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Isaiah 2:1-5; Psalm 122; Romans 13:11-14; Matthew 24:36-44

First this morning, a few words about the translation of the Gospel that I just read. It is from the First Nations Version – An Indigenous Translation of the New Testament (Intervarsity Press, copyright 2021, Rain Ministries Inc.). This copy was a gift from Carolyn Klaassen, Lutheran Indigenous theology student at Vancouver School of Theology, who we have been fortunate to have as our guest for Orange Shirt Sunday the past number of years, with our thanks. The following is the opening notation: “This translation… (p. v) And from the introduction, “The First Nations Version Translation Council humbly submits this new translation… (p. iv) One of the gifts of this translation is they have chosen to follow the “Native naming traditions and use the meaning of names for persons and places in this Great Story.” (p. xii) The prime example is the name of Jesus, which is translated, “Creator Sets Free.” We also heard in the Gospel reading this morning the meaning of the name, Noah – One Who Rests. Each name we hear, as with each image, like the images from this morning, “spirit-messengers from the spirit-world,” “the Great Spirit,” the “true Human Being,” “Honoured Chief,” and “the great wooden canoe,” awaken us to a new way of hearing, and hopefully understanding what the Spirit is saying to us and the community, this Advent. We hope this new translation will bless the word of Creator to us in this awakening, being-ready time. 

           Second, is to ask the question the Gospel asks, are we awake, are we ready for unexpected Advents, arrivals of the True Human Being, of one taken and another left, at times we least expect?

          A few stories of early Advents of Creator Sets Free, of Jesus, to share, I pray, to inspire our awakenings, our being ready for unexpected Advents in our lives, in our life together. 

           One is from a few weeks ago. We were in a Social Justice meeting on Zoom, and we were reviewing the status of those we are sponsoring as refugees, those in our prayers each Sunday, waiting for news of next steps towards their arrival, knowing it can take and has been years already for some, and more waiting as the immigration backlog in Canada grows. As we were going through the review, a member of the committee gave out a shriek. We wondered what had happened in their Zoom world to cause this – a mouse, a rat, a thief! No, they exclaimed, in that moment of reviewing the status of one of the families we are sponsoring, Gift (the translation or meaning of her name) and her child, it had changed to “decision made.” That means, could receive a travel visa and arrive at any time! What an unexpected Advent of Creator Sets Free, of Jesus, that was! Awakening a wonderful need now, to be ready, because they could arrive at any time, at an unexpected hour!

          It has been a week of new life and looming death. As some of you may have heard in prayers of thanksgiving last Sunday, our daughter and family welcomed the birth of their second child early Sunday morning. We were privileged to be with them, to support and celebrate and give thanks together. 

          At the same time, an elder of our community nears death as their family lovingly cares for them in this sacred journey. In messaging each other, a family member said, “birth and death traveling together.” Both Advents I thought, at any moment, at an unexpected hour.

          The birth came as I said, early Sunday morning. Our daughter is a midwife, and she was surrounded by midwives, all ready to assist this Advent into the world of a new human life with great care and attention. And in recognition of the sacred journey and hard work it is to birth a life. There is a beautiful picture of our daughter, her head resting on the side of the birthing pool as she manages the labour pains, and of her mom kneeling beside the pool, her head leaned over close, touching, and her arm around her sharing and supporting her in her pain, along with a sister in the foreground sitting right near by. All these women, midwives, mothers, sisters, and yes, husband too, right there, co-creators in this Advent, until that blessed cry of new life, and tears, of joy, and relief and thankfulness, thankfulness, thankfulness. 

           And where was I, you ask? I almost slept through this joyous Advent, and its relatively quiet happening, waking just before, in a stupor, not very ready to see so many people suddenly around the house, until hearing that distinctive newborn cry, and joining in the tears of joy and wonder at the Advent of a birth that happened almost without my knowing it. And later, another picture, of a two-year-old big sister, holding her little sister, rocking her, patting her, and saying, “it’s okay baby, you’re okay,” and singing her a lullaby, sung by parents to her. Blessed Advent. Blessed birth and new life, gift of Creator, Creator Sets Free, the Great Spirit, at an unexpected hour.

          Days later, at the bedside of a beloved elder, weary of the hard work of life’s ending, asking for help and longing for this life to come to its end and on to the next, I listened and repeated words of our faith, of assurance and release, sharing in the labour pains of death. And I see the image of family members sitting at their side, close, touching, caring, listening, and speaking words of love and comfort, midwives in the sacred journey of dying, in the promise, the faith and hope of new life. This Advent for them, we pray, will mercifully come soon, but no doubt at an unexpected hour. And Creator Sets Free, Jesus is awake and ready, to receive this blessed saint into arms of mercy, grace, and eternal rest. And to embrace those left behind in that same mercy, grace, and blessed peace to live on. Blessed Advent. Blessed death and new life, gift of Creator, Creator Sets Free, the Great Spirit, at an unexpected hour. 

          We gathered again yesterday to consider new visions and priorities for this congregation for the next three years. Part of that visioning, with thanks to Craig for his caring and thoughtful leadership and facilitation, has asked what have we come through, and how has it changed us, where are we now, and what is Creator calling us to be in the near future. A friend recently said so clearly, “the history of pandemics is that they change the world.” How or when is still unfolding, and likely at unexpected times. Our vision as a community in this Advent time is an act of grace through faith, our being trusting and open, awake and ready for the Advent of “Creator Sets Free” of Jesus, at any unexpected hour, in our hearts, our lives, in this God’s beloved, broken world. Only the Great Spirit knows when. And the Creator awakens us, makes us ready, for these Advents of death and new life, in Creator Sets Free, in Jesus, by the great Spirit, and in all our relations, now and forever. Amen.