Scriptures: Isaiah 9:1-4 & I Thessalonians 3:9-13
Originally given at UPC of Amsterdam, NY on December 2nd, 2012
Advent is about expecting, waiting, hoping, and praying. We all know the stress that comes with anticipating Christmas. Looking for the perfect gift for our loved ones, attending Christmas parties, cleaning the house for guests, remembering family members that have passed on, stressing out over trying to have the best Christmas experience until you have totally grown weary over the holiday season, the search for the perfect Christmas, the search for joy. It is not a surprise that most people report having an increase in the feelings of depression and hopelessness around this holiday season. When each year, the Normal Rockwell family Christmas that we are searching for begins to slowly but surely resemble a Griswold family Christmas. And if we are truly honest with ourselves, we know that something is not quite right in our preparation if we feel as if Christmas morning feels like the completion of a marathon rather than a celebration of the arrival of the Christ-child. But it is hard for many of us to even begin to know how to properly prepare for Christmas. Some of us come from traditions where Advent isn’t observed, most of us have grown up in a culture in which the season of Advent is less important than is the shopping season thrust upon us beginning on Thanksgiving and going to Christmas Eve. And this isn’t completely our fault. Christmas is easier to understand. It is an event that sits in history that we celebrate. A baby, born in a manger, with shepherds and wise men, King Herod and the escape to Egypt, a great company of the heavenly host appearing over Bethlehem and declaring, “Glory to God in the highest heaven and peace for all those upon whom favor rests.” We get that, we can understand that, it fits well on a Christmas card. Less easy to understand is the time immediately before that for the people of Israel and for us today.
“The people who dwelled in darkness will see a great light,” the prophet Isaiah wrote. This is a statement of expecting. This is a statement of ultimate hope in which a whole nation of people, many of whom had been crying out for relief from persecution, would finally find some amount of relief from oppression. The people who had been strewn far and wide, the people who had had their country ransacked and their capital sacked, the people who had experienced starvation and struggle, for them the light of God would again shine. And I wonder, if we really search our souls, if we cannot understand a bit of how those early Israelites felt listening to Isaiah and his message of ultimate hope. In a world in which many are hungry, many are homeless, many face this cold weather without a decent coat or even a place to find respite, even if only for a few minutes, into this world we can understand a bit of darkness.
“The people who dwelled in darkness will see a great light,” the prophet Isaiah wrote. This is a statement of waiting in the midst of what must have seemed like forever. For a people who had not spend an evening in their own home in sometime, had not plowed their own crops, or walked around the streets of their hometowns, who had not seen their friends, or families, or neighbors for sometime. Yet still they waited, faithfully, for light to emerge in their worlds. And I wonder if we may not sense a bit of that ourselves in the midst of this holiday season. We know that Advent is a time for waiting and yet, we don’t always know what it is that we are waiting for. We know that Advent is a time for waiting and yet, we don’t always know how to wait for what we are waiting for. We too often feel like we must force God to come, force the Spirit to move, force Jesus to emerge in our lives in real and tangible ways. We feel like we have to have the perfect Christmas experience and in our efforts miss the blessing that waiting provides. We miss times of silence in our efforts to create the perfect silence. We miss times of “thin places” where creation and God pass so close that we could reach out and touch the Spirit of God. We miss the journey by rushing to the destination.
“The people who dwelled in darkness will see a great light,” the prophet Isaiah wrote. This is a statement for a group of people who had to be running out of hope, for a people desperate to know that God still loved them, that God still sought to take care of them. This is a statement, in which the reality of the situation, that is the despair of the situation was not overcome by the hope that remained. And we need this kind of a hope to today, don’t we friends? We need to know that the ways of the old order of the world do not get the last say in our lives, in our world, we need to know that we can still dream dreams and have visions, that we can still imagine the world a better place, a more peace-filled place, a more loving place and we need to believe that with God’s help we can make those dreams, visions, imaginations a reality. We need to know that even in the midst of preparation of our hearts and souls, even in the midst of times of doubts and weakness that there remains a light that illumines our spirits and our world. We need to have eyes to see the world as Isaiah saw it. We need to have eyes to see hope in a hopeless world. But to do that, to see that, to hope for that, we must pray.
“The people who dwelled in darkness will see a great light,” the prophet Isaiah wrote. This is a prayerful statement and we need prayer today. In the midst of our busy lives, in the midst of our preparations, in the midst of now we need those times to sit and breathe and try to hear that still small voice speaking words of peace and hope and love. Yes, love. We need to know that in the midst of struggle in the midst of the mundane in the midst of life, is love. We must pray so that we can give voice to our feelings, our desires, our needs. We must pray so that we can put away the rest of the world, the parts of the world in which darkness still covers, still devours, and we must listen for guidance of how to see the light and how to be the light.
As we begin this journey together, this journey that ends at a lowly manger, in an otherwise nondescript town in central Israel. Where animals grazed and a poor young woman gave birth to her first born child, wrapping in him in swaddling clothes, let’s all remember that out of this darkness came one who would bear light for the world and who calls us to bear light for the world today. And let’s love, expecting that in our love Jesus is made real in our lives and the lives of others. Let’s love, waiting for the fruits of our love to come to harvest even though we know that we may never actually see that day. Let’s love, hoping that the power of love can and does emerge as the most powerful for on earth, ending war and reaching out to people who need to know that someone, somewhere cares. Let’s love, and let love be our prayer to God and for the world know that it is in prayer that we connect with God and it is with love that we connect with one another. One single chain, one single being, one love for all people.
And let’s be fed for our journey, for our expecting, waiting, hoping, and praying, let’s be fed, here at this table, where Jesus, who came into this world some 2,000 years ago, sits as the host, waiting to feed us, to dwell with us, and to love us. There is no better place in the world to start this Advent journey than the table of Jesus. Glory be to God in the highest and on earth peace amongst all God’s peoples, Alleluia, Amen.