Sermon November 29 – Advent 1
There is a real dilemma I find with Advent. It is the month that precedes Christmas and is traditionally and liturgically viewed as a time of preparation. Preparation for the coming of Jesus, the Messiah; God with us.
So how do we approach this time of year? Is it a time of celebration? A time of festive parties and uninterrupted joy? Or is it a time of somber reflection?
The tensions around these two different views of the weeks approaching Christmas can often be seen in the conversations around what music to sing as part of Advent. The generally somber Advent hymns found at the beginning of Voices Untied or the far more popular Christmas hymns that follow.
I have landed somewhere in the middle, a proponent of shall we say “why not both.”
I can certainly appreciate the drive to use these coming weeks to create a mood of celebration to squeeze as much joy and happiness out of this time as we can. That certainly makes some sense, especially considering the struggles of the past year and the limits we are facing on our ability to mark Christmas as we are accustomed to doing.
But, when I view things from a more theological point of view, I find it is necessary to take a step back. I find myself asking some pretty serious questions. What is Christmas about? And why and how do we take time to prepare for that?
Today’s readings speak of God intervening. For Isaiah this can be an earth shaking and changing moment. For Mark, Jesus reiterates we cannot know when it will happen. But we need to be prepared and to participate in what is to come.
What is Christmas? Well we all know the answer to that. Celebrating the birth of Jesus. Celebrating that in Jesus God is with us, in human form, come to experience all that it means to be human. Because God loves us that much. But also, because God wants to show us a new way of living. God comes to save the world, to point us to a new heaven and a new earth.
That means that things are not as great as they can be right now. Doesn’t it? Does the fact Jesus comes to show us something new not mean we, as in humanity, have a bit of room for improvement?
Let’s be honest with ourselves. Things are not fabulous right now. I don’t mean we should be miserable and beating ourselves up. There is a lot to celebrate. We have so much to be grateful and we should never lose sight of that. But we need to see the world with clear eyes. We need to be able to recognize that there are some significant parts of this world that are broken.
This pandemic that continues to claim lives and livelihoods has highlighted many of the cracks in our system. We have seen who are most vulnerable to this disease and those whose livelihoods are most at risk. We have been shown that the best way to combat this disease is to show respect and compassion for our fellow human beings by wearing a mask, practicing proper hygiene and observe safe social distancing.
And yet, many of us choose not to recognize these truths. We hold on to a status quo we find comfortable. And with a resistance to change we prolong a darkness that is enveloping us. I will refrain from discussing why some of us resist calls to wear masks or to social distance. Why some people are not moved by calls to act with compassion. In the same way some are not moved by calls for greater justice in racial, gender or economic issues. The reasons for resisting these calls are many. But I wonder if in refusing to act, people have not taken time to see what this world might be if we worked with God.
Today, the first Sunday in Advent is the day we recognize the Hope God offers us. The hope that is found in the promise of the coming of Jesus. That things can and will change. Something new is on its way; a world of justice and peace and brought about by God’s love for creation and the love we share with the rest of this wondrous world.
But it is something we need to prepare for. We need to take time to look at this world with clarity; to recognize that there is brokenness. We need to ask ourselves what part we play in holding on to what is broken. What am I prepared to do to contribute to the change we so desperately need?
We can sometimes get caught in a form of binary thinking. We can either celebrate or mourn. I believe we need to push ourselves to something more nuanced.
We should celebrate and offer praise for the fact we live in God’s wondrous world. We need to express our gratitude for the life God has given us; daily if we can. But at the same time we need to reflect on what this world can be and ask what is keeping us from achieving that vision. How can I work with god; using the gifts God has given me, to bring about that better world. That is living in hope.
Thanks be to God for that hope.
Rev. Warner Bloomfield
Permission to podcast /stream the music in this service obtained from CCL I
streaming license number 20369698, Size A.