The Beginning of Advent
This morning is the beginning of Advent, the beginning of the Church year, a time for new beginnings. There is much change in our world. We can be frightened or excited by this change, but an important part of beginnings is that there is waiting involved. Change generally does not just happen all at once. There is a movement, then a time of waiting, then more movement, and so on. Often, we cannot see how this functions until we look back, and sometimes even then we miss the waiting part of it. But it too is important. I am reminded of the intensity training program that I advocate. The first part is to push full out, as hard as you can, but the second part, which is equally important if you really want to build heart and lung capacity, is to wait and do nothing while your body recovers. Waiting can be either “dead” time, or life-building time. We get to choose. In preparing for this sermon during the week, several things came to me on the theme of Advent, so I am going to share them with you.
First, I received the Advent letter from our Presiding Bishop, and she talks about waiting. Here is what she says:
As you prepare for the season of Advent, I would commend two questions to your musings and your prayer and your meditation: What is it that you are most waiting for? And, how are you going to wait this year?
I’m struck this particular season by the waiting of several women in Christian history. Mary obviously, waiting for the birth of the Promised One in her part of the world, a child born for the whole world.
Also Elizabeth, mother of John the Baptizer, who comes before Jesus. Elizabeth has been promised a child in her old age, these are both very unexpected births, they are waiting.
And I’m struck particularly this year by Elizabeth of Hungary, a saint of the Church who lived in the thirteenth century, who was betrothed as a child herself, married at 14, a mother of three by the time her husband died when she was 20. She spent her life giving it away, giving it away both physically through her means and through her presence and her healing. She was an icon of generosity.
[pullquoteleft]What is it you wait for this year?[/pullquoteleft]What is it you wait for this year? Is it an opportunity to meet the surprising around you? Is it an opportunity to reflect on what is most needed in your heart and in the world around you? How are you going to wait for that gift? Are you going to wait actively? Engaged? Honing your desire? Stoking the passion within you for that dream Are you going to wait for a dream that will bless the whole world?
That’s what Christians wait for in the season of Advent – of the coming of the Prince of Peace, the one who will reign with justice over this world. I believe that’s what the world most needs, this year and every year.
May your season of waiting be fruitful and blessed. May it be filled with surprise and a willingness to engage that surprise.
A blessed Advent. The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, Presiding Bishop and Primate, TEC
Then, from our gospel reading: Be alert, Jesus says, don’t be caught unawares. Jeremy, our younger son, suggested on a FB post that it is not age that brings wisdom, but rather experience, and that experience demands attention to make a difference. So, he said, pay attention!
This is one of the general themes of Advent. Yes, we are to wait, but it is not a sleepy waiting, but rather an alert waiting, a watchful waiting.
Another post that popped up came from the Huffington Post from a pastor who talked about Christians who get upset about “those people who have taken Christ out of Christmas.” She says that is upside down. The people who have taken Christ out of Christmas are the Christians, by not acting as Christians outside of church. She reminds us to look at the people Jesus told us specifically to care for, the poor and downtrodden, the hungry and disabled, the widows and orphans, and to look within.[pullquoteright]What are we, personally, doing to bring the love of God as Jesus showed us, to these people that Jesus told us to love?[/pullquoteright] What are we, personally, doing to bring the love of God as Jesus showed us, to these people that Jesus told us to love? If we are not personally involved in bringing the love of God to the “least of these” during this time of caring and sharing, then we are the ones who have left the Christ out of Christmas. We do not need to worry about the public Nativity scenes, we need to worry about the pregnant teenager who has no support. We do not need to worry about the commercialization of Christmas, we need to worry about what we and our families are doing with our money, and to make conscious decisions about that during this time of overspending. Reading this article helped me two ways. One was that it called me back to thinking about my own responsibilities, and that actually felt good and proper. The other was that it gave me a response when I hear someone else grousing about “those people” who have taken the Christ out of Christmas. Now I will ask what they are doing personally with their time and money to witness to another reality, the reality of God’s love that we are called to show forth in our world.
Another interesting thing to contemplate at the beginning of Advent is that we know the end of the story. We know what happens at Easter and Pentecost. Therefore, we look at Advent through the lens of that knowing. We do not have to pretend that we do not know. Rather, it changes and actually deepens our understanding and appreciation of this time. We go through certain motions, and we can go through them wearily or mindfully, and depending on our choice, these old motions will drag us down or give us life. Yesterday the clergy met with the bishop, and we talked about “setting the table” for people outside our walls in a way that makes “the table” accessible to them. Afterwards I mentioned to a friend that the Eucharist, as we know it, is fundamentally a powerhouse for us who know it, and incomprehensible and irrelevant for those who don’t know it. We have been taught the wrong things. The Eucharist is very important – to us. We need to have it as a source of power. But we should not expect it to be a source of power for outsiders. Just because it does not provide sustenance to them, does not mean that we should let go of it, but rather to understand its proper place. I am reminded of Covenant House, which is a ministry that picks up abandoned children in NY who are prostitutes. It is very hard work emotionally. Because of this, they require that their workers go to mass every day. They know that they will need the strength. Mass is open to anyone, of course, but required for those who choose to do the hard work. The Eucharist is a ministry within a ministry, not the sole function. It is what enables us to be the Body of Christ in the world, not in the church.
Finally, a poem:
The encounter with God is eternal advent.
We pray for openness to that coming, openness to life.
May the energy at the heart of all, ever dynamic and connecting, abound.
May life renew itself again and again.
– From God Reflected: Metaphors for Life by Flora A. Keshgegian
Our Readings Today
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