiting on God’s wonders to break forth in the middle of this darkness? 

Be excited, fight the drowsiness! watch… pay attention… hope… and act.