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Advent (December 2, 2018 – Deb Saffin)

Advent – the start of the new church year. A time of expectation; a time of waiting; a time of hope, a time of preparation for good things to come. Right? What are you hoping will come of your Advent season? Now is a good time to think about either new beginnings or strengthening/renewing something and a time for new hope.

I read the readings for the day and wondered where to begin.  What a grouping they are! – each brings a different perspective to this new year celebration. Jeremiah assures us a righteous branch will spring forth, Thessalonians offers advice for daily life, and Luke announces that the ‘son of man’ is coming again.  Our gospel reading offers quite a paradox – destruction, death and betrayal are coming BUT hope is there in the midst of it. There is both suffering and comfort there.

So, confused about where to start, I started as I often do, by looking at what the dictionary said about the word Advent. The first definition of the word Advent that pops up, is “noun” a coming into place, view, or being; arrival.

And then I happened upon the good old Wikipedia definition (which is often suspect, I know) and it said… ‘a season observed in many Christian Churches as a time of expectant waiting and preparation for the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus at Christmas as well as the return of Jesus at the second coming.’ That return theory may be more in line with today’s Gospel reading than the traditional view of Advent 1 which, growing up, we always celebrated  as ‘hope Sunday.’ That is if you just read the gospel and take it at face value.

Lots of our traditional views come into question as we look deeper into the meaning of Advent; at least for me.

Gone are the days when we think of Advent calendars and opening up little doors to find a chocolate or a mint candy and knowing that in this many more sleeps Santa would be here and we could sing Happy Birthday, baby Jesus and then get on with the joy of presents and family and neighbours and, best of all, all that special food that you had smelled baking, brewing and cooking for the last month. And, then it was over. Well, except for the leftovers and today many would say, except for the bills. Hmmm, over?? Good question, is it over? Is the Hope we share at Christmas then gone?

I think that when we learn to ask questions and look beyond the surface we get to the real story behind the story and maybe that’s what today’s gospel reading is about. And, maybe, just maybe, there is hope there; a lasting hope that will see us through much in this world.

When we learn to ask questions, we begin to wonder why the followers of Jesus told the stories about Him that they did. When we ask questions new insights into the scriptures are revealed that help us understand how those followers understood the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

I guess, another question, as we look at today’s reading is to think about its placement in the church lectionary – we have a glimpse of the second coming at the beginning of the year before we’ve remembered the nativity story or passion week and so we question why the writers of the lectionary decided that we should read this particular text. Shouldn’t we be hearing a birth story, or of the pilgrimage to Bethlehem? Instead we are reading about a mini apocalypse.

Then I read the text in the Message and it gave me some insight into maybe what they were thinking. This translation reads…

It will seem like all hell has broken loose – sun, moon, stars, earth, sea, in an uproar and everyone all over the world in a panic, the wind knocked out of them by the threat of doom, the powers-that-be quaking.’

My goodness, isn’t that what we’re seeing today?

It ends with…

But be on your guard. Don’t let the sharp edge of your expectation get dulled by parties and drinking and shopping. Otherwise, that day is going to take you by surprise, spring on you suddenly like a trap… So, whatever you do don’t go to sleep at the switch.

So how do we not go to sleep at the switch? If Advent is about beginnings and hope that lasts – how do we keep it going and why are we told of it today?

We know that the writer of the Gospel of Luke wrote very near the end of the first century, some 50 to 70 years after the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Some 20 to 30 years after the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and for all intents and purposes put an end to the world as Jews and the followers of Jesus had known it. Scholars suggest that likely the writer of the Gospel created this story to reassure the followers of Jesus that even in their present darkness, even though it looked as if the heavens and the earth were passing away, Jesus words would not pass away. But still I ask, why did the designers of the lectionary decide to begin the church year with this story of Jesus’ apocalyptic vision? Yme gets tired of me asking why, I think. I often question why certain readings are put together or placed where they are.

Well the Luke part is easy we are entering year C of the three-year calendar cycle and Luke is the gospel we will read from.  But why begin with chapter 21 of Luke? Why not Chapter One? Why not begin with the story of the birth of John the Baptist? Surely a birth story is more fitting for the first Sunday in Advent when we are supposed to hear about hope?

So, the more I questioned and the more I looked the more I wondered if maybe a wander through the dark to see what’s there may help us to not fall asleep at the switch. Maybe we need to remember that for many people in this world the world as we know it, is coming to an end.

