Just over thirty years ago, author and business executive, Stephen Covey, published his wildly popular book entitled, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, which has sold more than 25 million copies. The second habit that Covey describes is the habit of beginning with the end in mind. According to Covey, beginning with the end in mind means that our lives should be guided by a vision for the future, a desired direction and destination. We should be intentional about imagining who and what we want to be. Just as you would never start constructing a house without first creating a blueprint to follow, we shouldn’t go about the work of building our lives without first discerning a vision and developing a sense of mission and purpose to guide that process of growth and development. In everything we do, we should begin with the end in mind.
Now, you’re probably wondering, “What do Stephen Covey and the habits of highly effective people have to do with the season of Advent?” (I’m really glad you asked!) The season of Advent marks the start of new liturgical year. Today is New Year’s Day according to the Christian calendar. Today is a new beginning. And yet, did you notice that our gospel reading is not about the beginning but about the end? There is nothing in our gospel today about getting ready for the birth of a baby, but there is a lot about getting ready for the birth of a new creation. There’s nothing about in our gospel today about getting ready for the commencement of a new liturgical year, but there is a lot about getting ready for the eventual consummation of all things. In other words, the season of Advent is all about beginning with the end in mind.
So, what does that mean? What does it look like for you and me to begin with the end in mind? In the gospel reading today, Jesus speaks about signs in the sun, moon, and stars. He speaks about a time when the heavens will be shaken, a time when people will faint from fear and foreboding. Jesus speaks about distress and confusion among the nations of the earth. All we have to do is add a global pandemic to the list, and Jesus could be reading the headlines from the latest edition of the New York Times! But notice that in the midst of all of this impending doom and destruction, Jesus tells his disciples to do two things: stand up and lift up your heads. We you see these things beginning to take place, stand up and lift up your heads. In other words, in the midst of the confusion and chaos of the world around us, we are called to live as a people of conviction and courage.
First, we are called to live with CONVICTION. To stand up and lift up our heads implies that there is something worth believing in. There is something worth fighting for. There is something worth standing for. We believe that God has a vision for all of humanity. And not just for all of humanity, but all of creation. A vision of healing and restoration. A vision of abundance. A vision of new life and new creation. And so, to be a people who begin with end in mind is to be a people who live with the conviction that the present condition of the world is not the end of the story. We stand up and lift up our heads, because we believe that one day God will renew all things. One day there will be no more pain or sorrow. No more disease. No more injustice. No more hatred and division.
So, we are called to live with CONVICTION and we are correspondingly called to live with COURAGE. To stand up and lift up our heads means that despite the challenges going on in our world and in lives, we can be confident in God’s promises. We can stand with courage knowing that God is working all things for our good. We walk by faith and not by sight. In just a few moments, we will join Chase and Jen in renewing the promises of our Baptismal Covenant. We commit ourselves to live a particular kind of life. We commit ourselves to the radical ethic of serving and loving one another as Christ as served and loved us. We commit ourselves to strive for justice and peace among all people. We commit ourselves to seek wholeness and to respect the dignity of every human being. The promises we make in our baptismal covenant are not for the faint of heart. They require conviction and courage. They require us to stand up and lift up our heads. They require us to hold fast to God’s vision for the world. They require us to begin with the end in mind.
And all of this is really hard to do. Because we look at our world and we see so much brokenness, so much pain, so much distress and confusion among the nations of the earth. That it can be hard to even glimpse God’s vision. So, in conclusion, I invite you to consider the follow analogy. In 1501, the Renaissance artist Michelangelo began work on his massive sculpture of David. He was forced to work with a slab of marble of inferior quality that had already been worked on by several other artists over a period of nearly 40 years. The large marble slab had been neglected and exposed to the elements for 26 years before Michelangelo was granted the commission to complete his masterpiece.
According to tradition, later in his life when Michelangelo was asked how he accomplished these amazing works of art, he is reported to have said, “The sculpture is already complete within the marble block before I ever start my work. It is already there, and I just have to chisel away the superfluous material.” The sculpture is already complete within the marble block before I ever start my work. Michelangelo looked at an inferior, neglected and forgotten piece of marble and he saw something beautiful. Michelangelo looked at what others had rejected, and he saw a masterpiece. All because he began with the end in mind.
My friends, do you and I have the conviction and foresight to look at the world around us and see God’s masterpiece? Do we have the vision to look through the brokenness and fear and pain and catch a glimpse of God’s dream for humanity and all of creation? Do we have the courage to take out our chisels and to chip away at injustice, division, hatred, and all that seeks to separate us from God and one another? As we begin this season of Advent, as we begin this new year together, my prayer is that we will begin with the end in mind, that we will stand up and lift up our heads, and that we will commit ourselves to be a part of God’s dream, God’s vision, God’s mission for each one of us, for this church, and for the world.