“And do this, understanding the present time: The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.”
HAPPY NEW YEAR! I’ll bet I’m the first to wish you a happy new year, aren’t I? So, how are we going to celebrate? Is there a big party? Maybe some noise makers and funny hats? Did anyone remember the glittery eyeglasses that spell out the year? And what about the food and drinks? Is there a special cocktail recipe going around that we could use? I hope someone remembered to make a few trays of appetizers….we’ve got a long night ahead of us, what with the Advent Ball Drop and all….It’s the New Year! That means it’s time to celebrate and have fun and enjoy all the feasting and merriment, right? ….Right?….Isn’t that what that means?
(looking at a calendar)…Oh, wait, wait, wait, I think I’ve gotten something a little off here….looking at this calendar, it doesn’t say anything about this being the New Year. Actually, on this calendar, it doesn’t even say that it’s the first Sunday of Advent….I think I’ve gotten my timing a little off here….
The church year is just beginning, but it begins so differently from anything we see in the secular world around us. Forget rushing the “New Years” greetings—-what about the way the world has already rushed into Christmas? Our time of Thanksgiving and gratitude hurried along, our festive meals with our families barely finished before the stores beckon us with sales and shopping and we feel that cultural push to decorate and festoon every nook and cranny with the material trappings of a shimmering holiday. Everywhere we turn, it’s upbeat music and decadent recipes and consumption and perfection. The world’s Christmas is a carnival of lights and sound and activity….so different from what you would expect in preparing for a baby.
We *will* celebrate…..but not yet. We *will* rejoice….but not yet. It’s too soon. We’re not ready. And we shouldn’t be. It isn’t yet time.
I think it’s a shame that we can’t convince every Christian we know to slow down and live into the expectant and holy hours that are the season of Advent. The cultural pressure is so strong and so pervasive that it is like a blustery wind blowing down and on and all around us, sweeping baubles and bows onto our path just as we are trying to hard to clear the way for a donkey….and a man…..and a woman, heavy with child, to make their way through. The world wants festive trees and lights and sparkle….just as we are trying to find room in an inn, and settling for a stable. The world wants music and excitement and pizazz…..just as we are beginning to listen for the low of the oxen, and the muffled whispers of the shepherds. The world wants bright lights and parties and fancy outfits…..just as our eyes are adjusting to the inky darkness, lit only by a glorious star, and a quiet evening, and simple, swaddling clothes in a manger. The world speaks of instant gratification and excess and celebration….when we are simply preparing.
Don’t let the world tell you who you are. There is a still, small voice that speaks the truth. This is a time of expectancy. These weeks leading up to December 25th are NOT preparation for Christmas—these days are themselves holy time. The liturgy of the hours is NOT about getting us ready for presents and parties, and some sentimental way of celebrating…it is preparing us to receive God’s ultimate Word to the world.
We shake our heads in disbelief when we see decorations of red and green popping up even as, it seems, summer is winding to a close. “Way too early” we mutter “What are they thinking? It’s too soon!” we say….but the truth is, as an Advent people, we’ve been preparing for today all year long. Just not with things or with parties or with food or with excess….rather, with the peaceful, thoughtful, reflective focus on turning our hearts towards Christ.
It began a long time ago, way back when we last remembered the angels singing glory in the highest and the Magi following the Star in the East. We’ve been preparing ever since we heard of mystery and miracles; of fisherman and following; of baptizing and bringing. We’ve been preparing ever since we felt the dust of ashes; ever since we felt the heavy weight of recognizing our own sin; ever since we walked slowly through the Forty Days. We’ve been preparing ever since we saw the people crying “Hosanna!”; and saw the palms laid out at his feet; and saw the Table laden with the final Supper there in the Upper Room. We’ve been preparing since we knew of a Cross, and a tomb, and a stone. Since we knew of an empty sepulcher and a breathless Mary Magdalene and a stunned Peter…. Since we knew of apostles and wind and fire. We’ve been preparing since the ancients walked among us and spoke of a Messiah. So we can surely wait a little longer.
