The First Sunday in Advent: December 3, 2017
Preacher: The Rev. Leigh Mackintosh, Associate Rector of St. Michael’s Church
Today, begins the season of Advent a time to wait, and watch for the coming of Christ in our lives and to hope and prepare for the return of God’s kingdom on earth. Advent also marks the beginning of the new church year. But, instead of a cheery “Happy New Year!,” Advent kicks us off with “Wait…watch…apocalypse now!”
Now before we begin with the doomsday dirges, let me first say that the apocalypse in the Bible is not meant to be a guilt-ridden message of God’s condemnation and wrathful punishment for the entire human race. The apocalypse is actually meant to be a message of hope and vindication for the disempowered and oppressed. It is a reminder to all that God’s power is ultimately greater than the economic, political, and military powers of this world.
Perhaps a hopeful message for us to hear in light of the dark times we are living. And yet, this is not the first time the people on earth have dwelled in darkness and fear. Both Mark and Isaiah’s apocalyptic visions resonate with our own experience of a world ridden with darkness, division, and decay. But their visions also remind us that God is still with us, just not in the ways we might expect.
Mark’s Gospel reflects a dark world ridden with catastrophic change, death and destruction…the sun darkens, the moon gives no light, stars fall from heaven. And yet it is in this moment of cosmic darkness that the glory of God comes to light.
Mark teaches us that sometimes things need to become dark in order for us to see the true brightness of the light shining through. What may seem like the end of the world may only be our own blindness to the brilliance of God’s light shining upon us.
Mark reminds us not to get caught up in all the apocalyptic predictions going around. His advice is to watch and wait. To give time for our eyes to adjust and perceive how the ways of God are different from the ways of the world. To watch as the light gradually becomes what the darkness was.
Lord, it is night. The night is for stillness, which comes after a long day. The dark, quiet of night heralds the dawn. May our fears of the darkness of the world and our own lives rest in you. Let us look expectantly to a new day, new joys, new possibilities. (New Zealand Prayer Book)
But God’s presence coming among us is not always so blinding and bright. For Isaiah, God moves in more subtle, quiet ways.
In our sin-swept world of suffering and isolation, God is the Potter who holds all things lovingly in his hands. The one who slowly, artfully makes his presence and purpose known.
Imagine God the potter who holds the cross in his hands — who takes an ordinary instrument of mass torture and oppression and slowly, silently molds it to become an instrument of love, reconciliation, and freedom for all people…if God can do that with the cross, how much more can He do with the evil and unruly powers of our world.
For we are the work of His hands–each of us lovingly, creatively, uniquely shaped in his divine image, molded for his good use. Advent is a time to rest in God’s hands. To worry less about the future or where our lives are headed and to stay here with God in the present. To wait and listen for God in the silence. To watch for God’s image gradually being formed within us to be revealed. A time to trust the in the slow work of God.
Imagine the hands of God. Hands that created light and life and all creation. Hands that guided the faithful in every generation. Hands that became human, hands that healed, that blessed and broke bread with friends and strangers, that worked as a carpenter. Hands that touched the cross holding the sin, and suffering and death of the whole world. Hands that rose again bringing new life and light to all creation.
Now imagine yourself being held in the hands of God. Feel the warmth of his touch. The strength and gentleness of his love. Hands of healing and wholeness. Hands filled with light and peace and joy and creativity.
Take a moment to rest in God’s holy hands.
Resting in his hands, look upon your life as it is right now in this moment. Take a long, loving look at the realities of the human condition.
Where do you see darkness? What fears or frustrations or despair are you holding on to? Where do you need God’s help or guidance?
Hold the darkness with God. Then gradually let it go, let it be in God’s hands.
As you let go of the light, where do you see the light coming in? What are you most grateful for? What brings you the most joy, peace, compassion?
Take a moment to let your light shine. Then gradually let it go forth into God’s hands to be sent forth to brighten the world. Take a moment and watch your light shining over the whole world.
Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are quite naturally impatient in everything
to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way to something
unknown, something new.
And yet it is the law of all progress
that it is made by passing through
some stages of instability—
and that it may take a very long time.
And so I think it is with you;
your ideas mature gradually—let them grow,
let them shape themselves, without undue haste.
Don’t try to force them on,
as though you could be today what time
(that is to say, grace and circumstances
acting on your own good will)
will make of you tomorrow.
Only God could say what this new spirit
gradually forming within you will be.
Give Our Lord the benefit of believing
that his hand is leading you,
and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
in suspense and incomplete.
(Teilhard de Chardin)