Sunday, November 29, 2009

Advent: The time of waiting and awakening

I am not preaching today -- we have a guest preacher. I would like to share some thoughts about Advent, which begins today. This is a sermon I preached awhile back, adapted for today's lectionary readings: Jeremiah 33:14-16; Luke 21:25-36

May you have a blessed Advent.

For the First Sunday in Advent

Keep awake! It is the time before the dawn, the time of the deep blue indigo sky.

Welcome to the season of Advent, the time of the deep blue 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 that maybe you haven’t noticed in awhile.

You may notice at St. Paul’s, the color of vestments and the pulpit hangings are now blue. I must confess – this blue is my favorite color of the church year.

Blue is the traditional color of Advent in many English and American churches, 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 actually called “Salisbury Blue,” or “Sarum Blue” – Sarum is the Latin name for Salisbury.

I like to think of this blue as the color of the sky just before the dawn. 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, I think, marks a subtle but important distinction between Advent and Lent, and that is another reason we have blue.

Lent, the time before Easter, is the season of purple. Lent is a time of 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 necessarily 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 similar colors.

Looking outward for God’s presence is at the core of Advent, and at the core of the biblical lessons we hear today.

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.

Yet, we also know that sometimes God is hard to see in all of the buzz and clatter of daily life. That has always been so. The ancient Hebrews were much concerned with why God was not always so obvious to them, and you hear the echoes of that in the words of Prophet Jeremiah: The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah.

Jesus answers: “Be alert at all times.”

God’s grace is already here, at work within us. But you need to open your eyes and ears – wake up! That is at the core of the mission of Christ dwelling with us – to crack us open so we will see the grace around us and in 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 the meaning of Advent.

“Behind all this some great happiness is hiding.”

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 until after we die 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 we don’t quite see.

Let’s go out of our way to make those new in this place feel especially welcome, and let’s go out of our way this Advent to help those outside these walls who are in the greatest of need. Let’s take a few risks.

Indeed, we are the hands, feet and heart of God’s grace. We don’t have to solve all the world’s problems, but we can solve one or two. We can be present to the hurt that is near us, and take a step or two to bring healing and peace. When we do, the Risen Christ will be this near to us.

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. Look in our newsletter for the in-gathering list for Advent, and join in the giving. Our in-gatherings are a tangible way for us to reach outward to those who are in need.

I have another suggestion for this Advent: Let’s be kind to each other. This is a season full of stress for many people, and holiday cheer can be in short supply. Let’s be good to each other, slow to anger, quick to forgive.

Maybe a friend, or someone in your family is ill or hurting, or you are the one who is hurting. Take extra time to be with those you love. And when you do, watch for God’s presence in your midst, be awake for the unexpected. And let’s remember to breathe and be gentle with one another.

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.

That may not always be easy, but beneath all this, a great happiness is hiding.

It is Advent, the time before the dawn, the time of the deep blue sky. Be awake!

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. Amen.

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