the 3rd Sunday of Advent
December 13th, 2020
Today’s Readings are:
Isaiah 61:-14, 8-11
1 Thessalonians 5:16-24
John 1:6-8, 19-28
There is no anticipation like the anticipation of a child waiting for Christmas. This past week we bought a Christmas tree. We went out to the little lot near Farr’s hardware store in Coos Bay, strapped it to the roof of the car. The kids sang the whole way home. And I gotta say, so did I. Then we unloaded the thing, dragged it in – more singing, though now dancing. We cleaned up the den, reorganized some furniture, all while talking about Christmases of the past, of when Helene and I were children, about Santa Claus and leaving him cookies, or the time Dad flew us to NJ from Eugene on Christmas Eve to arrive at the crack of dawn on Christmas morning. Then the tree went up and the boxes of ornaments came out, and the girls were bouncing off the walls with joy and anticipation. Mmm, I poured everyone a cup of egg nog and we put up lights and turned on the music and sung along. I put out the trains that I’ve had since childhood – these big G-gauge things – and then turned out all the lights except those on the tree. Christmas is almost here! It’s almost here, and the girls were wild with expectation.
Advent is about preparation, expectation, and anticipation. Sometimes that preparation is soft and gentle and quiet, like sitting in front of the oven and watching the cookies slowly bake, or sipping some ho cocoa at the end of the day when the evening light is blue and the sky is orange and pink. But other times it’s a pretty energy-packed anticipation: like wrapping gifts that you wish you could just give right now because the gift is so great; or thinking about Christmas dinner which somehow is just yummier than any other night, even if it’s the same faire, because it’s Christmas.
During Advent, we’re all just waiting, but I don’t think there’s really just one thing that people are waiting for. Is it Christmas Eve, with the candle light and singing Silent Night? Is it waking up Christmas morning? Is it giving that person you love so dearly that gift and watching them open it and the light in the eyes showing you their joy? Or is it, as I heard some folks talk about it this past week, the joy of serving at our food bank, handing people a bag full of groceries and a ham, no strings attached, just because we love our neighbors and want to give them some of our heart? What are we waiting for? What are we anticipating? Well, really, all of it. All of it tied together and individually, all of Christmas, wrapped up in a bun, from the first Sunday of Advent to the twelfth day of Christmas on January 5th. The whole kitten kabootle.
You know, Mary was waiting, too. Mary was waiting for Christmas, though she didn’t call it Christmas. She probably called it something like “that time” or “when he comes”, like we do when we’re waiting for a birth. And, yes, she was waiting for something very specific – the actual birth – but she and Joseph were probably waiting for much more. Like any parent, they were waiting for all those joys and struggles of parenthood – of teaching their child their traditions, how to love like God loves us, how to be a neighbor and how to live to those in need. Things were going to change, they knew it, but they didn’t know how – not exactly. Something new was on the horizon and, like all parents, they were joyful even though they didn’t really know exactly what it all would look like.
And there’s more. Mary and Joseph knew that this wouldn’t just be their beloved child; he would also be the savior, the promised one of Israel, the Messiah, the one who everyone was waiting for. John the Baptist went out into the wilderness, crying out for all to make straight the path, calling those around him to repentance of sin, because of just this same expectation. He was the person to point to this newness. He was the morning star, shining in the heavens, announcing the coming of the Sun and the bright day after the long night. But did he know what it would look like? Probably not. He was the morning star, but he was still in the dark. Dawn was coming, but what would it be like on the new day? What would the coming of the Messiah look like? What would he be like? Should I kneel down before him or throw my arms around him?
What is this newness that we’re waiting for on Christmas? Well, in a way, it isn’t new at all. Each year we bring out the same ornaments, the same decorations. Each year we drink egg nog or hot cocoa and put up lights, sing the same songs, and do the same kinda things. This year will be a little different with COVID, but those traditions are still there. They don’t go away.
But even still, something new is coming on Christmas. For during Advent and Christmas we don’t just remember those times when the Hebrew people were waiting for the Messiah back 2,000 years ago, or the birth of Jesus and Mary going, “Fwew, alright, now the fun begins.” Church is not just about remembering things but about living them. We prepare during Advent and celebrate during Christmas because that expectation and that newness is happening in our hearts as well. We are being born with Jesus Christ on Christmas; we are being reborn in Jesus Christ in our lives.
Reborn. You know, some times the heart grows kinda musty, doesn’t it? It gets hard, maybe, or brittle, like a cookie you just didn’t bake right. It gets tired, or lonely, or loses its way. Too often, it sins, and we don’t know how to fix things, or even if they could be fixed at all. Our hearts can, far too often, be like that beloved ornament you find at the bottom of a box, all broken to pieces. The sight of it pierces your heart because you know that, if you hadn’t forgotten about it, maybe it wouldn’t be broken, but would be on the tree with all the others. Our hearts are like that sometimes. Our relationship with God is like that sometimes.
And so we turn to God and say, “Fix it, please, God. Fix this heart that’s broken. I can’t even see where the pieces fix anymore.” And God says, “With pleasure. And I shall make it new like you’ve never imagined! And it will not just be an ornament among many but will be the star at the top!”
God fixes things. God makes all things new. And we don’t just remember this, but practice it, live it, each and every time we turn to God. We live it when we turn to our neighbor and apologize for a wrong done. We do it ritually each week when we confess our sins. And we do it when we receive any of the sacraments, and especially the most Blessed Sacrament in the Eucharist. And we do it now, in Advent, awaiting Christmas day, that day that is an image of all of God’s renewal and rescue. For a baby wasn’t just born in Bethlehem two thousand years ago. We were reborn. We were given new life. We were rescued and our hearts mended so that all that we’ve ever longed for or hoped for could come true. That little baby in Mary’s arms is life, and Life everlasting.
And, for now, we wait, while God bends down over our hearts and fixes them. We wait anxiously by his side, wondering if it could really be true that our heart can be mended. It was so broken. We were so lost. But even now, even now God is turning to us and saying, “See, beloved? You are whole again. Let us wipe away those tears. All is new once more.”