Harrowing Of Hell
November 27, 2022

Let Jesus IN

Kelli Martin, Lay Preacher

In my family’s home, we have this game we play. It’s a spinoff of Hide and Go Seek, we call it Hide and Go Scare. I LOVE it. I love being scared. I love scary movies, scary books. Around our home, I even love scaring my husband Darius and our daughter Vivian. Sometimes I’ll hear them coming up the stairs and I’ll hide behind a door and jump out at them. Or I’ll sneak up behind one of them and tap them on the shoulder, and they’ll jump sky high! It is so funny. They don’t think it’s funny, but I get a total kick out of it. Because they are so jumpy, they make it easy for me to scare them!

Years ago, when Vivian was about 6 or 7 years old, I was trying to be all creative and I came up with this game Hide and Go Scare. A take-off of Hide and Go Seek. The rules were one person would hide and when the seeker found them, the hider would jump out and scare the seeker. So one time, it was Vivian’s turn to count and my turn to hide. As I was walking out of the room, Vivian said, “Okay, Mommy, tell me when you’re going to jump out and scare me!” I said “Are you kidding me?! I can’t tell you that! That defeats the whole purpose of the game. It has to be a complete surprise, it has to happen when you least expect it!”

So I go up to hide. I find a place. It’s all quiet. 10, 15 seconds pass. Then all of a sudden, I hear Vivi, calling from somewhere in the house as she’s looking for me in my hiding place, and she says: “Okaaayyy! I’m ready! You can jump out now! I least expect it!”

That happened years ago, but it was the first thing that I thought of when I read today’s Gospel and started reflecting on the season of Advent. Today is the first Sunday of Advent. For us Christians, it is the beginning of the liturgical calendar, the start of the new year for the Christian church. Instead of making New Years resolutions, we listen for the still small voice of God. For the next four weeks, we pause to anticipate the birth of Jesus…and we anticipate when Christ will come again. It is a time of quiet contemplation, of preparation. It is a time of looking forward. We focus our attention on what’s to come. And as we prepare for Jesus, we long for him. St. Augustine’s Prayer Book calls the season of Advent – “the dawning light of God’s presence in the world.”

The four weeks of Advent start out quiet. Liturgy is a bit more hushed. Wreath-making, which will happen today in the Great Hall at 10am, is a centerpiece for quiet prayer at home. We have quiet days of prayer during Advent and over the next few Sundays, we remember the saints and prophets and apostles who prepare us to recognize the Christ. 

That quiet seems at odds with the loudness of culture during this time, where the busyness of buying gifts and party-planning and all the celebration is the rule of the day.

Not only do we prepare for the birth and the return of Jesus Christ in quiet. Also, we prepare in the dark. For much of the world, Advent occurs during the longest, darkest nights of the year. Recent headlines have this darkness. Loss of life at a club that’s a haven for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer communities…loss of life at a college where young people are studying and growing up…and also at a store and mall where people are just trying to work and shop to fulfill their needs and the wishes of their loved ones.

It’s a darkness where we long for Christ in the world. So we LOOK for Jesus in the darkness. We look for Christ in the world. Advent prepares us to find him. So when we see the light in the darkness, it might show  up as a person who saves others at Club Q because he wanted to protect everyone inside like family.

This Advent, we prepare our hearts for Christ in the world. The game my daughter and I played may be just a metaphor, but Advent, like life, is like that. We never know who is going to knock on our door, or come into our room, or who needs help. Seeing Jesus in the world might look like sitting with someone in crisis or giving someone a job recommendation or checking in on them when you know they are lonely and going through a rough time and you simply haven’t heard from in a while. For all of us worshipping right here in this church and worshipping right here online, looking for and finding Jesus in the world shows up in how we serve others – in love and in togetherness – here at Epiphany and out in the world. 

During the time of Advent, yes we wait in anticipation, and what accompanies that anticipation is a growing sense of joy. The joy in knowing that the Messiah will find us. 

We have a central question, though. If this time of anticipation is so joyful, why is this Scripture, every First Sunday of Advent, year after year, always filled with anxiety?

