Happy New Year!

the First Sunday of Advent
November 29th, 2020

Today’s readings are:
Isaiah 64:1-9
Psalm 80:1-7, 16-18
1 Corinthians 1:3-9
Mark 13:24-37

If you don’t have a Bible handy, click here for these readings.

Happy New Year! It may be November still, and you might still be sleeping off your turkey dinners from last Thursday, but it is Advent nevertheless! Outside, our culture might be winding down 2020, but for us Christians in the Church, we’re all about “put the old year behind us” and “welcome the new year ahead of us.” It’s purple time, Advent time, the time for preparing and expectations.

            Now, our modern culture is also preparing and expecting, but in a very different way. For our culture, “preparing” about energy, busyness, rushing about getting this ready. Holiday decorations have been out for more than a month, and most holiday movies I can remember are about rushing around. Busy busy busy.

            The image I have, actually, is of my pet hamster that I had as a kid. The hamster had a litter of hamster pups, and I remember looking into her cage as she was trying to keep them all in her little nest. There were several pups, and one of them, now and again, would pop out of the nest and go scrambling to the other side of the cage. The mother would suddenly leap up and go to gather it back to the nest, but while she did, another pup would, pop!, hop out and go rushing around the cage. The mother would deposit the first pup back in the nest, then go after this other pup. But as she did, another pup would fling itself out and go rushing about. Back and forth and back and forth the mother would go, and there was no end to it. That’s kinda how December works for our culture: we’re so busy preparing that we run ourselves exhausted. By Christmas, all we want to do is sleep and not think about how, by January (if not December 26th!), we should probably have all our decorations down already.

            But we Christians, we’re called on to prepare differently. And we may look around at all this frantic energy and think, well, let’s just do the opposite. Let’s be quiet, easy, gentle. Let’s not put up lights or sing and let’s be all dour and kinda blah. Let us wait patiently, like a well-trained dog with a biscuit on its nose, waiting for its master to give the command so we can flip it into our mouths and eat.

            But Advent isn’t about obedience – not like a trained dog anyway. Advent is about preparedness, about holy preparedness. It’s about preparing our hearts, minds, spirits, and communities for the presence of the Lord.

            You see, we’re living in a story. The Christian life is about a story. It’s about the story of God in our hearts, and it’s about the story of God in the Church, the world, and in history. And we Christians don’t read this story like a picture book, where we sit with it for a while and, when we’re done, say, ahh, yes, that was very nice, wasn’t it, and put it back up on the shelf. We live that story. We become a part of it. And one of the ways we live it is through the Church Year.

            Each year we live through the life of Jesus Christ in Christmas and Epiphany, Lent and Easter. We live through the birth of the Church on Pentecost and the whole movement of the Holy Spirit among us during the long season of Ordinary Time. And living through them, we experience the presence of God in all the different ways that God is among us, from the joys of Christmas to the grief of Good Friday and into the sudden and overwhelming joy of Easter. And living God’s story like this works God’s presence deeper and deeper into our hearts, until we become that story, until we eat, breath, speak, and love that story as who we are.

            And today this morning, we begin that story again. We begin before Christmas, way back in the time of Isaiah and the Psalmist, where the promises of God’s presence seemed so far off. We walk with Isaiah who is so ready for God: O that you would tear open the heavens and come down!” I’m ready, Lord! Let’s get on with it, he says.

            Then there’s the Psalmist, who is also waiting, though with a little less frustration but all the same yearning. The Psalmist is like a kid who just can’t wait until Christmas morning but who waits, diligently counting down the days one by one, who looks out at all the lights going up and the decorations all around the house and who prays with his insides bursting, “Oh, let time go faster, God! I can’t wait!” “Restore us, O God of hosts” he sings. “Show us the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved!”

            And then there’s Jesus himself, who says, “Keep awake!” Keep awake, my children, for the Lord is nigh!

            Or look to our Advent hymns. O Come O Come Emmanuel is about deep, deep longing for something good beyond our wildest dreams. We are captive, we sing, and we mourn in lonely exile here – until the Son of God appear.

            This isn’t the hyper energy of our culture, nor is it the kind of easy patience that doesn’t really do anything but wait with a quiet smile. We’re not just sitting here moaning, asking God from the back of the car, “Are we there yet?” There is an activity in all this, but it is directed, thoughtful, hopeful, earnest activity. Think of those times you stayed up late, until the kids were asleep, wrapping their gifts, your heart high because you know that, when they’re opened, they’ll bring such delight. Or think of those times at our food bank, when folks come in who are just hungry, but you hand them not just a bag of groceries but good cheer and hope as well. I think of the time in our church service, right after the confession but before the absolution, that time of silence where our hearts are heavy with our sin but we know, because we know God, that we are forgiven and repaired to the Lord. Think of, after a long, tired trip, you see that first sight of home, and your heart rises in your chest and your mind thinks of all the comforts that will soon surround you and the deep slumber that you’ll find in your own bed.

            For the tone of our waiting and expectation isn’t the command “Do it now!”, nor is it tinged with doubt, but it is this: “Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel SHALL come to thee.” “We shall be saved!” Stay awake, not because Jesus might come back but because he WILL come back – and, as I said in my sermon last week, he’s already here among us.

            We are entering now into a purple time. Sure, it’s raining more often, sunset happens at something like 4:00 here in Oregon, and even at noon the sun is pretty low on the horizon. It’s a dark time, but not a bad-dark time, but a dark time of reflection, of thoughtful and quiet reflection. It’s a time to crack open the Bible beside a single lamp and read those parts that fill us with hope. It’s a time to light a candle before dinner and turn off all the lights, then sing a hymn of expectation and hope with your family. It’s a time for a long walk in the morning before the sun gets up, not just to keep healthy and give the dog some exercise, but also to see the stars twinkling in expectation of the coming dawn. For those are our hearts as well, twinkling at the expectation of our Lord upon us.

            Christmas is on the horizon. Restore us O Lord God of hosts; show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved.

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