What comes to mind when you hear the word Advent? A season of longing, waiting, pregnant expectation, a time of hopefulness, a call to stillness, a time to step back in prayer and preparation as we approach the day when we will once again hear the great news that God so loved the world that She chose to not only be with us, but to be one of us and in so doing became one with us. Indeed, God chose to be enrobed in our feeble flesh, to breathe our air and walk our sod. This great incarnational act of self-giving changed the way we see both our world and ourselves, a mystery so great that some two thousand years later we still have not come to fully understand the impact and import of this gift, nor will we ever for the very nature of the gift is that it is continually being made manifest to us, in us and through us. Constantly changing and calling us to experience more deeply and intimately, Emmanuel, God with us. Our call is to embrace the mystery, to explore our deepest longings to wait and watch, to pray and to prepare, to live and long for a new day of God’s reign. Now is the moment, now is the time, and once again, Advent Begins.
For me, Advent began last Sunday evening, as we gathered in a dark church a cadre of “priests,” (thank you Andrew for the sermon last Sunday) and proclaimed Advent Begins, a stunningly beautiful hymn text by David Bjorlin, All Saints friend and occasional chorister.
“Advent begins in the darkness of night, waiting and watching for signs of a light.”
For those of us living in the northern hemisphere, nature seems to be in lock step with the imagery of the season of Advent. As the days grow shorter and the dark nights longer, we begin this journey to one of the darkest nights of the year when we will, once again, welcome the light, a light, as John reminds us, no darkness can overcome. I was struck this week by what seemed like a sudden shift in the length of daylight. I don’t know why, but I found myself caught off guard by the darkness. One evening I found myself stopping in wonder at the dark azure blue of the evening sky, the same blue that now graces our sanctuary. I rushed home and thought about placing our lights on the windowsill — you know, “We need a little Christmas, right this very minute, candles in the windows, carols at the spinet.” I fought the urge and remembered the Advent call to embrace the darkness and to long for a day when the long, dark night, is safe for all, especially those who are homeless and for whom the nights of Advent are an even greater challenge to their wellbeing and very existence, as they long for a warm and secure place to take shelter from the biting cold of winter. I was reminded that when we sing, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” it means come, Emmanuel, in us, which includes them and our response to them as Advent begins in the darkness of night.
“Advent begins with our dreams yet deferred.”
This week we kept the “feast” of Thanksgiving; we gleefully gathered once again with family and friends to celebrate, to eat, to re-connect, to eat, and to give thanks. Here’s the rub: our Advent Longing calls us not only to be thankful for what we currently enjoy but to remember the lives of those who were forced to give up what they had in order for others to prosper. Our Advent Longing calls us to remember the peoples of the Council of Three Fires – the Ojibwe, Potawatomi, and Odawa, on whose land we gather this Advent morning. We are reminded that while members of America’s First Nation account for only a small portion of the population, they experience much higher rates of substance abuse, violence, and physical and mental health issues, compared to other self-identified racial and ethnic groups. Some of the reasons cited for this discrepancy include historical trauma, high levels of violence and sexual assault, poverty and unemployment, discrimination, racism, lack of health insurance, and low levels of attained education. Our Advent Longing must call us to remember and reach out to all in need, even those we displaced and whom our lives of privilege keep on the margins of society.
For “Advent begins with our dreams yet deferred.”
“Advent Begins in oppression’s domain marked by the cries of confusion and pain.”
This morning, as we listen to the words of the prophet Jeremiah, our first impulse is take this as a promise of the fulfilment of the messianic light, and that would be theologically sound. It is also helpful to take a closer look at what was actually going on in the life of the prophet at the time of the writing.
Old testament scholar Kathryn Schifferdecker, writes:
“The armies of Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, are advancing on Jerusalem. The streets of Jerusalem will soon be filled with the corpses of her people (33:4-5), and the prophet Jeremiah himself is imprisoned by King Zedekiah (33:1).
The worst has not yet happened, but it is inevitable. Any reasonable person can see that the city is doomed. Jeremiah’s many prophecies of judgment — prophecies that have landed him in prison — are coming true. Yet now, in the midst of catastrophe, the prophet finally speaks words of promise! In the previous chapter, he has purchased a piece of land, a foolish thing to do in a country soon to be conquered by invading armies. Nevertheless, he has purchased the land as a pledge, as earnest of God’s redemption: “For thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land” (32:15). In the midst of impending doom, a sign of hope is enacted.”
Friends, our Advent longing, must also be a hope-filled longing, kind of like not only acquiring a piece of land in what to some feels like a war zone, but building a house on it in a defiant proclamation that “hope [is] kindled where justice is done, mercy is nurtured, and peace is begun.” We must know that, in the midst of our struggle to be fully inclusive and open, God is at work and “will cause a righteous Branch to spring up… and…execute justice and righteousness in the land,” even as Advent Begins in oppression’s domain.
This morning I am proposing we do something rather counter-cultural for All Saints. Given our history of action and commitment to social justice, normally a message like this would be followed up with a call to action, a list of ways to get involved, to spark change in our community and in our world. Today as Advent Begins, or continues for some of us, I am suggesting that we sit and live with the longing, that we make this advent journey a time of watching and waiting — a time, as Suzanne reminded us in our Dear Friends this week, not to focus on our actions, but rather to home in and focus on God’s action; to feel the longing as a deep gnawing in the pit of our stomach and let it work on us so that what we hear, what we long for in the darkness of these Advent nights, we will speak on and act on in the light of our Christmas new day.
“For Advent goes on till the promised dawn breaks, tyrants are toppled, and God’s dream awakes. Hope is perfected, and faith is made sight; love is our center, and Christ is our light.”