By Rev. Dr. Krista S. Givens
Today we begin the season of waiting, the season of Advent.
But December 1st is also World AIDS Day, a day to reflect on those affected by HIV and AIDS in this world. It is a dreadful disease and one that not only attacks the immune system, but also attacks the self-worth and dignity of God’s beloved children.
In 2012, I took a trip to South Africa and while there I toured the Hillcrest AIDS Centre in Durban South Africa. Founded in 1990, the Hillcrest AIDS Centre Trust (HACT) is dedicated to serving the semi-rural and disadvantaged communities of KwaZulu-Natal, which is one of the epicenters of the global HIV/AIDS epidemic with HIV infection rates of up to 40% …. more than double the current national average of 19%. (South African National AIDS Council) (1)
There are people doing great work all over the world, and although we may feel limited by our location, by the size of our congregation, by our resources… by partnering with organizations already doing God’s work in a particular area of the world, we add our voice to the chorus fighting for a cure, for compassion and for the love of our brothers and sisters affected by HIV and AIDS. We add our voices the the chorus who sing of our love and the love of God, in the waiting.
In the work of the staff and the people of the Hillcrest AIDS Centre, the HOPE of Christ is evident, as demonstrated in this story from the Centre:
“Each morning after ‘hand over’ from night staff to day staff, we gather in a circle to sing, pray and plan for the day. Patients and their family members, who are able, often join the circle. One morning, a patient who had been with us for ten days and who was very weak, managed to get out of bed on his own, he then borrowed the ‘walker’ from the patient next door and walked slowly but deliberately over to our circle while leading us in a song. He then prayed for the carers and the other patients and thanked God for the respite unit leaving most of us with tears in our eyes and gratitude for the work we do in our hearts. “ (2)
As we remember the 33.4 million people living in world with HIV and AIDS (two-thirds of which live in Sub-Saharan Africa); we realize our desperation. We wait for a cure. We wait for a brighter future.
* And therefore the first Advent candle is aptly named. We need HOPE in this seemingly hopeless world. We need salvation from our sin. We are in need of a light in the darkness. And this is why we need Christmas.
Our scripture lesson from the prophet Isaiah looks to the future. What Isaiah sees is not taking place now, but “in the days to come.” Isaiah is not naive, but he is hopeful. His prophecies are filled with the hope of Advent. Our scripture describes “people of every nation (who) will stream to Mt. Zion, including those who were enemies of Israel and Judah. God’s instruction will go forth from Jerusalem; God will judge between the nations. The people will be transformed by this teaching. Can you see it? (3)
“They shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war anymore.”
Hope is on the way! We are not there yet, but it is coming. And our challenge is to keep going, just keep swimming, just keep waiting and hoping.
Our text from Matthew describes this waiting… How Jesus shows up when we least expect him. Maybe we don’t even know that we are in need, but he shows up.
Author Brian Stoffregen explains, “Even though we don’t know when the coming will be, the fact that there will be the coming is vitally important for our lives right now. Even though the people in Noah’s day didn’t know about the coming of the judgment, it still came. This text is not so concerned with describing the future as it is a call for repentance and discipleship and readiness right now. The text asks the question: what or who is most important to you now?
In the illustration from Noah, the great sin of the people was not gross immorality or flagrant idolatry; but just too much emphasis on the normal cares and necessities of life. They were concerned about eating and drinking . . . so are we. Especially during Thanksgiving and Christmas and New Years. Our concern about eating and drinking usually increases as we prepare and eat these great feasts.
They were concerned about weddings . . . so are we. A wedding is usually the most important day in a person’s life. Months can be spent planning that perfect day.
There is something more important than your feasts or your weddings: the Son of Man could come. God might show up without an appointment. He could arrive unexpectedly. What would you tell him? “Go away, I’m busy getting this meal ready. We’ve got guests coming tonight.” “Don’t bother me now, it’s my wedding day. I’ve got a million details to take care of.” The question of the text is: what or who is most important to you now?” (4)
Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming… be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.
As we wait, let’s prepare our hearts and minds for the coming of the Lord.
- Advent proclaims in the darkness, “Keep HOPE alive!”
- Advent helps us see the good around us as we wait.
- Advent pushes us to step out from our hiding places, to be the people we are created to be, to rethink our priorities and to be present… to our loved ones, to our relationships, to our work, to our selves and to God.
Let us be present to one another and to God, in the waiting.
- Hillcrest AIDS Center website, https://www.hillaids.org.za/about-us/who-we-are/
- Found on http://hillaids.org.za/Uhambo_Bulletin_05_2010.pdf
- Barbara Lundbland found on http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1896
- Brian Stoffregen found on http://www.crossmarks.com/brian/matt24x36.htm