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The Rev. Martha Sterne The Rev. Martha Sterne

The Rev. Martha Sterne is an Episcopal priest and author. She lives in Atlanta, GA.

Member of:

The Episcopal Church

Representative of:

Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta, GA


Come, Lord Jesus

Matthew 24:36-44

December 02, 2001

What we call the beginning is often the end.

And to make an end is to make a beginning.

The end is where we start from.

That's from T.S. Eliot's "Four Quartets."

We are at a beginning, you know. Advent. Today is the first Sunday of Advent and the beginning of the new year for Christians, a turn in the spiral of all our years. And what we do on this day is hope. Of course, hoping is one of our main jobs every day everywhere we are. But maybe Advent is the season when we remember that.

And what we hope for on this day of beginning is for the big things, the end things. What we hope for today is for God to come to us. That is what Advent means-to come to. And what we hope God will bring when God comes to us is new creation, new heaven, new earth, new me, new you, new life. At least that is what the faith tells us to hope for, although I'm not sure that we really know much how to do the hoping or even how to talk about it. Do you remember when Huck Finn heard Miss Watson tell him about heaven? "She went on and on," Huck says, "and told me all about the good place. She said all a body would have to do there was to go around all day long with a harp and sing forever and ever. So I didn't think much of it."

It is hard to imagine the end that all of us, all of this old world, is pointed toward. And Christians who do get excited about the end time, the "rapture," and so on, well, sometimes they seem sort of nutty and sometimes they don't appear to care too much about what happens to God's children in the here and the now. And others of us, like Huck, well, we just don't think much of it at all, unless we have to. So, instead, maybe we eat and we drink and we diet. We marry or unmarry or have kids or don't. We work and we buy and we build and then we put in alarm systems to protect all of that and us from the thief in the night. And we sleep. Sometimes it takes a pill or two, but then we sleep.

I read somewhere that the ancients would watch the winter sun arc lower and lower in the sky. And then they would sit afraid, sitting longer and longer each night, and toward this time of year, they would begin to dread the long winter nights and cower near the fire in deep anguish and fear of an unremitting darkness. And there was great weeping and wailing and terror of an endless night.

Now we know better. We can predict the winter solstice to the nanosecond. We even know how many billion years it will be before the sun dims and sputters and goes out. We know so much-quantum physics and heart bypasses and derivatives in the stock market-and so much, so much we know. And, yet, still in the dark sometimes or alone sometimes or in a crowd sometimes, there is deep anguish, and there is terror of an endless night, terror of the final darkness.

So, better not to think about the end. Better not to think that far ahead. Instead, don't think. Go to sleep. Buy something or get caught up in some obsession at work or with another person. Or take a pill. It's better to sleep than to think that far ahead.

Surely, if all there were to choose from is sleeping through your life or being awake and often terrified until you die, then God is cruel. And we human creatures who are the only creatures who know how to dread-oh, we know how to dread tomorrow and we know how to dread no tomorrow-well, we are most to be pitied. If the only choices are either numbing sleep or terror while we wait for the end, then we better run quick and get busy and go to sleep as much as we can-whatever way we can manage. We do not know what waits for us at the end. Nobody knows but the dead. But what today is about, what Advent is about, is to help us hope. To hope that there is another choice of how to spend our time in the waiting room. And we can hope because there is another truth deeper than the dark night, stronger than the dread, more lovely than the sweetest sleep, and that truth is this: that, in the end, God comes. Comes to us. Comes for us. God is always coming to us now and at the end. To hear about God's homecoming, well, I believe that is the truest reason under all the funny little reasons why we go to church or read our Bibles or listen to this radio program. To hear again that, oh, yes, though Christ did die, that Christ is risen. And that thanks be to God, in the end, Christ will come again for us.

So, beloved, how are we going to live toward the end that we hope in Christ is just the beginning?

What about living with a little emptiness? That would be a switch in this culture. When we are busy filling every nook and cranny of our lives, there is no room for new life. So, what about emptying some things? Empty your calendar and see what fills your time. Empty your closets, your pantries, and give some things to people who need them more. Empty yourself. You can't be open to something more unless there is some space inside yourself. What about leaving some room in your life for what will come? What about living with a little emptiness?

And what about living with some openness to new possibilities? If you have made all your choices today, then tomorrow is already decided. What about living with some openness to new possibilities? And what about living as if it all, as if we all, belong to God? Which we do. What about living as if God is not just sitting up in heaven with his wristwatch on, counting the hours down until the last day? What about living as if God is coming to meet us every day? Coming to meet you and also coming to meet the ones you love. So what about trying to stop controlling all the meetings, all the outcomes, and let God come as God will? What about letting go-even of someone you love-and living as if we all belong to God? Which we do!

And while you are letting go with one hand, what about with the other grabbing hold of someone you don't love or maybe don't even know? What about widening your circle of concern? For that same reason that we all belong to God, all the children of the world, so what about us living and insisting that our companies and our towns and our churches and our country live as if we all belong to God, even the weak, even the stranger? What about us living as if we know that God is coming to the whole world, really? What about us waking up and living as if we don't owe anybody anything except to love one another? We don't owe anybody anything, Paul says, except to love one another, including even loving the unlovable. What about living in love? Not sentimental love but real and hard and muddy love that has you reaching in your pocket and reaching in your heart and weeping with those who weep and rejoicing with those who rejoice. You know, 'cause it's in the heart of our story that love like that sometimes lands folks on crosses. So watch out! And then love anyway. What about us living like that-like we don't owe anybody anything except to love each other? Which is the beginning and the end of us all. Love. Love as you are loved, until the end.

What we call the beginning is often the end.

And to make an end is to make a beginning.

The end is where we start from.

Come, Lord Jesus.

Lord, make us instruments of your peace. Where there is hatred, let us sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console, to be understood as to understand, to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. We pray in your holy Son's name. Amen.


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