1 Advent – November 28, 2021
It is the first Sunday of Advent and the beginning of the year. The beginning of the church calendar year. Have you ever wondered why we begin our church year as the days are shorter and it’s darker? Have you ever wondered why we begin with scripture that is apocalyptic? I have. I mean, we’re hearing about signs. Signs in the sun, the moon and the stars. Distress, confusion, fainting from fear and foreboding. It’s the kind of reading that we’d like to send to the “island of misfit scripture”.
What Jesus is describing in his time is how we might describe our time, right now. It’s capturing our reality with an uncanny resonance. The very cosmos itself has been shaken. This pandemic has caused all kinds of little apocalypses – things revealed of which we had no idea or perhaps had pretended could remain hidden. Things being seen that we wish we could unsee. Things being realized—about the church, about others, about ourselves—that have laid bare truths we can now never forget.
So, our gospel is getting us started with the church year, not with images of a baby in swaddling clothes, fluffy sheep and twinkling stars, but it is getting us started with images of reality. With the world as it really is, here and now—a world that is gorgeous, fragile, and falling apart. And we’re getting started in the dark.
This year, in my wondering about all this, I think what may be at the heart of what Jesus is telling us, is that yes, God is present in the ordinary, everyday, reality of our lives. That God is here and now, in the midst of our messy lives. That this description of events in Jesus’ time resonates with our time, over 2000 years later, because it does describe reality, then and now.
Which means that the hope and comfort in Jesus’ words are in the fig tree where we know and understand that Jesus is within us and will grow with us, even in the dark, even when we can’t see. In a sense, the season of Advent is a sticky-note reminder to us, that God is doing a new thing. Again.
Advent reminds us that necessary things — things worth waiting for — happen in the dark. Next spring’s seeds break open in dark winter soil. God’s Spirit hovers over dark water, preparing to create worlds. The child we wait for grows in the deep darkness of the womb. “Our food is expectation,” writes Nora Gallagher about Advent. In this season, we strive to find “not perfection, but possibility.” The God who shows up in a teenager’s womb might show up anywhere. So pay attention.
As Debi Thomas shares: ‘Advent invites us to dwell richly in the here, precisely because here is where God dwells when the oceans heave, the ground shakes, and our hearts are gripped by fear. “When you see these things,” Jesus says, hope fiercely and live truthfully. Deep in the gathering dark, something tender continues to grow. Yearn for it, wait for it, notice it, imagine it. Something beautiful — something for the world’s saving — waits to be born.
Advent is the season pregnant with possibility, when we nurture that love within and prepare to give it birth. The seeds of love are waiting to grow and flourish. Even in the angriest person, in the most arrogant businessman, in the most ridiculous politician, in the toughest tyrant, or the worst murderer, there is a holy seed of love waiting. Those seeds need tending, they need nurturing and they will grow.
Hope is not a mental exercise. You don’t just stand up and decide that you are going to be hope-filled. Hope is the result of a combination of encounters with others, our personal ability to be receptive, and our awareness of the spiritual power of love that infuses all of life.
Seeds will grow out of the darkness. Advent is a time to build hope. Advent is a time to prepare for Christmas by tending the hope-filled seeds within each other. Advent is pregnant with possibility, a time to anticipate the coming of Christ by opening our eyes to the Christ growing within us. Advent is a time to acknowledge that at the heart of our world there is a power of love that reaches out to us, believes in us and sustains us, and that power of love is God.
So, we need not fear the darkness. For it is in the darkness that we will find the seeds. The light of the Holy One is within us.
Yes, the Advent seasons of our lives can be long, difficult and painful. But we never face those seasons without the signs of hope and reassurance, signs that point to the One who is coming. There will be signs, Jesus said. Be alert. Pay attention. The kingdom of God is near. Amen.