Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Do you feel any whiplash this morning? I always find the week after Thanksgiving disorienting. So much preparation goes into Thanksgiving—buying all the food, cleaning the house, and welcoming guests. There’s nothing like sitting around the table, sharing what you’re thankful for; then we finish dessert, clear the table, and suddenly (bam!) it’s time for Christmas.
I mean in the Arning house—only two hours after finishing dinner—we were passing around Secret Santa gifts with those family members we wouldn’t see later this month.
There is no subtle move towards Christmas. We all know stores have been decked out since late October, but now it is in full swing in our lives; there is no avoiding it. Many of us have our Christmas trees up and decorated, and we are happily indulging in all our favorite peppermint drinks…and lots of Mariah Carey (too much Mariah Carey).
But then you came to church today, and after hearing the appointed readings for this morning, you probably do feel like you have some form of cultural whiplash. We hear the Prophet Isaiah exclaim: “O that you would rend the heavens and come down…there is no one who calls on your name…for you have hidden your face from us.”
Or this strange apocalyptic reading from Mark where Jesus is talking about the end times. Truly, we have entered into a strange land…and it goes by the name of Advent.
For those who’ve been around me a little bit, you know that I love this season that we have just begun today. What it has to offer us is so much deeper and more profound than simply preparing us for Christmas. Advent, at its core, is like a telescope that uses Jesus’ first advent—his first appearing—as a way to point us to his second advent at the end of the age when he will come again with power and great glory.
To think that Advent is getting us ready for Christmas is to miss the real point of this holy season. He has come once, and Advent reminds us he will come again…he has promised us that he will come back for us.
Longing for Salvation And this should naturally stir within us a longing for him to come again. There is a lot of darkness in this world. Many do feel that God has hidden his face, and they desperately want him to tear open the heavens and return at this very moment.
In this way, Advent forces us to take an honest inventory of our world and our lives, and to name the darkness that is ever-present for so many who are daily affected by war, hunger, oppression, and degradation.
An example that is at the forefront of many of our minds is the war that is happening in Gaza. Before I go further, I want to share with you an email that I received from a family friend and mentor of mine. Father Kamal is Palestinian, and Israeli citizen, and an Anglican priest who lives in Nazareth. He shared this with a small group of us the other day.
To our sisters and brothers at St. George's, Clergy, vestry, staff, choir and all the faithful, we reiterate our gratitude for your love, charity and prayers. I am very thankful for our dear friends who think about us and pray for us, especially in this dark time in which we live.
What is going on these days contradicts God's will and humanity. Holy Land Christians are praying for:
- People from both sides to stop their mutual hatred and stop shedding blood.
- We pray for the international community to wake up and treat all sides equally.
- We pray for the United Nations to respect its resolutions and find an end for this crisis.
- We pray for peacemakers especially among Christian leaders of "great nations."
- We pray for the powerful countries, to provide opportunities for peace and human rights, instead of increasing the destructive mechanisms of war.
- We pray for the Israeli and the Palestinian victims, asking the Lord's forgiveness for our human atrocities.
- We pray for the grieved families who lost their loved ones.
- We pray for the liberation of all hostages and prisoners.
- We pray for the needy families who lost their jobs or have been dismissed because they belong to the minority.
- We pray for the students who were attacked by extremist groups and were forced to leave their campus.
All have sinned and need God's mercy. Lord, have Mercy!
The Peace of Christ the Lord be always yours....
And this week we saw a glimmer of hope with hostages being safely returned home. Many of these emotional reunions were captured on camera. I was struck by an interview with one father who was reunited with his nine-year-old daughter.
When she was finally brought over the Israeli border, she assumed that she had been abducted for a year, though in reality, it was 50 days. Can you imagine? Days turn into weeks, and as the weeks wear on, it begins to feel like forever.
The father then remarked that one of the most notable changes to his daughter was that she only spoke in a whisper. He constantly had to ask her to speak louder, and finally, he put his ear right next to her mouth so that he could hear her. She had been ordered to be silent for so long that she forgot what a normal speaking volume was.
