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2:1 The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.
2:2 In days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it.
2:3 Many peoples shall come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
2:4 He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; 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 any more.
2:5 O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the LORD!
24:36 “But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.
24:37 For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.
24:38 For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark,
24:39 and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man.
24:40 Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left.
24:41 Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left.
24:42 Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.
24:43 But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into.
24:44 Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.
Today, we commemorate World AIDS Day. Today, we also enter into the season of Advent, the season of anticipation, waiting and hope. Today, some folks are running the Singapore Marathon. Some have crossed the finishing line, and some are still running.
What has World AIDS Day, the first Sunday of Advent and the Singapore Marathon do with one another? Perhaps it will all make sense after I am done. Perhaps it will not.
Some of you here were not even born when AIDS was first recognized by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 1981.
Few of us can understand the fear in the 80s when very little was known about AIDS and HIV. What they knew was that people were dying and dying in very visible ways. Many wasted away when the disease ravaged their bodies, leaving thin frames of the persons they once were. Many developed Kaposi’s sarcoma – having purplish red lesions on their bodies – marking them as the new lepers.
My mentor, Rev Jim Mitulski was the Pastor of MCC San Francisco during the height of the epidemic. By the time he left MCC SF in 2001, he had officiated at over 500 funerals, sometimes 6 to 8 a week.
150 Eureka street, the address of MCC San Francisco was a place of healing. It was church – the city on a hill for hope in a time where there is no hope.
When Jim left MCC SF, SF Chronicle published an article and described MCC SF – “It was a place in the mid-1990s where people dying of AIDS could get marijuana to alleviate their pain and — to the chagrin of many neighborhood merchants and residents — a place where the homeless could come for food. It’s been a de facto gay-lesbian community center. It’s also been home to numerous nonprofit groups, offering counseling and support 18 hours a day, seven days a week.”
Jim was diagnosed with HIV in 1995. In 1998, He was told he didn’t have much time left by his doctor. He went into a coma, but he recovered from it. And he said – every single day i live since that day is a gift, and i ask God what is your will for me?
Today – HIV isn’t the spectre it used to be. It is now seen as a manageable chronic illness – with medication, many people can maintain undetectable levels of HIV in their system. It is not a cure, but we have moved far from the crisis in the mid-1980s. I wonder if they could imagine this day, back when everything seemed hopeless.
Our work is not done just because HIV/AIDS is manageable.
In 2011, UNAIDS announced Getting to Zero – “Zero new HIV infections. Zero discrimination. Zero AIDS-related deaths.” We are not there yet.
We are still not at zero new HIV infections. In Singapore, the number of HIV infections reported still continues to increase every year. While condom use is proven effective in HIV prevention, people are still getting infected. Substance use, prevalent in the gay community, is a major contributor to the spread of HIV.
We are still not at zero discrimination. I know personally of people who lost their jobs because of their HIV status. Singapore is one of the countries in the world that denies entry to HIV-positive persons. Those who test positive in Singapore are deported / expelled as well. I really don’t know what is purpose does these deportations serve.
We are not at zero AIDS-related deaths. While there is medication, not everyone has access to it.
It seems like an impossible task. Something beyond us. Some objective that we won’t be able to reach.
Yet, we anticipate and hope. We hope because we know of the One who came and will come again – the One who showed us Love is stronger than Death. We wait expectantly for Christ, for Christmas.
Advent is the season of hope. Of anticipation. Of waiting. It is the 4 weeks leading up to Christmas. Advent is the time we look forward to celebrate the coming of Christ, the one we call Emmanuel – “God is with us.” It is a time of preparation and reflection. We look back in where we have been, what we have done, and we look ahead and see what we must do.
Is this anticipation and expectation like staying up to open Christmas presents on Christmas morning? For those of you who do not celebrate Christmas in the same way as the West, perhaps like opening your ang baos (red packets) on Chap Goh May (the 15th day of the Lunar New Year). [sometimes cultural translations are necessary]I hope not. I hope the meaning of Christmas isn’t distorted into a consumerist occasion where our relationships become defined by the gifts we give one another.
Ten years ago, while I was running the marathon, my best friend fetched the bride. This year, after years of hope and anticipation – and trying- they are expecting their first child in two weeks’ time.
Like Mary expecting Jesus. Like how our mothers expected us.
Advent is the season of expectation. Of waiting. Of hope.
Most of us would not really fully understand the experience of parents-to-be, but many of us would know of parents-to-be – our siblings, our friends, our colleagues.
There is apprehension – whether they would be good parents or not; there is excitement – over a someone who would change their lives forever; there is hope.
We also see parents-to-be change – there are many things to prepare for. Some couples take pre-natal classes. Many of them reprioritize things in their lives for the sake of the child. Certainly, there is going to be forgoing of some things (like nights out in town with friends), and there certainly is going to be some tightening of belts because having a child is not cheap, and there is going to be a lot of sacrifice – waking up in the middle of the night to feed the child.
There is going to be change in attitude and behaviour. Becoming parents means taking on responsibilities.
In this season of Advent, are we expecting Christmas, and Christ, like how parents-to-be expect their child?
How do we prepare ourselves for Christmas?
Certainly not through Christmas shopping.
Today’s lectionary passage from Matthew is about being ready. It is about preparation. It is about being prepared not knowing when the second coming happens.
How do you prepare yourself for Christmas?
Like a parent preparing for the arrival of a child. Like an expecting mother, knowing that this child will change your life.
It is coming to the end of the year – a time to take stock, evaluate. Many of you would have done performance appraisals or evaluations.
Perhaps to prepare yourself for Christmas, you should take time to think about and reflect on the past 11 months. What have you done, what have you not done? What is the single thing you are most proud of? What is the single thing you regret the most? What relationships were strengthened? What relationships were broken?
Dare you hope for things to be different? Dare you allow the Christ child to change your life? Dare you do things differently, not tomorrow, not next year, but now?
Hope isn’t about passively sitting, waiting for things to happen.
Advent is about waiting actively. About preparing for the arrival of a child. About the joy and the fear, and the apprehension, and the transformation, because Advent is about Love made flesh.
We hope, like Isaiah’s prophecy – that “In days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it. Many peoples shall come and say, “Come, let us go to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk his paths.”
I want to end today’s sermon with a reading of an excerpt from Martin Luther King’s speech “Beyond Vietnam” delivered at New York’s Riverside Church on April 4 1967.
We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history there is such a thing as being too late. Procrastination is still the thief of time. Life often leaves us standing bare, naked and dejected with a lost opportunity. The “tide of affairs of men” does not remain at the flood; it ebbs. We may cry out desperately for time to pause in her passage, but time is deaf to every plea and rushes on. Over the bleached bones and jumbled residue of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words: “Too late.” There is an invisible book of life that faithfully records our vigilance or our neglect. “The moving finger writes, and having writ moves on…”
We must move past indecision to action. If we do no act we shall surely be dragged down the long dark and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight.
Now let us begin. Now let us rededicate ourselves to the long and bitter – but beautiful – struggle for a new world. This is the calling of the [children] of God, and our [sisters and]brothers wait eagerly for our response. Shall we say the odds are too great? Shall we tell the struggle is too hard? They choice is ours, and though we might prefer it otherwise we must choose in this crucial moment of human history.
O come, all ye faithful, in expectation, in anticipation, in hope for the coming of Christ.