When all else fails...
Happy New Year - This is the first Sunday in the new liturgical year - We have just read the first passage in the Gospel for the Lectionary Cycle year C - which basically means that we are going to hear more readings from the Book of Luke than from any other gospel during the coming year - which will end The Sunday before Thanksgiving next fall.
I love to preach - but I have to admit that when I saw what the text was for this Sunday, the first Sunday in Advent, I audibly groaned. Christmas is coming - we are all in the midst of preparing for a joyful season - and along comes This passage which is referred to as the little apocalypse - no surprise - it alone breeds a sense of fear and foreboding -
I guess to understand the passage we have to have some information about where Advent came from - and its general purpose - As Christmas evolved into a celebration of the nativity - during the 4th century, Advent began to evolve as a time of spiritual preparation for Christmas . It was patterned after lent, with penitential duties - fasting and praying -- usually these elements were added in as the church sought to reduce the number of pagan customs that were gradually being assimilated into our Christian traditions.
During the 6th century, Rome instituted Advent. but suddenly the tenor of the season changed. Pope Gregory the Great reduced the number of Sundays from 6-4. He also inadvertently determined the tone for the season, by using our text for today to offer hope to Roman's who had just survived a devastating storm. This decision was mistaken for a statement from the Pope on his theological interpretation of the first Sunday in Advent - It was adopted and has shaped our celebration of Advent since -
so today we enjoy a skillful blend of readings in Advent that range from joyful anticipation to the apocalypse. God works in mysterious ways.
During the past few weeks there has been a number of discussions in the office regarding Advent Wreaths and the symbolism attached to the candles... Today we celebrate the candle of hope. Then comes peace and love and joy.
However, depending on what book you consult, you could find our four themes, but in different order, different colors for the candles, or maybe even 4 different themes. It seems that it is all somewhat optional - maybe we even have it backwards - - our candles should all be lighted today, - and - as we get closer to the winter solstice - the darkest day of the year - we could extinguish one each Sunday - to match the seasonal darkening - and then on Christmas eve, the Christ candle would be lighted - to dispel the darkness - Surprising the world with its brilliant light. - Instead we do the reverse -
If there is one thing that I know - it is that the power of the Gospel is in the unexpected twist - the unpredictable -
If that is the case - then the power of this season is wrapped up in what we least expect - including readings of doom and gloom.
Lets go back and look at the Text for this morning.
Jesus tells us to look for the signs in the world, the same way we notice the changing of the seasons - Distress among the nations, roaring of the sea and the waves - people faint from fear and foreboding,
We can find evidence of that in our world today -
Recently we have seen the Japanese stock market precipitously fall causing a volatile global economy, we see ourselves once again close to war in the middle east, we see the destruction of El Nino in Mexico, We see the distress among the nations, and the roaring of the sea and the waves...
See the signs?
In our own lives we find ourselves facing illnesses, lost jobs, ruptured relationships, distress over failing health, major life changes - even death - noise roars in our ears - panic fills our hearts - we feel faint from fear - the dark night of the soul.
See the signs?
These events are constantly occurring in our world - they are not new -
in any case they still have the power to produce fear - fear that causes us to act differently than we would like, turning us into people we barely recognize - fear that paralyzes us - leaves us feeling helpless - fear that can level us, bring us to our knees....
Fear that has the power to transform our lives.
Jesus tells us that in the midst of terror, doom and despair - our salvation is offered. when we most want to cower under the covers, hidden from the world, when we feel as though no one, no thing can save us, When we can't catch our breath - when the darkness is closing in - when our hearts are weighed down with dissipation and the worries of this life and we can't see our way - Is there anything that can save us, lift us out of the pit?
the light of Christ can light our way - it will reveal the truth of God's promises to us -
Jesus said - this is the time to stand up and raise our heads....praying - being thankful for our redemption is drawing near to us. In the midst of the darkness to expect the light of Christ to lead us home -
Fear has the power to transform our lives.
That is what Advent is all about - in the midst of the darkness we light yet one more candle each Sunday - to remind ourselves that in the midst of the worst life can offer to us, Jesus is there to light the way - We are not alone - we can pray for the strength to escape from the fear - for the future is not anchored in the predictable trends - for if the trends predict anything it would be that death and dissolution bring an end to all human heart and hope. Instead this passage reminds us that the future is the promise of Jesus Christ. When we least expect it and when there is no evidence in the world to reassure us, God's power to save comes in to our world.
We cannot deny that our world remains in chaos, that our own fears have the power to take our breath away - to leave us feeling powerless - helpless. And we cannot deny God's faithfulness to Jesus Christ. - and that our redemption is intertwined with His.
Christmas is coming - Our salvation is drawing near - light in the midst of the darkest darkness of the year - light - growing brighter by the day. Stand up and raise your heads, be alert at all times, because your redemption is drawing near. Amen.