First Sunday of Advent
We begin our staff meetings on Tuesday mornings by going around the room and each person names a joy or something wonderful that has happened in their life since the week before. It can be something as simple as:
“I stepped off the elevator and there was Penny (Liz Sweeney, our Director of Programs for Children & Families, speaking about her 5-year-old who attends our Day School). Penny ran right up to me and said “hi” or she gave me a big fat hug and showed me her art work with full explanation.”
Or it could be: “Today is a rainy day and I love rainy days.”
It could be: “I found a new book that I just love.”
Or “My son gave me theatre tickets to a play I had been wanting to see.”
Or this week, someone said: “Oh, my BFF invited me to join her at the Barclays Center Saturday night for Conversations with Michelle Obama!” My goodness, what a show-off she was and trust me, that was not my joy of the week.
I have been doing this exercise for years and it is a way of inviting the staff to register the good in our lives and making ourselves aware that even small things like rain, sunshine, or a little child’s greeting can provide a ray of light and hope to a soul crying out desperate to see. It reminds us that there is still something beautiful to behold and God is breaking in on us in unexpected and surprising ways.
It is a way of reminding ourselves that we belong to somebody, even to one another. That yes, we are at work but we are more than our work. We are sons and daughters, sisters and brothers, mothers, lovers, and friends. We are human beings trapped in flesh trying to survive in a world so often cold and unkind. A world distorted by hate, anger, and fear and sometimes, void of grace and civility. But in the midst of it all, God enters our story and breaks through the ordinary to be with us.
Now, we don’t call it all of that in staff meetings. We just say “name a joy,” but in fact, these incidents, these moments or expressions help to remind us that while the ugliness is fierce, it is not everything and it is only temporary.
That’s what we do during the Advent season: we train ourselves to pay attention to holy and to take precious moments and incidents as the real treasures that they are.
Luke begins our gospel lesson by looking at the Second Coming of Christ. He says, “There will be signs in the sun, moon, and stars. On the earth, there will be dismay among nations in their confusion over the roaring of the sea and surging waves. The planets and other heavenly bodies will be shaken, causing people to faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world.”
In other words, things will be crazy and chaotic. Another translation says: “It will seem like all hell has broken loose …” We might say, “Well, it seems that way now. Today might very well be the day.” But we know that Christ has already come, don’t we? And we know that Christ still comes.
It is precisely into chaos and confusion as well as fear and anxiety that Advent happens. God comes to be with us. The question is whether or not we can believe that this promise is true. Can we live into this promise of hope despite what our eyes see?
Can we see signs around us? Well, yes, I can. When I look at little Nazaro being baptized today, I see God with us. And it is for his sake and Effie’s sake and the sake of all of us; it is for new love breaking forth; our children and grandchildren, nieces and nephews, the broken and marginalized; people who need grace and a fresh start; the wounded and the lame, that compel us to press forward and make this world a better place.\
God with us. No one ever promised that it would be easy but that God would be present.
Luke writes these words after Jerusalem and the temple are destroyed. For those early Christians this would have been the absolute worst of times. The people of God are struggling under the harsh and bloodthirsty rule of the Roman empire; they can do nothing right, they have no power, and there is no mercy. They are straining toward hope and they need to believe in the hidden victory of God.
Now, if you have never had to strain to believe in the hidden victory of something or someone beyond yourself. If you have never been enslaved by the powers that be in mind, body, or spirit. If you have never been sick – really sick – or lost or weighed down by grief and trouble on every side. If you have never needed to be rescued or delivered, you might not be able to understand the full measure of this promise. Advent will be just another busy season of gift shopping, jingle bells, and Santa Claus. But if you have ever needed to be saved from something – even your own self – then the words “Unto you is born …a Savior,”… unto you a healer, a rescuer, a helper, a deliverer … takes on a whole other meaning.
Look up, we are told. Look up. Raise up your heads. Salvation is at hand. It will seem like the heavens are shaking but stand up and raise up your head. One is coming (and we know has come) who will bring justice and beauty to satisfy the deep longing of your soul.
Not with trumpet sounds or great fanfare. Not among the spectacular but in simple, subtle ways: in the quiet and easy – like a child’s smile, four generations of family gathered to affirm the baptism of a baby, a friend’s gift, the loving support of a friend, a change of thought or attitude that can catch us off guard, a church that truly opens its doors and hearts ready to embrace all and live in peace.
Jesus says, “Look at the fig tree and all the trees. When they sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is near.”
Do you expect Christ to be born in you this holiday season? In your world? Do you expect a transformative miracle that can set you on a new course? Will we be that light of Christ shining into the darkness of our world?
Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it this way:
“Look up and raise your heads. Advent creates new men and women. Look up, you whose eyes are fixed on this earth, you who are captivated by the events and changes on the surface of this earth. Look up, you who turned away from heaven to this ground because you had become disillusioned. Look up, you whose eyes are laden with tears, you who mourn the loss of all that the earth has snatched away. Look up, you who cannot lift up your eyes because you are so laden with guilt. Look up, your redemption is drawing near.”
That is what we long for most of all isn’t it? That amid the darkness through all the ups and downs, the laughter and the tears, the adventures and misadventures, we are not alone. We are loved beyond measure. Hope will prevail. Peace is possible somehow. Come Lord Jesus, come.