Advent IA 2019                                                                                                                       The Rev. John M. Atkins

Gospel of Matthew 24:36-44

36“But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 37For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 38For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, 39and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. 40Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. 41Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. 42Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. 43But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. 44Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.

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While others shopped, I rested.  That’s my Black Friday tradition. Some Americans trigger increased dopamine, anticipating the hunt for awaited bargains at stores or on the internet.  But I keep peace and sanity at home. This is not meant to discredit people harboring other views.

Simply, on Black Friday, I enjoy relaxing and watching movies, such as the ones we watched this year: Mary Poppins, Monster-In-Law and Beauty and the Beast.

Besides, I really cannot be bothered with benefiting CEO’s and their companies as they force their employees to work long hours just to increase company profit.

I’m aware that shopping for loved ones can bring happiness. In fact, that’s the central reason I do any shopping at all during the Holiday season. And, I also acknowledge that there are store owners who give many dollars to no-profits for the intention of blessing others.

So today, while shoppers will continue their search for bargain gifts, we are here, right now, gathered with the Church.

We are part of the Reforming Church catholic. This term is not an American concept of denominationalism; rather, an expression of Christian tradition nearly twenty centuries old.

As part of this tradition, today we enter into an ecclesiastical season known as Advent. Advent is a time of waiting, anticipating, preparing and looking.

Freelance writer, Stephen Beale, reminds us that the word Advent comes from the Latin word, Adventus, referring to an arrival, invasion, development, appearance, or as in the case of the ancient Roman military, a ‘glorious entry’.

Advent is a gift to Christians as we find ourselves in an ever-increasingly anxious world.

As cyber-bullying, scams, terrorist attacks, gas-lighting, perpetual lies, fear and ignorance attempt to raise anxiety, increase division and spread hatred, the Church invites us to look and live in another direction.

As advertisers and mega-companies salivate over the money they crave to bolster their profits, the Church calls us to focus our resources elsewhere, resources of time, money, talents, compassion and love.

Some people view Advent as only referring to the anticipation of remembering and celebrating Jesus Christ’s Incarnation. While that is part of our contemporary Season of Advent, that is not the primary purpose of Advent.

Advent includes recalling all of God’s works from creation through today, as well as anticipating the end of the world as we know it.

Writer for the website Patheos, Kevin Antlitz tell us,

“During Advent we are invited to remember that God saturates the fullness of time, encompassing our past, our future, and our present. As we observe the season of Advent, we are invited to recall afresh the story of what God has done, what God has promised to do, and what God is doing even now…We cry out for the second advent of Jesus Christ, when he will come to set all things to right.  We pay attention to how Christ comes to us, enlightening the humdrum of our everyday and invites us to be Christ’s light to the world.  (Kevin Antlitz; Preparing for Advent: Reflections on Tanner’s “The Annunciation”; Patheos, Nov. 27, 2019)

The Church invites us into the Season of Advent with the hope of us living beyond the world’s anxiety by remembering God’s boundless love liberating and empowering people like you and me, down through the centuries, to be lights of hope and grace in the world.

We’re invited to trust God and look forward, as Matthew puts it, when, like in Noah’s day, God will have had enough of human foolishness, greed, deception, and selfishness, and a new era will be birthed, an age of justice, mercy, peace, equality, compassion and love.

Those invested in this world will one day discover that life consists of so much more, to their surprise, dismay and loss. Yet, for us who trust in God, the birthing of a new era of justice and grace is nothing to be feared. Rather, it is joyful encouragement knowing that God will make all things well in God’s time, in God’s promised new world.

So, while the world continues revolving around money, profits, anxiety, deceit, division and hatred, there are those of us focused in a different direction.

We are people joyfully remembering, anticipating, preparing and looking for God’s promised day of ultimate liberation from all the evil that binds people and keeps us from living harmoniously as God intends.

In the meantime, we wait and work at sharing compassion and joy as lights of Christ and bearers of God’s grace and love in this world.

Hakki Akdeniz is the owner of Champion Pizza in Lower Manhattan, NYC. Born and raised in a desolate village in Turkey, Hakki didn’t attend school, but rather worked from a very young age to help support his family. Because of his work ethic and love for cooking, his parents sent him to live with his brother in Canada, where his brother owned a pizza shop.  Hakki was only a teenager.

After working for his brother for a couple of years, at age 21, Hakki bought a one-way ticket to NYC in order to follow his dream of being successful and continue supporting his family.

Upon arriving in NYC with $240 in his pocket, he found no work because he didn’t speak English.

Hakki spent his money on a cheap hotel and food.

After his money was gone within one week, Hakki slept in Grand Central Station, until by chance, he overheard a couple of men speaking Turkish.  He told the men his story, and asked if they knew anyone who would give him a job. A friend of one of the men offered Hakki a job in his pizza shop, working 60 hours a week for $300.

As years went by, Hakki learned English and saved enough money to buy his own pizza shop. Today, Hakki is among the most famous pizza makers and shop owners in NYC due to holding on to his dream and entertaining the masses in person, in contests, on television and on YouTube by twirling, flaming pizza-dough. Find Hakki on the internet. You’ll be entertained.

Hakki is a huge success. And his heart pushes Hakki to deliver over 100 free pizzas each week to those with few food resources in Lower Manhattan. That’s success infused with gratefulness.

Hakki says that helping his family and community is paramount to his success. And, helping others is very important to Hakki. People helped him when he was down; now, he feels compelled and enthusiastic to help others.

I recently became aware of Giving Tuesday, the day after Cyber Monday. It’s a day we are all encouraged to think about the needs of others and donate resources of time, skill or money to non-profits as they attempt to meet the needs of people with few resources. Giving Tuesday is something to seriously consider.

God’s love and joy comes by way of many different people. We just need to be willing to love and share our blessings and our joy in anticipation that we can help God liberate God’s people one individual at a time or one group at a time while we await God’s promised new world. So, share the blessings and be lights of God’s hope and love as we await the coming of God’s world and the return of our Savior Jesus Christ.