Advent I

The plea of the Gospel reading this day to “keep alert or awake” has often fallen on deaf ears. The disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane couldn’t “keep awake”. For a time Christianity was kept alive essentially only in the monasteries of the dark ages – the rest of society couldn’t “keep awake.” And what of our day and age? The newspapers and media are always only too willing to spread the news of the Church’s decline and failures. Not very often do they report the good news. So we have to be honest it is all too easy to be put to sleep by the ever so well credentialed critics of Christianity. It seems we walk a slippery slope towards doubt and the giving up of all that we once believed.

One of the best preachers of the past century; Harry Emerson Fosdick, had some good things to say about doubt. Listen to part of a sermon he titled; “the importance of doubting our doubts”.

For many people Christ is hard to believe in now. He is too good to be true! Too idealistic to fit this naughty world! So the idea creeps in that believers are credulous, gullible, soft headed, trusting this lovely Christ with his lovely ideas as “the way the truth, and the life.”

Often on university campuses one runs upon this idea that to believe in Christ is comforting – yes! – but it takes a credulous or weak mind to do it in a world like this. To which I say: Watch your step there! Again and again in history the shoe has been on the other foot. Not the believers in spiritual greatness but the unbelievers have proved to be mistaken.

A newspaper editor from Harrisburg Pennsylvania once travelled 35 miles by horse to a town called Gettysburg to listen to a president named Lincoln give an address. The words of that speech are today carved in stone at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. By all accounts it’s one of the greatest presidential speeches ever. Well except for one account – that editor from Harrisburg – listen to what he wrote: “We pass over the silly remarks of the President; for the credit of the nation, we are willing that the veil of oblivion shall be dropped over them and that they shall no more be repeated or thought of.”

The man was a fool, he stood in the presence of greatness, and disbelieved it. Why didn’t he think twice, until he doubted his doubts? I guess he just fell asleep.

And Fosdick continues; the older I grow the more I ponder Judas Iscariot. He came so near to not betraying Jesus (not that it would have mattered in the end). He was at least for a time a loyal disciple. It took courage to be with Jesus and Judas had it. But, doubts must have come. What kind of Messiah was this who refused violent revolution and instead talked of loving enemies? Was not this idealistic Jesus not letting them down? So the doubts grew, until in an explosive hour – Judas sold his Lord. He came so near to not doing it that when he saw what he’d done he hanged himself.

Judas, if only you had doubted your doubts enough to wait until Easter, until Pentecost, or the coming of Paul. If only…. You stood in the presence of divine greatness, and you disbelieved.

You see what I am trying to say here. Believers can be credulous, but disbelievers, too, can be gullible fools. Don’t join their company! Take a long look at Christ! The world desperately needs him. “He is the way the truth and the life.”

And in 24 more days we’ll celebrate the birth of Christ. What the theologians of old called the humiliation of God. God put aside all power, might, control, omnipotence……and all else and came to humanity as a helpless and defenceless child.

A child and then a man; “Who had no form or majesty that we should look at him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him, He was despised and rejected by others; a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity; and as one from whom others hid their faces he was despised, and we held him of no account” (Isaiah 53:1-3). And this was and maybe is God with us. This is for whom we’re to stay alert and awake.

You know, the church may be a “crumbling institution” (although there is no evidence of that in this Diocese, certainly not at the synod we just attended and certainly not around here). But maybe the critics of our faith might be right in part. The signs are all there; declining attendance, aging members, we have discovered that church leaders and church members are all too human beings, and “for sale” signs have sprung up on church lawns in too many places, all of which must surely be a cause for concern. There is no doubting that the Church is not what she once was in this world.

But, what about Jesus? He’s come back from worse than this. The dark ages, papal excesses, puritan purges, even the tomb! Maybe old Harry Fosdick’s right, maybe we ought to “doubt our doubts” and keep awake, keep alert just a little while longer. After all in 24 more days Jesus will be here -if only we would dare to see him – he’ll do more with us and our church than we could ever ask or imagine.

The Gospel this morning just might have a point – Keep alert!

Jesus is coming.

Just as he always has – and always will.


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