Advent's Audacity

Preparing and Waiting: Second Sunday of Advent

Malachi 3:1-4
See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight—indeed, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears?
For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap; he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the Lord in righteousness. Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years.

Luke 3:1-6
In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, during the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah,
‘The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:

“Prepare the way of the Lord,
 make his paths straight. 

Every valley shall be filled,
 and every mountain and hill shall be made low,

and the crooked shall be made straight,
 and the rough ways made smooth;

and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” ’

We’re knee deep into Advent, a word that means “coming,” a season where we prepare for Christ’s coming at Christmas and enter into a spirit of waiting.  Last week we gathered at St. Joseph’s Home for Children – a place where children go when they’ve got nowhere else to go, from horrific circumstances and situations, a place without a lot of hope,
and we lit our first Advent candle, the candle of Hope. 

This week when the president announced he will be sending 30,000 more troops into a war we’ve been in for 8 years, when the suicide rate of soldiers is at an all-time high and the Iraqi and Afghan civilian body counts continue to rise,
we light our second Advent candle, the candle of Peace.

And I can’t help but notice the irony of Advent.  Is it some foolish and out of touch tradition? Some religious mumbo jumbo that makes us feel good and has nothing at all to do with real life?  Something to make us feel better about Christmas shopping and gift giving, which is what this season is really about?

And I am sure that next week when we light the candle for “joy”, and the week after that one for “love,” there will be plenty of reasons to feel those things are sadly lacking in our world too and the irony of the Advent practice will continue to burn brightly.

Last week at the family dinner table, we lit our first Advent candle for Hope. 
“What is ‘hope’?” I asked. 
“What?” Owen asked back.
And then Maisy chimed in, “I hope for a present.”
Andy answered her, “No, Maisy, that’s a wish. You wish for a present.  Hope is always about wrongs being made right.”
“Ohhhh…..” said Owen.  “Then I hope for no more nightmares.”
“And I hope for cancer to be destroyed forever.” Andy responded.
“And I hope for peace – for no more wars or fighting ever.” I said.
  Hope. Anticipating, believing, longing for things that are wrong to be made right.

When we went to St. Joe’s for our worship service, we gathered here for a meal together first, and then piled into cars and headed over to their chapel.  We set up and began a small art project, which the kids joined us in doing as they arrived.  When it came time for worship we gathered in a circle and I said, “instead of having church this morning in our church building, we decided to come and have church together with you.” And then we worshiped together. 
And the message was,
Here alongside you, here with you, and even without you if you’d prefer, we will be praying. We will be singing about God’s faithfulness, and trusting that God cares, and believing that I and you matter to God, and bringing our lives to this place with one another before God.  And you are invited into this, and you are part of this.

As we lit the Advent candle of Hope, we talked about how Jesus came and there is nothing we go through that God does not share.  And Jesus is with us now in everything we go through, and we also hope for Jesus to come back and make all things right.  So during Advent, we wait in hope, we wait, feeling the need for things to be made right, and knowing that one day they will.  We are people of Hope, we said.  And we read John 1 and talked about the light coming into the world’s darkness, and darkness never, ever overcoming it. 

And the most powerful point in the evening came when we prayed. We brought out candles and our sand and we did our prayers the way we do here, and one by one we came forward with our prayers, just as we do here.
For my friend with cancer who had a hard Thanksgiving. 
God in your loving mercy, hear our prayer.
 I’m thankful for family from far away coming to visit. 
God, in your loving mercy, hear our prayer. 
For someone who needs a job. 
God in your loving mercy, hear our prayer. 
For another friend who is sick.
God in your loving mercy, hear our prayer. 
And then the first child came up, carefully lit a candle, and said, “I pray for my mom.” 
God in your loving mercy, hear our prayer. 
And the second, “I pray for my mom and dad.” 
God in your loving mercy, hear our prayer. 
And with the same care and tenderness, the same seriousness and Hope, we lifted all of our prayers up to God.

And what we did last week was an act of defiance.   Advent, the season of waiting for Christ’s coming, is an act of protest.  It names the things we wait for, it names them and says they are coming, and declares that even now we see and feel them and assert them to be real.  And if we’re brave we also name the things we wait in, our fears, our war, our struggles and sadnesses, and so say that these things too belong to God and that we belong to God as we wait. 
Last week we named Hope and then we shared it, sat in it, sat with it; even as we shared our own hopelessness and theirs, Hope was real.

