1st Sunday Advent 2016 yr A; Isaiah 2:1-5, Ps 122:1-9, Romans 13:11-14, Matt 24: 37-44
The Marriage of Light and Hope
Advent. Advent means preparing for Christmas, right? Advent means shopping. Where are those ornaments I got at 75% off last year? Oh, sorry, this is church. Advent means appearance, that Christ child is coming. We are supposed to wait and prepare. But I can’t wait – I have to prepare!! Ugh, I am so befuddled!
Well, even in the church world Advent can be confusing. We talk about things that have already happened – and things that haven’t happened yet. The already is the stories from the Gospels – John the Baptist, the Jordan river, call to repentance, the rejection of Christ by the Pharisees, Elizabeth and Mary. And we also talk about “not yet” -the Second Coming, end times, last days, death and destruction, heavenly banquet, eternity. Do you feel like you have one foot in 2 entirely different stories, two worlds, neither of which are very comfortable? We’ve left ordinary time behind, and feel more like we’ve been thrown into calendar mania.
The Church says Advent is a time of waiting and preparation. Most of us would love to have some time to sit and wait, or to finish our preparations for “The Holidazes”. Myself, I think I need some rehearsal time for the coming of Christ. I don’t think my head is in the “zone” I want to be in when Christ returns. I think my seasonal affective disorder is kicking in and lighting 4 candles, one a week, may not be enough.
So what to do? Well, at the risk of sounding like a Priest, the customs of the Church for Advent really do supply answers. But these customs come from a different time, a culture past, and while the answers are correct, we need some translation.
Imagine….. a world of no electricity. Imagine nightfall with no street lights, no motion lights, no overhead lights, no bedside reading lights, no desk lights – you would be seeing, …well, nothing, just darkness. When is the last time you could not see your hand in front of your face because there was no light? Hold that image while we talk about a single candle. Suddenly that candle brings hope that morning light will come. It chases back some of the fear. If you are of a certain age, you remember going into the darkest corner of the basement, where the spiders were, with a candle or a dim flash light and replacing the fuse in the fuse box that would turn the lights back on. If you have ever been in a blackout, you can understand the connection to light and hope.
Our Advent candles have names. The 1st one is Hope – that is today. The 2nd week is Peace, the 3rd week (the rose colored one) is Joy, and the 4th week is Love. That is what today’s candle is about – easing out the fear, replacing despair with hope. Hope grows slowly, one candle at a time, giving us precious time for our eyes to adjust. We also need to adjust our perception of life from the darkness that looms in our culture to the promise of a future with light, goodness, and truth. By the 3rd week, when we light the rose candle, we can begin to see that light and joy are building, as we sense the filling of (not our Christmas stockings) but the filling of our souls with the living Spirit of Christ.
No longer overwhelmed by alarm, we find anticipation in Advent. There is constantly fresh amazement that God would choose to be born as a human child, not into wealth or power, but into our messed up world, with egos and pride and cruelty and pain and struggle. It takes more than candlepower to enter our world; it takes illumination from divine wisdom.
That is the place Isaiah is coming from, when we read, “Come, let us go to the house- the dwelling- of God, we will learn God’s ways, we will walk God’s way. Come; let us walk- live, and act- in the light of the Lord.” We can change from people of darkness who think that war solves problems, that might makes right, to people of light who ensure that no child goes to bed hungry. This passage ignites the imagination. It is a call sent out in love, to bring us to the possibility of joy.
Psalm 122 comes from the same place. In the house of the Lord, or we might say, in the Spirit of the Lord, we pray for peace, we pray for security and prosperity, we commit ourselves to not only claim what is good for ourselves, but work for the good of each other, all others.
St Paul wrote the same message, calling us to the light. He calls it the “armor of Light.” There’s a very mixed metaphor! He does not call us to bullet-proof vests, but to enlightenment. Enlightened minds see new ways. Then we will listen to each other, offering healing and forgiveness. In darkness we feel fear and are blind to alternatives. In light we can see truth and that gives us the ability to see the possibility of peace. The image is this: neurotransmitters dashing through our brains, flipping all the light switches on, like little cartoon characters with light bulbs above their heads. Advent says solutions are possible. In Isaiah 43:19 we find, “Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness (of your politics) and rivers in the desert (that is your culture).”
Finally, in the Gospel, Jesus cites the people of Noah’s time as those completely absorbed with the picayune details of daily life, ignoring truth and thus living in darkness, knowing nothing and having no desire to learn. Their end was the flood. They were the opposite of people living in light. Jesus cites the example of a thief breaking into the unguarded house. He’s telling us to be ready for the unplanned, the unexpected, for like joys of the Son of God, the innovation of Spirit. And we, …..with our candles…… will be prepared….and waiting.