I cannot begin to fathom the fear and trauma that are real-life experiences for individuals and families at this very moment in the Holy Land. Longing for redemption and salvation (literally: to be delivered from harm) is not a sentimental longing like our secular Christmas culture is selling us.
No, this longing to be freed, to be safe and made whole again is caught up in the division and darkness that is presently working in this world. But hope for deliverance can break through with a whisper. Light can pierce the darkness even in the subtlest forms, and it points us to a day when darkness will no longer have a place at all in God’s creation.
And so, Advent begins in the dark.
As the author and priest Fleming Rutledge has said, “Advent is designed to show that the meaning of Christmas is diminished to the vanishing point if we are not willing to take a fearless inventory of the darkness…The authentically hopeful Christmas spirit has not looked away from the darkness, but straight into it” (Rutledge 252; 253).
This is a clash with the consumer-driven culture that surrounds us during the holiday season, and we can be tempted to bypass this unsettling aspect of the Church calendar, but I’m convinced it would be a detrimental loss. It would in many ways, trade the earth-shattering Good News of the Gospel for some vague sentimentality that offers no real hope or no real connection with someone’s lived-out reality.
Offering shallow sentimentalities to a hostage would be the biggest slap in the face to everything they’ve gone through—it would discount the pain they’ve experienced.
Advent forces us to reckon with the brokenness of our world, our community, our relationships, and even our internal nature, and from that reality, we cry out, “Come, Lord Jesus Come.”
Christians are always in a state of waiting for the return of their Redeemer—in what many call the Time Between—the age between Jesus’ first and second coming. Karl Barth said, “What other time or season can or will the Church ever have but that of Advent?”
And so, it is no surprise what we hear Jesus say in the Gospel of Mark. “Though you may long for my return,” he essentially says, “you won’t know when I will return. The day or hour, no one knows, but don’t think that I won’t come back. Keep alert. Stay awake.”
The reason the Doorkeeper in Mark’s parable doesn’t leave his post is because he is convinced the Master will return. The Master himself told him so. It’s not a matter of “if” but “when.”
Conclusion In light of all of this, I think there are a few things for us to consider.
Firstly, what do we long for? What is it that we really want? Do we seek some resolution with a person, or for a certain situation to be resolved? Is there something on our Christmas lists that we’re convinced will bring us a sense of peace and happiness?
What is it that we long for, and in what ways do we need to align our longings, our ultimate hopes and desires, with God’s hopes and desires for us and the world in which we live?
That’s a big question, but one that is appropriate for this season.
Second, what does it mean to wait and watch for the Second Coming of Christ? In the same way that we likely need to take an inventory of what we long for, we probably need to do the same with what we devote most of our time and energy to.
Remember, Jesus’ parable clearly said that when the master was away he put the servants in charge, “each with an assigned task.” You’ve got a task, a purpose for your life that God has given you.
Now that doesn’t mean you need to quit your job and go into ordained ministry or start working for a nonprofit, but it’s important to discern whether you are using the God-given gifts and talents that have been entrusted to you.
This is not a passive waiting and watching, but a purposeful waiting, to the glory of God.
And lastly, how do we, in reality, cast away the works of darkness in this “present evil age,” as Paul refers to this Time Between?
I think a good start is to name it. By naming the evil and brokenness that is found in our lives and this world we are putting it on notice. It will not reign forever, and you and I are agents and heirs of the Kingdom of Light. We must name and then resist those things that are so clearly not of God and instead we can point people to the Light.
And when we get discouraged, we need to be reminded that the darkness cannot overcome us. The powers of Sin, Death, and the Devil may have a part in our world, for a time, but they are frail and fickle enemies. Our Lord has defeated them, and he’s promised to end their reign once and for all when he comes again.
As a nine-year-old showed us this week, we can cast away the works of darkness with a whisper. Our salvation is near at hand. The world’s rescue mission is already underway.
1st Sunday of Advent. Year B. Isaiah 61:1-9. Mk 13:24-37. Advent by Fleming Rutledge. https://www.breakingnews.ie/israel-hamas/freed-irish-israeli-girl-emily-hand-refuses-to-speak-above-whisper-after-hostage-ordeal-1558317.html. Photo by Prateek Gautam on Unsplash.