So in no way is Advent a passive, sentimental, silly, shallow waiting.  It is a confident, active, aware and audacious waiting.  We wait because he who came and who comes even now IS COMING – we proclaim that, we affirm that. We light these candles in the darkness and say that no matter how dark the darkness gets, it cannot put out the light.

I spent a morning this week with a friend who has an 8 day old baby.  She is living into becoming a mother, the physical and emotional transformation that occurs and makes you able to truly love and care for a child, that changes you so that you can never go back to not being with and for this other being. 

She was describing a puzzling experience she’d been having the last few nights, and prefaced it by saying she knew her body was flooded with hormones and she was astonishingly sleep-deprived, but each evening she got to a completely weepy point, where she held her little son and was flooded with amazement that she got to care for him that he had a family and was loved, and she thought about all the children out there who didn’t have anyone to love them, who were uncared for, she sat in stark realization that even as she held her new baby and he was warm and safe and full, there were children hungry and cold and alone somewhere out there in the world, and it made her cry uncontrollably. Her husband didn’t know what to do with her, and she herself was quite bewildered by this phenomenon.

And as time passes, and she adjusts, and finally gets some rest, and goes back to work, and the baby grows and is naughty and amazing and ordinary, and life continues on, she will be lulled again into the dull myopia we all have, and she wont cry for the parentless children every night any more.  But right now, for this moment, she is aware, she is raw and vulnerable and aware that things are not as they should be.  That we are as helpless as we are responsible, and that we are in desperate need of a savior. 

Have you noticed, as we read our Advent texts, that when the prophets speak of our savior’s return it sounds as much like a promise as it does a warning? “The messenger of this covenant in whom you delight? Sure! He is coming! And when he does, who will be able to endure it? Who can stand when he appears?”  Malachi asks.  Because he is going to be like refiner’s fire, burning away all that wrong not just around but also within us.

There is a scene in C.S. Lewis’ Narnia book, The Lion the witch and the wardrobe, when the children are with the Beavers, and they are talking about the return of Aslan the lion, the true King of Narnia. And the beavers have described him so kind and just and noble, that finally Lucy asks, because he is, after all, a lion, “Is he safe?”  And Mr. Beaver answers, “Safe? Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't safe! But he's good. He's the King, I tell you.'"
Advent isn’t meant to be sentimental and safe.  Because we don’t light a candle and sing and talk about holiday hope and greeting card peace like a bunch of idiots who can’t see the forest for all the Christmas trees, making hope and peace into some schmaltzy seasonal goo we tape up our expensive, obligatory gifts with.

Instead, Advent is voice in the wilderness, far away and a little crazy, calling out, barely noticed above the din of the piped in carols and laughing mall Santas and bombs dropping and hungry children crying.
Advent says, Hope is coming, hope is here. 
Peace is coming, peace is here.
The light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it.

So in the first year of the presidency of Barak Obama, when Tim Pawlenty was governor of Minnesota and Nouri Amalaki was Prime Minister of Iraq, and Ehud Olmert was Prime Minister of Israel, and Bruce Reyes-Chow was finishing his term as Moderator of the PCUSA, and Dancing with the Stars, NCIS and Glee were the top TV shows and everyone was talking about Tom Petters and Tiger Woods…the word of God came…
Prepare the way of the Lord.  Make his paths straight.  Live into his coming now -  Because he who came is coming.  And when he does, everything that is wrong will be made right, and all creation will see the salvation of God.

Amen, and Come, Lord Jesus!


 Advent song: Someone Comes, by Brian Wren.

Someone comes to make things right,
Tomorrow, today, tonight.
Jesus comes to make things right,
Tomorrow, today, tonight.

Angry people will shake hands,
They wont learn war any more.
They wont learn war any more.
Melt your guns and turn them into plows.
Don’t learn war any more.
Don’t learn war any more.

Hungry people will be fed.
They wont be hurt any more,
They wont be hurt any more.
See the children playing in the street? –
 They wont be hurt any more
They wont be hurt anymore.

Hurting people will be healed,
They wont be afraid any more,
They wont be afraid anymore.
No-one’s dirty or unclean,
So don’t be afraid anymore.
Don’t be afraid anymore.

Someone’s coming, coming soon,
 We wont be alone anymore,
We wont be alone anymore.
God is with us, all the time.
We wont be alone anymore,
We wont be alone anymore.

Popular posts from this blog

Not in the "Easter Mood"

A pastor suggesting how you should vote

What Makes God Angry