Isaiah 49:8-13; II Corinthians 6:1-2
The Rev. Tom Herbek
November 27, 2016
Advent, “the coming of God”, is a reminder to each of us that God does not do things the way that we would, or, at least, not the way we would if we had all the power in the world.
Advent offers us the possibility of hope. Advent calls us to take the risky step of allowing for the rebirth of hope, of getting above what usually holds us back, of being able to see the bigger picture. Advent allows us to hope again, because we realize that God is always one step ahead of us. God does not come to us in the ways we expect.
The “coming of God”, “Advent”, happened 2000 years ago, and it is still happening today. Each Advent is a reminder of that. And even today, God does not come in the way we’d expect. As Richard Rohr says:
We, like Bethlehem itself, are too tiny to imagine greatness within us, but God always hides inside of littleness and seeming insignificance, so only the humble and honest can find God. God appears at the edges, it seems. We do not have to see God if we do not want to. God trusts our desiring and lets us do all the discovering. The Mystery of God does not come from high above, like the important capitals of Jerusalem, Rome, Paris, or Washington, D.C., but only in little towns like Bethlehem, hardly big enough to notice
Those who can recognize God within their own ordinary souls will be the same who will freely and daringly affirm the God-Presence in other unexpected places.
The hope of Advent is that God will surprise us again this year. Part of what will allow it to happen is up to us. How will God surprise us this Advent season? In his wonderful, crazy way, I think Robert Fulgham gives us a clue. This is what he says:
I usually draw up a heavy duty Things-To-Do list about this time of year. I am a black belt at lists. I even have lists of lists. Seven pages of expectations that are in themselves enough to permanently destroy the spirit of Christmas.
But this year I started from somewhere else in my mind. New list. One page. A Things-To-Be list. Concentrating on the feelings I wanted to have, the condition of mind and spirit I yearned for, the quality of life I wanted to manifest, the vibrations I wanted to give off to other people. A Things-To-Be list for Christmas.
Then I boiled the list down into one word. And then I wrote that word on a tiny piece of paper. And then I wrapped that tiny piece of paper around a small candy cane. And ate it. List and all. Shazam! Hark the Herald Angels Sing!
Oh sure, it’s a little crazy. But since when is Christmas supposed to make sense? Oh sure, it’s a little early – today is December 6 – but since when is Christmas a matter of time? I mean, who makes the rules and regulations about Christmas, anyway? Who says it must be an orderly, organized affair? Who is in charge of Christmas? Me, that’s who. The Christmas-list eater.
I suppose you want to know what the one word was. Nope. You got to work it out for yourself. Like Christmas. ‘Cause if it ain’t inside you somewhere, all the lists in the world won’t make it happen.
Here, have a candy cane on me.
It’s true. Advent-Christmas. If it’s not inside us, then all the lists in the world won’t make it happen. Advent is a state of mind, not a day on the calendar. It is not a time or a season in the typical sense. It is a state of mind that allows us to take risks. And perhaps the biggest risk is to start hoping again.
Hope means we realize that we can only see in part, like looking in a dim mirror. Hope means we decide again that we will follow a God who stands for what is good and kind and loving, a God who stands for what is life-giving rather than what is life-destroying. When we embrace in hope what is loving and just and beautiful, then we can experience Advent again, even if we have no idea what the end result will be. Advent means that we risk the rebirth of hope in our lives and in our world. There is always a risk in hoping, always a risk in expecting love to grow in our fractured world.
I like how Marianne Williamson says it:
The holidays are only holy if we make them so.
The holidays are a time of spiritual preparation, if we allow them to be. We’re preparing for the birth of our possible selves, the event with which we have been psychologically pregnant all our lives.
Christ is born into the world through each of us. As we open our hearts, he is born into the world. As we choose to forgive, he is born into the world. As we rise to the occasion, he is born into the world. As we make our hearts true conduits for love, and our minds true conduits for higher thoughts, then absolutely a divine birth takes place. Who we’re capable of being emerges into the world, and weaknesses of the former self begin to fade.
