Sunday, November 30, 2008

The time of the deep blue indigo sky: Advent

Welcome to the season of Advent, the time of the deep blue indigo sky just before the dawn, the time of waiting for the One who comes, the Christ who is to dwell with us. This is the season to stop and look at the spectacle of creation all around you.

You may notice at St. Paul’s we are beginning to display blue for Advent, not purple.

Blue is a very old traditional color for Advent, the color marking the four weeks leading to Christmas. Blue has been used for Advent at Salisbury Cathedral in England since the 11th century. No one is quite sure why this blue came to be used at Salisbury – some think it is the color of Mary, and that is probably as plausible an explanation as any, and others say it is “royal” blue – the color of Norman kings.

The color is called “Salisbury Blue,” or “Sarum Blue” – Sarum is the Latin name for Salisbury. And the blue spread from Salisbury and beyond.

I like to think of this blue as the color of the sky just before the dawn, as the stars shimmer before the sun rises. To me, the blue symbolizes the hope of Advent – the time of waiting for the birth of Christ’s promise of hope and healing into our world.

The color marks a subtle but important distinction between Advent and Lent, the time before Easter, the season of purple. Lent is a time of confession and penitence and looking inward for the God within us. Advent, the time before Christmas, is a time of looking outward for the God around us. The two perspectives are not mutually exclusive – yes we should be looking inward for the God within us. Consider this more a degree of emphasis, just as purple and blue are related colors.

Looking outward for God’s presence is at the core of Advent. Be awake – it is almost dawn before a new day. You don’t have to travel far to find what you seek. Look around you – look for the dawn of Christ’s light in all you do, in all whom you meet, and everywhere you go. What you seek is right in front of you.

The name “Emmanuel” means God is already dwelling with us – and this God comes to us, living with us as a human being, Jesus, to show us that death has no power over us.

It may look like night now, but it is the time of the blue indigo sky, the time before the dawn, the time of Advent. We live in a troubled world, and it is sometimes difficult to see that the dawn is near.

I am reminded of the words of a great Jewish poet, Yehuda Amichai, who saw much tragedy and conflict in his lifetime. He wrote: “Behind all this some great happiness is hiding.” That is at the heart of Advent.

Under the night sky, a happiness is hiding, the outbreak of God’s grace into our dark and difficult world. A light will soon shine, a great happiness is hiding: Jesus comes into this world to show us that salvation is ours right now, right here, we don’t have to wait to find what we seek. He comes to show us a way to live without fear, in the here and now.

Yet we need to sharpen our eyes to see the dawn.

How to sharpen our eyes? I would like to invite us this Advent to enter a time of radical welcome to those in our midst who are new or in great need. Let’s go out of our way this Advent to be kind to each other, and to help those who are in the greatest of need. Let’s take a few risks.

That is why we are doing special in-gatherings in Advent, beginning next week with toys our children will bring to church to give away. The week after that, Dec. 7, we are asking you bring blankets, hats and underwear in unopened packages for the homeless who are served by PACEM. On Dec, 21, bring food for the food closet for the poorest in our community.

My prayer for each of us this Advent is that we will be awake for God’s amazing grace everywhere we go, and in everything we do, and in everyone we meet, and that we will see God’s blessing in how we live and act. It is Advent, the time before the dawn, the time of the deep blue sky. The One who walks among us as the Christ is with us, blesses each of us, and fills the world with love and grace and salvation. Be awake!

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