Sermon for December 2nd, 2018
I had a wonderful 5thgrade teacher named Mr. Boggs. Like most good teachers, Mr. Boggs could be a tad eccentric, and one of the things that he insisted on in his classroom, was that whenever an adult entered the room, the entire class was to stand at attention. Now I understand that this may have been common in an earlier age, but when I was in grade school, it was not. He is the only teacher I ever had that insisted upon this. We were the only class that did it.
It was a pretty simple rule actually. It didn’t matter what we were doing, what lesson was being taught, what story was being read, or what project or assignment we were working on; if an adult walked into the room, we were to stop, stand, and listen. And it didn’t matter if it was the principal, or the janitor; both were offered the same respect.
It was a quaint practice even at the time; I wonder if anyone still practices it. I suppose if you have served in the military, that it is rather the equivalent of your commanding officer entering the room and someone calling out “Attention!” You stop what you are doing, you stand, lift your head, look up and listen. Armies throughout the world and throughout history have taught their soldiers that practice. It makes sense for soldiers to be taught that kind of obedience. In a battlefield situation, things can change very quickly; you need soldiers that can refocus their attention and their priorities at a moment’s notice. Soldiers need to be able to respect authority and to take commands.
It may seem like an odd thing to ask of a bunch of 5thgraders though, but my teacher wanted us to learn respect and one of the most old-fashioned ways to show respect to someone is to stop what you are doing and stand. If you watch an old movie, you may notice that the gentlemen rise whenever a lady approaches or leaves the dinner table. During mass, when the gospel is proclaimed, the congregation stands. For us, it is a recognition that as Christians, our commanding officer has entered the room and is about to speak to us, so we stand at attention. If you attend a performance of Handel’s Messiah this holiday season, during the Halleluiah Chorus it is very traditional for people to stand. The story goes, that King George the Second, when hearing this performed for the first time was so moved by the piece and by his desire to show respect to the ‘King of Kings’ that the choir was singing about, that he stood. Of course, when the king stands, everyone else stands, and so a tradition was born. We stand to show respect.
Mr. Boggs was a great teacher and we loved and respected him. So we went along with his little rule. When an adult entered the room, we stood up. We became known as the class that stands when someone enters. It was a part of our identity. We were the class that showed respect. We were the class that took notice when you walked into the room. It was a bit odd at first. We were all so used to just focusing on whatever our assignment was, whatever it was that we were doing, that it was a real change for us to be constantly aware of what was going on around us: who was coming and going, who was in the room. Before, we could just tune all that out, but now we all had the classroom door in our side view, just in case someone were to walk in. After all, no one wanted to be the last one to stand up. That would be embarrassing. And if you saw someone coming, you made sure that your friends knew it. You got their attention.
That was a long time ago, but I thought about that class and that teacher this week when I read the gospel and heard Jesus telling his followers that when distressing things happen in the world to: “stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” Jesus says to them: “Be on guard that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life and that day catch you unexpectedly like a trap…be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”
We have come to the First Sunday in Advent. Advent, is about the coming of Christ. Yes, in a few weeks we will remember God being born into the world in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, and we do prepare for that. We need to prepare for that; but Advent is first and foremost about reminding us of the need to prepare for Jesus coming into our lives here and now. Today, tomorrow, next week, next year, or maybe even before I finish this sermon. Advent is a reminder that Christ has promised to be our future as well as our past. He is our end as well as our beginning. We remember at all times his promise to return; we say every week that we believe that “he shall come again, with glory to judge both the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.” But in Advent we are called to take special notice. In Advent we are called to look for his approach, and maybe think about how he will find us when he does come. In Advent we are called to stop, stand and listen to the one who is coming into the room.
There is the old joke: Jesus is coming! Look Busy!
As if busyness is what Jesus is going to be looking for when he returns. As if Jesus is going to be impressed by my slavish devotion to mundane tasks when he comes in glory to create a new heaven and a new earth. Keeping our heads down, staying on task, getting stuff done, making our lists, checking them twice, that might make us feel important and productive (and the Lord knows I love to feel productive, but then again, so does the devil). But when our redemption comes, Jesus didn’t say that he would show up in our email inbox, or on our shopping lists, or on our laptops. As a matter of fact, all of that stuff can just distract us, we can be so consumed and weighed down by it, that when Jesus does come into our lives, we don’t even notice. We don’t even look up from our work.
Jesus tells us that if we want to see him when he comes, we need to stand up and raise our heads.
Thinking back to my 5thgrade class, I always knew that nothing I was working on was so important, that I couldn’t at any moment be asked to stop what I was doing, stand and raise my head. Finishing your homework is important, but one thing Mr. Boggs taught me, is that it is never as important as showing respect to the one who is coming into the room. Perhaps it’s not a bad way to live your life.