We make moment-by-moment decisions of what kind of people to be – whether to be someone who blesses, or who blames; someone who obsesses about past and future, or who dwells fully in the present; someone who whines about problems, or who creates solutions. It’s always our choice what attitudinal ground to stand on: the emotional quicksand of negative thinking, or the airstrip of spiritual flight.
Such choices are made in every moment, consciously or unconsciously, throughout the year. But this is the season when we consider the possibility that we could become more of who we are created to be, not just sometimes but all the time.
Jesus gives to Christmas its spiritual intensity, hidden behind the world’s lure into all the wild and cacophonous sounds of the season. Beyond the nativity scenes, beyond the doctrinal hoopla, lies one important thing: the hope that we might yet become, while still on this earth, who we truly are.
- Goodness and Light
One of the things Advent reminds us of is that we must also learn- or learn again- how to wait. Especially in this busy season, we discover, or at least I discover- again- that I am not very good at waiting. In a world of devices that allow us to get calls, email and texts any place, at any time, we expect instant access and instant response to everything.
Paula Gooder wrote a book about Advent entitled The Meaning Is In the Waiting. She says:
Antipathy to waiting is exacerbated, if not encouraged, by the world in which we live. All around us we encounter, day after day, the encouragement not to wait but to have what we want now.
Our credit-driven society urges us to abandon all thought of waiting and to buy now; so many advertisements have as their underlying message “why wait?” Improvements in communication only erode the notion of waiting further.
Waiting is increasingly a strange notion. We have become accustomed to immediacy and swift action.
Part of the clue to a reinvigorated and renewed vision of Advent lies in waiting; a waiting that rests not in frustration but in stillness; not in frenzied anticipation but in an embracing of the present. If we want to appreciate Advent fully, we need to relearn how to wait, to recover the art of savoring the future, of staying in the present and of finding meaning in the act of waiting,
It was only when I was pregnant with my first child that I realized that I had completely misunderstood what waiting was about. I have a very low boredom threshold and, consequently, am very bad at waiting. Waiting makes me anxious, restless, and uneasy. Imagine my bemusement then to encounter an experience that is entirely about waiting. No one who is expecting a child wants the waiting to end and the baby to come early – that can only spell heartache. The only thing to do in pregnancy is to wait, and not only that, but to hope against hope that the period of waiting does not end prematurely.
As I waited for the birth of my baby, I discovered that waiting can be a nurturing time, valuable in its own right. Until then, I had assumed that waiting could only be passive, that it involved sitting around, drumming my fingers, completely powerless to do anything until the moment of waiting passed and I could be active again. How wrong I was. The waiting of pregnancy is about an active an occupation as one can hope to engage in. Pregnant Waiting is a profoundly creative act involving a slow growth to new life. This kind of waiting may appear passive externally but internally consists of never-ending action and is a helpful analogy for the kind of waiting that Advent requires.
Waiting for the future involves recognition of what the world might be and the resolve to bring our own part of it one step closer.
Advent is a time that summons us to embrace waiting as a way of life, to practice it, to hone our skills, and by doing so to lay down the foundations of a life shaped by waiting, so that when those times come in which we have no idea what to do, we fall back on that deep, still waiting in the present moment that opens up a space for God’s intervention in our midst.
It is in the waiting that we begin to realize the pregnant possibilities in our world and in our lives. It is in the waiting that hope is rekindled and our vision is renewed. As we wait in hope, we begin to see things that we could not see otherwise in the constant stream of our busyness and the never-ceasing demand for response from the technology around us. In the waiting, we discover that our hope is strengthened.
Hope makes us strong when we would otherwise be weak. Hope makes us courageous when we would otherwise be cowering. Hope opens our eyes to see situations- to see life itself- with a new vision. Hope helps us to look beyond ourselves. Hope happens in the darkness when we feel alone and overwhelmed. Hope is found when we look outside ourselves; yet it begins deep within us.
Hope is the possibility that there is more to life than what we can see at any given moment.