Sermon for the First Sunday in Advent, December 3rd, 2017
Caramel Cake. It is a taste of heaven, but if you have ever tried to make one then you probably know what a test of patience they are. The cake is basic enough, but let’s be honest, it’s just a vehicle for the icing, and the icing is tricky. If you want to go home and try this, good luck to you, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Here is what happens with caramel icing: you mix your sugar, and butter and evaporated milk together in a saucepan, get it all dissolved and melted, put it on the heat and then you wait. But this isn’t the type of waiting where you can set your timer and walk away, take a nap or catch up on a few television shows. Caramel icing will not be treated so casually. You have to stay there with it, watching it intently. You have to look for the gradual signs of browning, evidence that the miracle of caramelization is taking place. You give it a regular stir, you smell it, you look for changes in color and consistency, but mostly you wait attentively, because you don’t know the precise moment when the caramel will appear.
To walk away or get distracted is to risk absolute ruin. To rely solely upon the approximate time given you in the recipe is folly, because the miracle of caramelization is bound to no man’s schedule. It could take an hour, it could take an hour and a half, maybe more. If you think that you can beat the process by turning the heat up, think again. You’ll be testing your smoke detector before you know it. No, with caramel icing, one must actively watch and wait, keeping your eyes open to the miracle that is about to occur, knowing that the effort will eventually produce a heavenly reward.
It’s not just caramel cake of course, any type of caramel requires similar vigilance. It’s not just sweets either; if you have ever tried to make a dark roux for a gumbo, it’s the same process. It’s the same miracle. Timers are of little use. Shortcuts are usually a waste of time. Even the virtue of patience is not enough. A pot roast takes patience, but then you can more or less forget about it until it is done. You throw the right ingredients into your crock pot and then go on about your life. Caramel requires more than patience, it requires attention. It isn’t just a matter of waiting; it is waiting with your eyes open, knowing that at any moment you may be called to act or respond.
Attention is a valuable thing. There is probably a reason that we use the expression “to pay attention” because attention, on some level is costly. Like time, there is only so much of it that we have to give, so we would be wise to be careful about where we spend it, or what we give our attention too. You may not think that a caramel cake is worth your time and attention. You’d be wrong, but that’s your business. Maybe a sticky, delicious cake isn’t your thing, but you should at least ask yourself: “what is worthy of my attention?”
Here we are at the First Sunday of Advent when the church turns its eyes, its attention, not yet toward our Lord’s birth in Bethlehem, but first to that future day when our Lord will return in glory. We are looking to “the last day when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead” as our collect this morning invites us to pray.
C.S. Lewis once pointed out in an essay that when Jesus spoke about his return he made three things clear: 1. That he certainly would return. 2. That no one would know the day or time and 3. That therefore one has to be always prepared and ready. And Lewis pointed out that it’s the third point, the “therefore” part that is really important. God wants our attention. He wants us to live our lives with our eyes opened to what he is doing in the world and with hearts that are ready to respond to him at any moment. God isn’t just trying to catch us unaware…if he wanted to do that he just wouldn’t have told us he was coming at all. What God wants is for us to pay attention. He isn’t going to let us know the date and time of his arrival, because God wants to be a part of all of our days, not just the last few.
Advent is such an important season, there to remind us that Christ is our future as well as our past. Now I’m not one of those Advent purists that refuses to acknowledge Christmas, let anyone have fun in December or even decorate before Christmas Eve, but if I want to truly appreciate Christ coming into the world on December the 25th, then I need to pay attention to the ways in which he may be breaking into my world every other day of the year. In other words, I need to be able to live in a perpetual Advent, always keeping a watchful eye out for what God is doing, always prepared to respond to him. Having a real relationship with God, means paying attention to him all the time. You can’t just say “wake me when he gets here.”
It would be great if our spiritual life was like a pot roast: just throw in the right ingredients in the beginning, go on with your life and come home to a delicious feast at some point in the future. I know that that is how many people see religion. But from our Lord’s words in the gospel though, I am led to believe that it is probably more like that caramel cake: something that requires vigilance and attention, with eyes that are open to signs of change and hands that are ready to respond. Yes, it does require more work, it requires more attention, which is costly, but when the miracle occurs, the reward is heavenly.
For your edification and viewing pleasure you may listen to the above mentioned C.S. Lewis essay here: