Today is the first Sunday in Advent: that season when we wait, in holy anticipation, for God to come into the world as one of us, among a dispossessed people in an occupied land; as a newborn, to new parents, who couldn’t find a place to stay for the night.
Today is the first Sunday in Advent: when we light a candle for hope.
Last week, I talked about how a song, or a prophecy, or a story, can mean more than one thing. And the truth is that Advent is about more than one thing. It is a season that calls to the past, and the present, and the future. It is a big ball of wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey… stuff.
It is a season that points to a central mystery of our faith.
I need to be careful here. Most of the time, when we use the word mystery, we mean a puzzle that has a solution that we don’t know yet. Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot, Encyclopedia Brown.
But when I say mystery, I mean a thing that we can ponder but that we cannot understand.
Advent is a season that points to a central mystery of our faith; to something that we can ponder, that we can wonder about, that we can speculate on, that we can play with… but that we cannot understand.
On the one hand, Christ came into the world. Christ taught and preached and healed. Christ went to the cross and to the tomb. Christ died and rose. Christ redeemed and restored and revived all of creation.
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness have had light shined upon them. For unto us a child was born—unto us a child was given—and he is called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace, King of Kings, and Lord of Lords. And he reigns forever and ever at the right hand of God.
And I believe that. The life and death and resurrection of Christ—the redemption and restoration and revivification of creation—is my starting point. Everything else flows from that.
On the other hand…
I know that—in the face of all of the tragedy that the pandemic has brought to our world—this is a small thing. But one of the things that pandemic did was mess up my sermon-writing schedule.
Before the pandemic, I would start a sermon on Monday, and work on it through the week, and preach it on Sunday.
Now, I start a sermon on Saturday, and I can work on it on Sunday and Monday, and I preach it for the recording on Tuesday and again on Sunday. And on the Sunday after the Saturday when I preach that sermon, I preach the sermon that I started the previous Saturday. And on the Saturday before the Sunday when I preach that sermon, I start the sermon that I will preach the following Sunday.
It’s a strange loop… a big ball of wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey… stuff.
But what it comes to do is that I started writing this sermon one week and done day ago, on the Saturday after the Ritenhouse verdict. And the world has moved since then—life has happened and new stories have moved to the top of the news—but…
I’m not going to try to convince you that the verdict was right or wrong. I’m not going to try to convince you that the law was right or wrong. The whole situation—and everything around it—is fraught and complicated and volatile.
But I will say that I think that bringing a gun into a situation that is fraught and complicated and volatile only makes things more dangerous. And I am worried that this verdict will only encourage more people to bring more funds into more situations that are fraught and complicated and volatile.
Which is a roundabout way of saying that—in the moment of that verdict and the days after it—it did not look like all of creation had been redeemed and restored and revived.
And there are a lot of moments like that.
I’ve told you that I write my sermons with the Bible open in one tab and news open in several others. And the truth is that we live in a world where there is racism and sexism and ableism; where there is poverty and homelessness and oppression; where there is war and conflict and violence.
We live in a world that is fraught and complicated and volatile.
Today is the first Sunday in Advent: when we light a candle for hope. And our reading today is from the book of Jeremiah… a prophet who was not known for hope.
Jeremiah spent years telling the people what they had done, and what they had failed to do, and what was coming:
As a thief is shamed when he is caught, so shall you be shamed. You and your kings, your officials, your priests, and your prophets… you will all be shamed. You who say to idols of wood, “You are my father”… you who say to idols of stone, “You gave me birth”… you who turn your backs on the Lord… you will be shamed.
And then you will turn to the Lord and cry out for salvation. And the Lord will reply, “Where are your gods that you made for yourselves? Let them come and save you. For you have as many gods as you have towns.”
But the people didn’t listen. And the Babylonians came, and took Jerusalem, and carried the king and the officials and the priests and the prophets into exile, and appointed a puppet king. And things got terrible.
And then things got worse. The puppet king rebelled. And the Babylonians returned, and ripped Jerusalem apart, and destroyed the temple, and carried more people into exile, and turned the kingdom of Judah into a backwater province of their empire.
In the middle of all of that—in the time between things getting terrible and things getting worse—Jeremiah wrote a letter to the king, the officials, the priests, and the prophets who were in exile:
Do you want to know what you should do while you’re in exile? Do you know what you should do while things are bad and getting worse? Build houses and plant gardens and create families. Seek the welfare of the place where you are. Live your lives, do good, make things better.
Because the Lord has plans for you. The Lord will restore your fortunes. The Lord will give you a future with hope.
In the middle of all of that—in the time between things getting terrible and things getting worse—the prophet who was not known for hope told the people, “Live in hope.”
Today is the first Sunday of Advent: a season that exists in the past, and in the present, and in the future; a season that’s a big ball of wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey… stuff; a season that points to a central mystery of our faith.
On the one hand, Christ came into the world… and redeemed and restored and revived all of creation. On the other hand, we live in a world that is in desperate need of redemption and restoration and revivification.
We live in a world that is fraught and complicated and volatile: good and broken, redeemed and crying out for redemption, now and not yet. A big ball of wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey… stuff.
It’s a mystery. And I don’t have a solution for it. I can ponder it, but I cannot understand it.
But I know that in the middle of all of that—when we are a people in the darkness—we light a candle. A candle to give us light. A candle to remind us of the true light. A candle to remind us to have hope.
Because the truth is that in the middle of all of this—in middle of this world that is good and broken, redeemed and crying out for redemption, now and not yet—the light of Christ is burning in each and every one of us.
And Christ is calling us to seek the welfare of this world:
Christ is calling us to build houses… for ourselves and for each other and for everyone who needs a place to stay.
Christ is calling us to plant gardens… to grow food for ourselves and for each other and for everyone who needs something to eat.
Christ is calling us to build families… to create communities of love for ourselves and for each other and for everyone who needs to hear the good news that they are loved and worthy of love.
Christ is calling us to live our lives and do good and make things better.
Today is the first Sunday in Advent: that season when we recommit ourselves to the work of holy anticipation, in the hope that the seed that Christ scattered so long ago will grow and blossom, and the world will become what it is yearning to be… nothing less than the kingdom of God.
Today is the first Sunday in Advent: when we light a candle for hope; when we carry the light of hope out into the world, that everyone might know the hope of Christ.