Like my family playing Hide and Go Scare, I get the fear. It may have been a game we played as mother and daughter, but it has this anxious, spookiness to it. Anticipation has anxiety to it. When we read today’s Gospel there is anxiety there too! It’s like doomsday. It makes us think of all those stories about the Rapture! Today’s story mentions Noah and the ark and the flood that swept everyone away. Two women are going about their daily business and one of them is taken away. We don’t know what’s happening in their interior lives to determine which one stays and wjhich one is taken away.  It’s really a fascinating passage and it’s cryptic. I think it’s okay to admit that. We don’t talk about the Second Coming a lot. But for all of in this church and online, Epiphany is as much a learning church as it is a sanctuary. It’s a place where we can be free to talk about theology and how we live out our relationships with God.  Whether we take a literal stance on how Jesus will return and reign, or a metaphorical perspective on it or even if we see it somewhere in between, that’s okay. All of us worshipping today, we are ushering in this First Sunday of Advent together. We are all in it together.

Today’s story says, “But 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.”

That imagery is incredible. The house. We read a lot about “house” imagery when it comes to how we live with God. In his book The Inner Voice of Love, priest and theologian Henry Nouwen has a journal entry about only living where God lives, whether something is lived with or without God. Saint Theresa of Avila, the great mystic and nun’s seminal work The Interior Castle where she explores about the Seven Mansions of the soul, with each mansion containing many rooms, with God dwelling within the innermost mansion of the soul. And of course the Bible with Jesus described as the gate, the threshold. And in the Gospel of John, Jesus describes that in his Father’s house there are many dwelling places, and that he has gone to prepare a place for us.

It may be just a metaphor, in a creative family game, but there is a heady anticipation in looking for someone, then finding them, in the rooms of a dwelling place.

Today’s story says, “But 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.”

One way to read this and to apply it to our lives is that we need to be watchful over our lives so that we don’t get off track. So that ego or wanting others’ approval or anything that turns us away from God, doesn’t rule our lives. That read assumes we want to keep someone out.

A thief in the night. Your house being broken into. What is Jesus saying here?

I think it’s this: What if this Scripture is not about keeping something or someone out. What if it’s about welcoming someone in.

That thief in the night breaking into your house. What do you do to not let your house be broken into?

You let the person in. This Advent, let Jesus in. Yes we anticipate his birth and his coming again. But there’s this whole in between time, that we’re living in right now. So LET. JESUS. IN. Let Jesus into your house. Let Jesus into your relationships. Ask him to be with you as you make your decisions. Invite Jesus to guide your conversations. Ask him to lead you where God wants you to go. Expect your Lord to lead you.

Here’s what else we can consider doing this Advent. After you let someone in your house, you protect them.

Protect the Holy Spirit that is inside us. Jesus may be inviting us to nurture the Holy Spirit by doing the work of love that Jesus came here to show us how to do. Yes, the anticipation comes with anxiety.

The best way to anticipate Christ is to look for him to break into our lives. And let him do it. Let Jesus break into our consciousness, into our actions. It might be risky to do that. But love is risky, and soi s opening your heart. Let Jesus break your heart open. Let Jesus find you again and again, choose to let him in again and again, so that God, living inside of us, can work on us, slowly building us into people full of love and with a fullness of self and a fullness of being. That is what holy is.

In the house of Christendom, we build the walls and borders to let people in, not to close people out. It’s this whole inside out metaphor that Jesus’ parables always had. In a way we build this house, this church, to live outside of it. We do that work of Jesus’ love inside the walls of this church, so that when we are outside the church, we LIVE WITH GOD, wherever we are.

I will close this sermon on the First Sunday of Advent We by returning to my daughter playing that game: Looking around in the dark, opening doors and paying attention to what’s in the corners, being quiet until the big reveal, but waiting. Waiting with a growing excitement for who WE will find on December 25, and waiting with a growing sense of joy of who will find us, when we least expect it. LET. JESUS. IN. He will build his house within you. He is light coming in the darkness, and our hearts are open. This Advent, in this Place of God, we begin again.