Advent 1, Nov 30, Thanksgiving Weekend, 2014
This morning I want to start off with having us look carefully at the Collect for the Day:
Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal. How do we reconcile this Collect with the response to Ferguson? I think it’s important to tie them together. We live in a time of darkness, and we must look at how we have been involved in the works of darkness. We are called, in this prayer, to put on the armor of light. We do this, knowing that at some point, Christ will come again to establish justice. When we look more carefully, we realize that we are asking for the grace to “cast away the works of darkness” because we know that we are indeed holding on to them. We cannot easily “just let go” of those things that surround us, we need grace to have that happen, and we need grace to put on the armor of light as well. We cannot do it with our own willpower. We need help.
No matter what we think about the protests in response to Ferguson, it is clear that one of the biggest issues involved is the lack of due process. For better or worse, no identified leader has stepped forward yet with the kind of protest movement that would galvanize people of good will to organize and actually make something change. It may happen. There is a man in North Carolina who might be able to do that. He is a preacher who has been leading the people of NC to protest against the terrible things the legislature in NC has been doing. Until such a person steps forward to organize them, people will act out in their frustration at the systemic injustice that is part of the time of darkness. I do not condone the senseless violence, but I agree that something must change.
Today is the beginning of the Church Year, our New Year’s Day. And this is the beginning of the Season of Advent. We think about the season of Advent as preparation for Christmas, but if we look at the readings, that feels very out of sync! These readings, especially for the first two Sundays of Advent, are very much doom and gloom, repentance and gnashing of teeth! What’s going on here? Well, here’s the thing – Advent started out as the season of preparation for the second coming of Christ, not the first. The whole set of stories about the birth of Jesus did not interest the early Christians – and in fact, those stories are rather late – but that’s another issue!
The early Christians were very interested in getting ready for the return of Jesus, which they expected to be before the end of their generation. If you look at what Jesus says in today’s reading: “Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.”
Advent is marked by a spirit of expectation, of anticipation, of preparation, of longing. We hear a yearning for deliverance from the evils of the world, first expressed by Israelite slaves in Egypt as they cried out from their bitter oppression. It is the cry of those who have experienced the tyranny of injustice in a world under the curse of sin, and yet who have hope of deliverance by a God who has heard the cries of oppressed slaves and brought deliverance! This is the cry of the black people in Ferguson, the black and brown people in Oakland, and in other places as well.
For more information on Advent and for further reflection, please go to http://www.cresourcei.org/cyadvent.html.