And even in the darkness that surrounds, we need not fear for God is with us. In the darkness the realization that Christ is with us provides the hope we need to continue on.

If we look with new eyes and new questions maybe this Advent won’t worry about the world as we know it coming to an end.  We might renew our hope and that of others. Just think about it for a minute; wouldn’t you like to see the end to wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen? I don’t want to think about nuclear wars or how the leaders of this world antagonize each other.

I’d like our own government to live up to its promise to put an end to poverty and homelessness here in Canada and work to end world poverty. I long for an end to violence, hunger, plagues and war. Wouldn’t it be great to have a divine rescuer ride in from outer space and ‘fix’ it all? But I don’t think any of us are even thinking that may happen soon.

We know that our hope is found in the here and now; we need to work for it, develop it and then share it. We believe God is love and in love there is always hope. We believe that rather than looking to the heavens for salvation, we should look around us and see that God is located within our experience, our struggles, our communities and in our hearts. God is love and that love is manifest in us and that love is on our side and is ours to share.

Yme has talked about our need to show love to each person we meet. You show love through alternate giving and reusable grocery bags, by showing up to offer love and comfort at a funeral, and so on.  We see that love in action at places like Street Angels, in groups like the Transition House, Community Connections, the Salvation Army and many of our health care professionals and law enforcement officers who go the extra mile every day.  I see it in the people I go to church with. That’s love in action, God in action.  That’s hope with a capital H.

We receive that love too; it reaches out to us in a neighbour’s smile, a huge hug when we need one, an empathy or understanding of our differences. Love is all around us in our land, our communities and our lives. That love is on our side, is for us, and can hold us. We call that love God. That love is God with us, that love is also within us like a seed waiting to grow and flourish. That kind of love gives us all hope – Advent hope; hope that is timeless hope -. hope that is for NOW.  But that seed of hope will not grow on its own nor do we stand up one day and say, “I am now forever filled with hope.” Hope is the result of several things such as our encounters with others, our receptivity to love and hope, and our awareness of the spiritual power of love that is within all life. In Advent we hope, and we look for seeds of love and hope in ourselves and others and then like a gardener we tend those seeds that are hidden in the darkness of life so that they will nurture and grow and then bloom.

Advent is a time to acknowledge that at the heart of our world there is a power of love that reaches out to us, believes in us and sustains us, and that power of love is God.

We need not fear the darkness. For it is in the darkness that we will find the seeds of hope and love. Hope lies in the darkness of our experience. The light of God is within us.  And so, this advent, as in all others. we will tell the stories of our experience and we’ll tell the age-old story we read in the Bible.  And in those stories, we will discover the stirrings of Christ who waits to be born in us.

A carol we sing each Christmas is ‘The Huron Carol” tells the story quite simply and fills us with hope. (to paraphrase)

Twas in the moon of winter-time
When all the birds had fled,
That mighty Gitchi Manitou
Sent angel choirs instead;
Before their light the stars grew dim,
And wandering hunters heard the hymn:
“Jesus your King is born, Jesus is born,

Within a lodge of broken bark
The tender Babe was found,
A ragged robe of rabbit skin
Enwrapp’d His beauty round;

The chiefs from far before him knelt

Come kneel before the radiant Boy
Who brings you beauty, peace and joy.

In this hymn we are reminded that when all have fled, and the world seems dark, God sends angels to sing out hope. It also reminds us, as does the nativity, that great and powerful things come from small beginnings. The carol reminds us still now, as was then, we need to be humble to be filled with love and hope. The great and wise fell to their knees in hope and arose with love and an even deeper hope.

In a world often too busy to look for hope, in a world where we have yet to learn just how to love one another, Christ comes to us. He comes when we hurt of are in pain and when our world is darkest or when were just plain tired and can’t think of hope.

Christ is called Emmanuel, which means God is with us. Remember God laughs, cries, rejoices, suffers, heals walks with us and loves us more than we can hope or imagine and that should give us Advent hope to last all year.

And so, today, on Advent 1, God stands with us and speaks to us a word of hope; a word that is the hope of the world.

Come, Gitchi Manitou, send the angel choirs. And, we will remember to look within the moon of wintertime when the light is low to find our seeds of love and hope and then watch them grow. That way, we won’t be found sleeping at the switch.  Amen.

Deb Saffin

December 2, 2018 (1st Sunday of Advent)

Jeremiah 33: 14–16

1 Thessalonians 3: 9-13

Luke 21: 25–36