We need the time. What we are doing cannot be rushed. “Advent is not an adjective for calendar”, despite what the world might want us to think. We are, each and every day, molding our hearts and minds after the heart and mind of Christ. This is not something that happens with a sprinkle of sugar and a holiday story. This is not about anything that happens beyond our doors or even within our homes….this is about something that happens within our hearts.
Love Came Down. We cannot pack this into a box or tie this with a ribbon or stuff it into a stocking. Love—love that is bigger and more awesome and more amazing than any human love we can even begin to imagine was sent to us. For us. With us. To mold us and shape us and redeem us. To bring us back, again and again, to THIS story. To THIS time. To THIS waiting.
To be, here in community with one another, seeking to be shaped and changed by the greatest, most unconditional, most all-encompassing Love we will ever know or receive.
In her book, The Liturgical Year: The Spiraling Adventure of the Spiritual Life, Joan Chittister writes, “The Christian year proposes, year after year, to immerse us over and over again into the sense and substance of the Christian life until, eventually, we become what we say we are—followers of Jesus all the way to the heart of God.”
Following Jesus—following the heart of God—-is not something we just say idly. This is not about doing good deeds or about thought-lessly wearing a Cross around our neck. Living life liturgically is a spiritual discipline. We must put aside our desire for instant gratification and resist the cultural demand that we turn our attention towards materialism and excess. We must quiet our minds and open our hearts to allow the Spirit to move within us to prepare Him room. We need to clear out the clutter of worry and frustration, to allow space for hope and peace.
We are not just waiting for a Holy Night and a Baby and a Star….we are waiting with breathless hope while the Spirit works within us to make room for Love and Light, for Joy and Salvation…for the coming Glory. That takes space and time. That requires our attention; our focus. This is the season of reflection, of forgiveness… of grace. We mustn’t be rushing around, fretting over nothing, feeling stressed and tired and spent. This is the season of slowing down and of appreciating all that is to be found in the Holy Anticipation.
Our Christian year gives us these seasons of peace. When the stresses of life feel like more than we can bear, we can turn our thoughts and attention to the holiness of time. Our Christian community gives us the reassurance of hope. There is someone out there today who is waiting with trepidation to find out the results of a health diagnoses. There is someone out there today who is waiting with sadness for a fractured relationship to heal. There is someone out there today who is waiting with grief as they recognize that these are the last days on earth for someone they love. There is someone out there today who is waiting with emptiness in the throes of depression. There is someone out there today who is waiting with confusion in the grips of a mental health crisis. There are people among us for whom these waiting days are dark and bleak and endless.
Even as that brings us low with sadness, perhaps it might also enlighten us and strengthen us with a renewed focus to reflect the Love of Christ to everyone we meet. Because, every day, you are going to meet someone who is scared, or sad, or grieving, or empty, or lonely, or confused and you might be the only Light of Hope that flickers even dimly in their darkness.
We are renewed in community. So we gather, as we do each week, waiting on the Light and promising to bear with one another in hope and in love. Because when we join together as a community time after time, we take what is meaningful and formative in our own lives and see that transformed by the Love that is coming down to us. Alone, we are just waiting….together, we are preparing. Our time in community shapes and re-shapes us, molding us as an Advent people, recognizing that it is not us in the center, but Christ…the heart of it all.
We need Advent. We need Advent in all its thoughtful contemplation. In all its simple hope. In all its holy time of preparation. We need worship as a time to become ever more present to the Love of God and the Light of Christ in our midst. We need these reminders to seek the Divine in every hour and in every day, and to allow ourselves to be refreshed and sent.
How is living into the holiness of time in this New Year going to change you? “The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day is almost here.” Paul is exhorting us in these words to recognize that it is now time to “wake up” and to shake off the sluggishness of sleep and to realize that all we have anticipated is now before us. Who we were is lost to the pages of time….it is who we are and who we are becoming through the transformative power of Christ that matters most. We belong to this New Year of Light and Love…of hope, peace, and joy. We are in the world, but not of the world, and at no time is that more evident than it is in this Advent season of anticipation. If we are not mindful—if we are not living as an Advent people—-this can become a season of distraction. The world needs our witness, and it will be lost if we don’t quiet the din around us and retreat to the holy. This is God’s time. It is all holy. Every moment. Amen.