Advent Reflections- First Sunday of Advent
- Posted on Dec 3, 2019
Now is the moment to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us than when we became believers….Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light…..put on the Lord Jesus Christ. Romans 13: 11 ff
In the name of God, who calls us to awake, await and let go. AMEN.
As we begin a new liturgical year in the church and a new lectionary year (the Gospel of Matthew), we start out with a disturbing passage from the Gospel. Jesus tells his disciples to be ready—ready for the coming of the Son of Man.
It all sounds rather ominous….the coming of the Son of Man will be like a flood….if we are unaware, we will be swept away.
Two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left.
Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left.
What might all this mean?
In our first reading, the prophet Isaiah asks for the people of Judah and Jerusalem to get up on a high mountain…to survey the broad scope of the land below. And then see that God will turn swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks. They shall learn war no more but walk run the light of the Lord.
And then Paul, in his Letter to the Romans, tells us to put on the armor of light, to put on the Lord Jesus Christ.
Again, what might this mean? At the beginning of a new year, we’d like better marching instructions!
It seems tone that this call to be awake—is a call to look within and then take action.
And it is a call to action that is different than our usual calls to actions.
It is not about us vs them. About war against our enemies.
Richard Rohr says that “Advent is, above all else, a call to full consciousness and a forewarning about the high price of consciousness.”
Indeed, Rohr says that “the price of real transformation is high. It means that we have to change our loyalties from power, success, money and control (our kingdoms) to the Lordship of Jesus and the Kingdom of God…..All our safety nets must now be of secondary or tertiary importance or even let go of. What you trust to validate and secure you is your real god…..and Advent is about each of us asking ourselves: (Richard Rohr, Preparing for Christmas: Daily Readings for Advent)
Will my real God please stand up?
That’s a hard task.
We think so many things in life give us happiness and security—but we realize in times of great upheaval—illness, tragedy, chaos—-most of our gods do little for us and, in fact, prevent us for letting God’s truth break into our lives.
For every place in the world that you live, there is some bag or kit or gadget that seems to keep you safe.
In California, it might be an earthquake bag.
On Hatteras Island, your hurricane bag.
Smoke alarms, burglar alarms (ring!), fire extinguisher, generators.
All important in some sense—and good to have nearby.
It makes us think that we have done all we could—that we are prepared.
BUT I think that there is a difference between being prepared and being awake.
How can you really be prepared for the future that you don’t really know?
And truth be told, in the face of a major earthquake (the big one), a tsunami, a catastrophic fire…..those bags and extinguishers—often tucked away from plain sight—will be of little use.
It seems to me that the Advent message is about two surprises.
First, that the future is never really what we’d thought it would be.
On Friday evening, we drove back from visiting our daughter in Detroit ahead of the forecast winter weather.
We arrived in Grantsville and had a nice dinner before driving home for a leisurely evening.
But as we drove up to the top of our driveway, we noticed our power line on the ground at the top. The power was still on but all the electrical meters and wires were pulled off the house.
Not a leisurely evening anymore!
Our first call was to the power company—who said they’d send a crew, but to expect that the power might be turned off. Additionally, we would be responsible for getting an electrician to fix the power line and meters back on the house.
The power company crew came—one very nice gentleman—who said he could fix the problem right then and there, reattach the electrical wires and we only lost power for about 20 minutes.
Next problem was the cable and internet.
A call to Atlantic broadband said a week until it would be fixed—and a big Ravens game on Sunday.
On Saturday though, Atlantic Broadband showed up and fixed the cable.
Not one thing about any of our Friday evening and Saturday could have been planned or prepared for….we just had to be awake for the possibilities and interactions.
Jesus is saying that most of our little gods in life are like that.
All the preparation in the world is not what it is all about.
In order to live a Kingdom life of love and life in the face of death, we must live a whole new way—-a way that involves putting on the Lord Jesus.
Just as we put on our innermost clothing each day, that is the closeness that is required.
Not a bag tucked away in a closet or behind the stove.
Can we let our false gods go? How do we know the closeness of God?
Sometimes we have to wait in order to see what our false gods might be. And the best way to become awake is often to struggle with the waiting.
And that’s when we are in for the second big surprise.
We find out that we can only prepare so much for the future.
And then we find that the waiting is not our waiting, but the waiting of the Beloved, the waiting of God for us.
Jan Richardson is a retreat leader and writer who write a good deal about Advent.
Jan married relatively late in life and she and her husband Gary worked together on retreats—she the writer and poet, he the musician and song writer.
After a few years of marriage, he unexpectedly died at the beginning of Advent.
So Jan has done a great deal of work trying to be awake at a time of year that she would like to curl up, pull the covers over her head and wait for the season to pass.
She says that yes, Advent is about waiting….Some Advents we are awaiting a happy occasion—the birth of a child, a marriage, a reunion, a promotion….but I think the most awake we become in the waiting is when we have had an experience of waiting that ends in devastation instead of joy…..when we have kept a vigil that drew us into grief instead of celebration.
Perhaps it is the first year after someone we live in our family or a dear friend is very ill….perhaps it is an Advent when we approach a Christmas with a heavy heart for ourselves or someone we love.
If we can wait in this bittersweet sense of Advent, sometimes we come upon the sense that there is a vigil being kept for you, that you are being waited for…..that you are being watched over…that there is one that lingers at the edge of our awareness; breathing with us and blessing us as we move through these days.
It’s when we sense that other presence close by….walking with us, watching with us, that we realize that the Lord Jesus himself is there…..and all we need to do is reach out and pull him over our head like a warm turtleneck, a turtleneck we wear every day.
And the love begins to emanate from us—and the false gods fall away, and we know whether in tragedy or joyous times or just the every day—we are enfolded in this brilliant life-giving love and no other gods will do.
Something has been born in us . . . not outside of us….within us.
As Rilke wrote:
“Fear not the strangeness you feel (for this new way WILL feel strange)
The future must enter you long before it happens.
Just wait for the first,
For the hour of new clarity.”
Clothed with Christ.
The Light Bearer.
That sees it all, and loves us still. AMEN.
(c)2019. The Rev. Martha N. Macgill
An Advent poem from Jan Richardson from Circle of Grace: A Book of Blessings for the Seasons.
Blessed are you
Who bear the light
In unbearable times,
To its endurance
Amid the unendurable,
Who bear witness
To its persistence
When everything seems
Blessed are you
The light lives,
The brightness blazes
An altar where
In the deepest night
Can be seen
The fire that
Shines forth in you
In unaccountable faith,
In stubborn hope,
In love that illumines
Every broken thing