Oh my gosh… Advent is here. It seems like just yesterday it was summer and then “boom” it’s Thanksgiving. I hope y’all had a nice “turkey day” with family and friends. I hope you had a chance to bask in the warm glow of those days and enjoy the love that bonds you together with all those folks important to you. And that you brought that sense of family and that warm glow here to church on Sunday morning.
…and then you get to be welcomed to Advent with the readings of death, doom, despair, war and rumors of war. There is a part of me that wants to apologize to you. There is a part of me that wants to start proclaiming the stories leading up to Christmas – you know – the Annunciation, Joseph’s dream, the Visitation to Mary’s cousin Elizabeth, the whole story of John the Baptist’s father Zechariah, or a passage or two about the magi setting out on their travel after seeing the star. There is enough materials there to take us through the four weeks of Advent, right up to the doorstep of Christmas. Right? It would be like connecting the warm glow of Thanksgiving to the warm glow of Christmas. Seems like a plan, right?
The Church is wise in its selections of readings through Advent. Today’s gospel proclaims, “Be vigilant at all times.” Don’t be the person who keeps looking at the clock during class wondering when will the end get here – as you miss all the wisdom and instruction right in front of you. Pay attention to the matters at hand. And it is not always days of a warm glow. Sometimes “on earth nations will be in dismay, perplexed by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will die of fright in anticipation of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.”
The first reading was from the Prophet Jeremiah speaking to the frightened people of Jerusalem. The City of David was between the rock and the hard place: the armies of the Egyptian King Neco to the south and the armies of the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar to the north – and yet the prophet speaks the Word of God: “The days are coming, says the LORD, when I will fulfill the promise…In those days Judah shall be safe and Jerusalem shall dwell secure.” Even as the prophet tells them to attend to the days at hand, he holds up a pretty big promise of safety and security…but on the other side of the coming tribulation. Jesus makes the same promise to his disciples (and to us). We are to attend to the days at hand: “Be vigilant at all times and pray that you have the strength to escape the tribulations that are imminent..” but there is the big promise that on the other side of the coming tribulation we will “…stand before the Son of Man” safe and secure.
In the 2,000 years since we have seen tribulations a plenty. The roaring of the seas and waves is heard each day on the evening news. But isn’t it always that way? Take some time and list all the epic and terrifying events of our lifetime. We did that one night in Bible Study and in about 15 minutes, the board was filled with wars, terrorist attacks, assassinations, assaults, death, doom, destruction, fire, flood, famine, pestilence, and plague. One person glanced at the board, deeply sighed and said “this is depressing.” They might as well have asked, what could possibly save us? That deep sigh would find an ally in the Christmas poem, For the Time Being, in which W.H. Auden wrote: “Nothing can save us that is possible: We who must die demand a miracle.”
The readings of Advent are chosen to remind us that in the midst of this current tribulation, our demand for a miracle was fulfilled 2,000 years ago in the birth of Jesus, the one who saves. The readings of Advent are also chosen, in part, to point to the second coming of Jesus who will bring the promise to its fulfillment on the other side of tribulation. The readings of Advent are chosen to remind us to not watch the clock for the end of things, but to encourage us to “stand erect and raise [our] heads” as it says in the Gospel. To be that warm glow for others, to “increase and abound in love for one another and for all” as St. Paul tells us in the second reading.
Advent’s first weekend of readings is to remind us the miracle demanded has been given in the person of Jesus born in Bethlehem and who will come again in power and glory. Jesus who comes today in the midst of our current tribulations. Jesus who comes today in the Eucharist to be the living Hope in you. And in your “Amen” you commit yourself to be a miracle demanded by others because of the Hope in you.
We are people of Advent. We are people of tribulation. We are people of miracles and promises fulfilled. We are people called to go into the world to love and give others Hope. And to let them know the promise of Jesus is big enough to save – to give them that warm glow of redemption.