Advent was kind of a mystery to me as a kid. I liked the candles and the music, the special services, and the hanging of the greens. But Advent as a season of waiting, preparing, anticipating was lost on me. It just meant that Christmas was close, and that was a good thing. My junior year in high school, the seasons of the liturgical year became much more meaningful for me, starting with Advent.
As a high school junior, I was planning to graduate in the spring so in the fall I was cramming in SATs and colleges tours so I could make a decision about where I wanted to go. My life was complicated by depression and an eating disorder for which I had been hospitalized that summer. I had hopes for junior year that weren’t particularly realistic. These included that I would be “cured” and suddenly be happy and popular, and that I would have a boyfriend and be the “normal” high school kid I thought I was supposed to be.
By the time November was coming to an end and Advent was beginning, I realized that nothing had really changed. I was still depressed, terrified of gaining weight, and decidedly not whatever my definition of normal was. I felt hopeless and the world around me seemed to reflect that sense of hopelessness. If you’ve ever been to Cape Cod in the winter, then you know that it tends to be gray – gray fog, gray sand, gray trees, gray, rainy days. Where would I find hope?
Then the first Sunday of Advent came and the candle of Hope was lit. It occurred to me then that God might be offering something different, a small flicker of possibility that God had little to do with the pain that defined me at that point in my life. Of course I have no memory of what the scripture readings were that year, but as Isaiah cries, “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down…” I hear the same yearning I felt in my sixteen-year-old self. That sense of exhaustion and frustration with the way things are and the desire for the tiny flame of Hope to grow until the world is warm, welcoming, and transformed.
At sixteen I was consumed by my own suffering and in desperate need of the Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love Advent promised those who journeyed to Bethlehem. These days, my own suffering is insignificant compared to the suffering of peoples and nations around the world. Isaiah’s words speak of a yearning for God to act, for God to forgive God’s people and free them from their self-centered sins. The world is not so different now, is it?
While I do not believe that the struggles of the world are because God is angry and distant, we do need to repent for our self-focused sins. The state of the world isn’t because God has turned away from God’s people. It is more that we have turned away from God.The hospitality God asks of God’s people has not guided God’s people for a long time. We are caught up in a system that deifies money and power and fails to recognize justice and hospitality as holy mandates. God isn’t going to tear open the heavens and come down to save us. That’s already happened. We know what God would have us do. We know what brings salvation. When will we live into what we have already been given?
Throughout history, we, as the people of God, have needed the reminders of the Advent Season more often than not. This is one of those years that we need to remember that God has little to do with the pain of the world. God is waiting for us to light the flames that will create change as the flame is passed from one person to another.
Are you feeling that the starless, cloudy nights and the gray dreary days confirm the despair in your heart? Is the future we are imagining defined by the limits of our experience? Then it’s time to do something different. It’s time to light the candle of Hope and cry out to God for forgiveness and mercy so that we can see the Hope will light the path to Bethlehem. Once the candle is lit and the journey has begun, then anything becomes possible because we will have lifted our heads enough to see the plight of our neighbors. We will see their faces lit by the fragile, flickering of Hope and remember that this is where God is. Right here, on the journey with those who suffer and those who reach out with kindness and compassion to share the load.
May we all wake up in time to begin the journey that starts out in the light of Hope.
Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved.
For further sermon help, try here.
RCL – Year B – First Sunday in Advent – December 3, 2017
Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19
1 Corinthians 1:3-9