Advent: Swinging into Christmas
December 2, 2012
Advent 1, Year C: Jeremiah 33:14-16; Psalm 25; I Thessalonians 3:9-13, Luke 21:25-36
Pastor Mary Blessing,
St. Philip’s Episcopal Church, Scotts Valley, CA
When you arrived today, did you see anything new? What did you notice? The colors: shades of purple. 4 candles on the Advent Wreathe in the center of the room. This is different than last year—our candles are in the Center, and the wreathe is floating in water!! The chairs are also set in more of a circle. Do you see anything else? The “Star” in the distance…the lectern on the other side of the room… We are wrapped in change. All these changes--color, shape, room orientation, are all signs that SOMETHING NEW IS COMING OUR WAY. We call this “Advent”—the word means “coming”. The church is preparing for the coming of the birth of Jesus. It is the end of a one year cycle in the church, and the beginning of a new year.
But the question have for you is this: is it the end of one year or the beginning of the next?
Or, are we on the cusp between the old year ending and the new year beginning? This feeling of something ending as another thing begins can be a little unsettling, or it can be profoundly centering. Let me tell you what I mean by this. I will use a common experience that I believe most of you have had, although you may not have had this particular experience in a very long time.
A couple of weeks ago I joined a gathering of some of our young children and moms to romp in Hocus Pocus Park. Among the children was Rylee, Courtney and Tim Messer’s daughter. This bright and capable 4 year old was on the “big kid swings”. She gleefully announced: “You don’t have to push anymore, mommy, I can pump myself!”
As I watched Rylee (with envy I must say—‘cause I was dying to get a turn) I remembered the feeling of swinging in a playground. You know, that almost “out of body” experience you get—sort of like “weightlessness” astronauts feel—as you hit that high point on the swing when you have come back at the end of one sweep and are just about to begin the next sweep.
I LOVE THAT FEELING OF BEING SUSPENDED--JUST FOR AN INSTANT--HANGING BETWEEN ENDING AND BEGINNING.
That instant, that moment of suspension between the end of one swing of the pendulum and the start of the next is, for me what Today, the First Day of Advent feels like—we are suspended in time between the end of one year and the beginning of the next. Let us take a moment to just imagine that feeling. (pause for people to really think)
We who are Christians following the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, Jesus the Risen Christ, are in a perpetual state of suspension between Jesus who was God incarnate, and Christ who ascended “into the heavens”, promising to come again ….
First Advent is the one moment in the church year when we truly get to consider the profound truth of this in-between time. The scripture we hear today invites us into conscious awareness of our time in God’s cycle of creation. Today we can truly live in this place of time suspension. Let’s consider how these sacred writings invite us in this way.
First we hear from Jeremiah. Jeremiah is a prophet who lived about 600 years before Jesus was born. Jeremiah is one of many prophets who announces the future expectation of the coming of a new King—a King who would unite the two kingdoms of Israel and Judah, which split following the reign of David’s son, Solomon. Living in the southern kingdom of Judah, Jeremiah saw his people ignoring God--God, who brought the Hebrew people out of bondage and into the land of promise. Jeremiah spent 40 years challenging his people to stop their disregard of the Law of Moses. Even though King Josiah came to reign and attempted to bring the people back into the ways of following YWHW, the One God of Israel, Jeremiah saw that they only paid lip-service to following Moses’ Laws. He attributed their insincerity to idolatry—they were worshipping other gods, placing their hopes upon immediate gratification as they gave homage to the gods of material well-being. Does this sound familiar?
Jeremiah pleaded year after year with his beloved people of Judah, that they turn their hearts back to YWHW. Yet they ignored his pleas. Still, he held out hope to those who would listen, hope that the true King of Israel, the Messiah, would come and so fill them with justice that they would turn their hearts back to the One GOD.
Jeremiah never gave up, even though he, too, was forced to leave his beloved land and was forcibly taken to Egypt. Jeremiah, the weeping prophet, mourns his loss even as he offers hope for the Coming of God’s Son.
As God’s pendulum swings over time, we then we hear from the Gospel of Luke—today’s reading is an apocalyptic writing at the end of Jesus time in the flesh. Some, like N.T. Wright, believe it is Luke giving Jesus’ words of warning of the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70AD. Most other scholars believe it is Luke’s way of giving rise to the destruction believed to be looming over not just Jerusalem and Israel which will happen at the time of Jesus’ Second Coming, the “Second Advent”, but is also the destruction of all that is known by the world—the “end times” as it were. * Sounding more like the Book of Revelation than the comforting story-telling of Luke’s maiden mother about to give birth to a baby in Bethlehem, it is a bit striking for us to hear these words on the First day of Advent. It is a warning: you are suspended in time between the end of the era of Jesus and the beginning of the era of Christ coming in glory.
Hanging here, suspended in mid-air, the Church asks: Are you ready for what is to come? Are you prepared to have everything you ever thought was important taken away from you? Are you ready to wipe a clean slate for what is next? Are you willing to give up gravity itself to be in that place where you hang in eager anticipation of the coming of Christ?
That is why I feel as if today is that “suspended animation” moment in the story of God coming into the world to reveal God’s love. We swing on the pendulum created by the Old Testament prophecy of the once expectant people of Judah and Israel, seeking a human leader, the Messiah, to give them all they need. Then we swing with a rude awakening brought with the warning that when Jesus the Christ comes the second time, all the world will be aroused by signs of distress. All nations, of every land will need to prepare. You and I cannot be attentive to all nations throughout the world, but if we are to at least attend to ourselves, our families and our neighbors, we will have made tremendous strides in helping the pendulum swing where it must go receive Christ in his second coming.
So that leads me to St. Philip’s. Here in this place at this time I feel as if we are exactly in this moment of suspended animation—not just for today, but for a season. We have “pumped our legs” hard these past 25 years, we have said “Mommy, you don’t need to push, I can do it myself.” We have allowed God’s pendulum of time and purpose to swing us up high—we are now at the apex, catching our breath while suspended in time and space for just moment. We don’t know precisely when the balance of things will call us toward the next level of hard, but creative, work for God. It is an exhilarating time, but if you look down instead of out toward the horizon, you just might raise the “fear flag”. We must be patient, even as we pause to take this moment seriously not just as individuals awaiting Christ’s coming again, but as a community of faith. We must consider what we do now which assures us of the stability of continual swinging on this pendulum.
As we “swing toward Christmas”, I encourage you to pause and assess your personal “readiness” for the Second Coming of Christ. It is now, in Advent, that we are invited to live in this exhilarating space in-between the end of one era and the beginning of another. We gasp with breathless anticipation of the falling of the swing into its next rotation—awaiting the infilling of the Christ child in our hearts to suspend us until the day of next powerful upswing into the Universe of Creation, the Second Coming of Christ.
Let us each now catch our breath, as we “SWING TOWARDS CHRISTMAS.”
*Feasting on the Word, Year C, v. 1, p. 21.