Sunday, November 29, 2020
The first Sunday of Advent
Psalm 80:1-7, 16-18
1 Corinthians 1:3-9
In the Episcopal Church, we follow a church calendar that begins each new year not on January 1 but four Sundays before Christmas Day (the date can be from November 27 to December 3, depending on which day of the week Christmas falls on for the particular year).
We call these first four weeks of the church year Advent (Christmas begins on Christmas Day and goes through January 5, which are the real 12 days of Christmas but we’ll save that for another discussion).
I’m sure y’all are familiar with Advent calendars which count down the days in December until Christmas as a way to build anticipation with a hidden treat to be discovered each day. Your church may make an Advent Wreath part of their worship services the Sundays before Christmas and your family may even have an Advent Wreath at home.
Advent means “the arrival” from the Latin adventus, translated from the Greek parousia (the language lessons are free). In this season, we anticipate the coming of Jesus from different perspectives: the prophets proclamation of the Messiah throughout Isreal’s history, the birth of Jesus to Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem, the arrival of God’s kingdom through the life and ministry of Jesus to all of us (the kingdom is at hand), and the establishment of the New Heaven and New Earth as the culmination of God’s plan for all of Creation.
The season of Advent and the new church year begins in the dark and stillness of winter. For those of us who live in regions where winter is more of a picture postcard than reality, it’s tough, I think, for us to really step into this meaning. Our grass is still green as are many of our trees, we don’t need a coat most of the time, and we still have 10 hours of good daylight every day. We may have the occasional ‘freeze” of a day or two over the coming months but we return to warm days quickly in between. This year, however, it may be easier to live into the anticipation of the amazing and promised goodness breaking into the dark and decay.
This pandemic began during the church season of Lent and we talked about how to let the forced giving up of so much deepen the transformative time of Lent, to deepen our understanding that all that we are and all that we have comes from God, to deepen our awareness of God at all times.
Through the summer and fall as we journeyed through Ordinary Time (the time in the church calendar between Pentecost and Advent) we talked about how to live all that Jesus’ teaches in the regular and routine events of our life even though this year wasn’t at all regular or routine. We talked about using this pandemic time to evaluate what we want to be regular and routine and how to (re)ground ourselves in the Gospel message so that our lives are shaped by God’s love.
And so we find ourselves, still deep in the grip of the sickness and death of the pandemic; the anger and hate of the most embittered and divisive political wars of our nation’s history; facing the fallout of the systemic racism and injustices in our society that we just can’t keep hidden any longer.
And it’s the season of Advent, the season of anticipating the arrival of God’s promises.
The themes of Advent – HOPE, PEACE, JOY, LOVE – are the very things that will heal us and our world, not just from our immediate circumstances but our past and our future as well. These are God’s promises for us, for this world, gifts given in compassion to shape us so that we can participate with God in transforming this world “from the nightmare it often is to the dream that God intends” (Bishop Michael Curry).
As we journey together toward the coming of Jesus, I invite you to choose a way to mark Advent in your home. You don’t need to buy anything fancy. To make a wreath you just need 5 candles, one for each Sunday and one for Christmas Eve, (traditionally 3 purple, one pink, and one white but don’t fret if you only have orange and yellow candles left from your Thanksgiving table, use what you have. God will be ok with that, even if my Liturgy professor wouldn’t be). Arrange them in a circle with one in the middle. Each week beginning on Sunday, light a candle and pray/talk/write about one of the words – HOPE, PEACE, JOY, LOVE.
Use whatever calendar you have to mark each day and pray/talk/write about what it means to you to anticipate the promises of God.
There are numerous online resources to incorporate scripture readings into your reflections, some free, some paid. Here are my favorites:
Anticipate the arrival of God.
Welcome the interruption of how we define “normal”.
Stay alert for the presence of the divine and holy in all people and events.
Let yourself be surprised by God’s love, by Jesus’ compassion, and by the Spirit’s power to make thin the veil between the Kingdom at hand and the circumstances in which we find ourselves.
Let God’s light shine into the darkness and all will be made new.