My favorite time of year! This is my favorite weather, my favorite time of the church year, my favorite hymns, even my favorite time in our little church, and I don’t know about y’all, but I am missing it so very badly. This year the Advent wait is taking on a whole new meaning. And that season and that wait is very important theologically. Advent is the season that reminds us that Christ has come once before and that he will surely come again. It is the time that the church has set aside to pause – be still and quiet and get ready – get ready for the season of his birth and get ready for the Last Day when we shall behold him face to face. It is a wonderful, beautiful season – and the whole world has utterly turned its back on it.
But when we walk through the doors of The Church, the time changes – the season is different. Retailers are pushing that Christmas season just as early as they can push it. Christmas carols blaring from every speaker…trees and lights and Santas and elves at every turn…hurry and get your Christmas shopping done today, because Walmart will be out of 900-inch plasma screens by tomorrow. But things are different in here. This is the time when we are reminded of just how different we are. The Church certainly is counter-cultural at all times of the year, but it is never more obvious to us than right now.
Of course, it is easy for me to take cheap shots at the mega-marts, but that is only one of the problems with Advent. The other is with the season itself, or maybe with the job we have done in teaching about it. Advent has a sort of bipolar nature to it. What is it and what are we getting ready for? Are we getting ready for the celebration of Christmas, or are we getting ready for Christ’s coming again? Most of us are hanging our garland or putting up the tree. As good Episcopalians we all put out the crèche and leave the manger empty, because we are waiting for Christmas Eve. So, it has to be about getting ready for Christmas, right?
Well, then we hear the lesson this morning, and they don’t say anything about the baby Jesus, do they? There isn’t a wise man, a shepherd, an angel…nothing. They are about judgment. They aren’t about anything but about his coming again. We are going to stick with judgment for a couple of weeks and only after that are we going to get the Archangel appearing to a young Virgin Mary. It is all a little confusing.
- S. Lewis said about this season, “Judgment is at hand. Is it a promise of judgment or a threat of judgment? It is the same sort of ambivalence which Christians have been taught to recognize in the season of Advent.” It is confusing, but I think that we have been right lo these many years to teach that Advent is actually not about any of those things – it isn’t about Christmas, it isn’t about judgment, it isn’t even about his coming again. Advent is about being prepared and then waiting…maybe for a long, long time. Can you think of anything less like the world we live in?
The rest of the world rushes right on to deck their halls and jingle their bells. And this is one of the hardest things we are asked to do: we are asked during this time of wrapping paper and shopping lists, Santa Claus and sale prices to stop and be still and quiet and to seek the Lord who came once as a tiny baby and will certainly come again in power and great glory. Christmas has exploded all around us, but we are not doing that yet, we are waiting. Many churches are already singing the carols and planning the big Christmas musical productions. Now, is there anything wrong with that? No. There isn’t. But we in the Episcopal Church, like the Catholics and the Lutherans and some of the very high-church Methodists, we are not doing that. We are waiting. Because we believe there is something important that the rest of the world is missing.
God came to Abraham and told him that he would be the father of a great nation and he waited. God promised his children that they would have a land of their own and they waited. The prophets told the Jews that the Messiah would come and they waited. The archangel told Mary she would bear the Son of God and she waited. Christ told us that he would come again and we wait. That is what this season is all about. It reminds us that we are waiting. It reminds us what we are waiting on. It reminds us why we are waiting and it even reminds us how to wait! Christians wait differently from other people.
All the hymns and all the lessons for Advent are about this waiting and this preparation. They tell us that this is the time for us to wake up from our sleep. That every day we are a little closer to the day that Christ will come again. Salvation is nearer to us now than when we first became believers. The night is far gone and the day is near. And if we as Christians are to live in the light – and Advent is all about the coming of the light – then we are to lay aside the works of darkness. It is time for us to wake up and stay awake and be ready for our Christ who is coming again.
I think the message of Advent may be the most important thing we have to say as the Church today. If we were to use our prophetic voice in the world today, I think it would cry out like the voice in the wilderness that it is time to wake up. If you can’t look around and see the world today, compared to where it was say 60 years ago, is seriously on the wrong course, then you must be sleeping. We live in a world that looks down its nose at faith in general, but there seems to be an open ridicule of Christianity that would have created outrage and dismay just twenty years ago, especially in the South. We had better wake up now, before it is too late, before this world is too far gone.
But that is where Advent is so strange. Just when we think the world has gone as far as it can go, that the judgment day must surely come, that is when Paul reminds us that salvation is nearer than we think. Just when the night, the year and the world are at their darkest points, that is when the little light shines in the darkness.
The Church is different from what she was when we were children. She does not carry the same weight in the world – she doesn’t wield the power and influence she did not too long ago. But, I can’t believe that is necessarily bad for us. The Church has never sat comfortably in the seat of power. She acts more like the church ought to act when she is poor, simple and powerless. Because after all, if all the powers of hell can be conquered by the baby born in the manger, then what would power have to do with the message of Christianity?
My friends, the world is moving away from God, but it is not too far gone for his saving grace! We have to play our part. We have to cry out the news of salvation. We have to be prepared for whatever curve the Old Enemy throws our way. And we have to be alive, awake and active…because salvation is closer than you think.