Advent 1- December 1, 2019- St John’s Franklin
Welcome to the first Sunday of Advent…I imagine that phrase, that greeting, evokes all kinds of feelings and emotions… at least it does in me…excitement and longing, even as in the background-to be honest, sometimes smack in the foreground- the lists are growing longer… lists of all the things we have to do… decorate, send cards, buy gifts, plan a festive meal, clean and spruce things up, get ready…Our lives are full of distractions to get… whatever it might be we are pursuing.
We all likely have traditions that we observe, some we love, some not so much… some we do because—it’s Christmas and that’s what we do!In the midst of this we bring ourselves, our dreams as well as our burdens, those known and those tender and deeply personal, to this busy time of year… There are many tasks and many things vying for our attention… it can seem like a worldwind…and, sometimes, it can be awesome-a lot of fun… Last night, I went to Medway’s Christmas parade and Fireworks.. it was cold, and festive and a real sense of community gathered, with happy children everywhere…and the fireworks, which lasted like…5hrs… were spectacular!
But this holy season is not just about things to do… it’s full of possibilities too… Advent is about anticipation, it’s about waiting… and it’s an opportunity… an opportunity to not just get the external ready, but to get ourselves ready. Amidst all the distractions, we are given an opportunity to let go…not of everything, but of those things that are in our way, that blind us from seeing and living into the amazing future God has in mind for us.
Advent offers us a regular cycle to pause, to take a deep breathe, to listen…and to get our priorities right… to release the ties that bind us and begin again.We hear in our readings throughout these coming weeks, that the day is coming, we do not know when, when all will be transformed…we are advised to be alert, to listen and learn, to stay focused.
But the message of Advent is not just about introspection-it’s also about preparartion… about action.It’s a reminder that we are part of something so much bigger than ourselves… it’s about an invitation… an imperative really, to constantly and actively promote the good of our neighbors as well as ourselves, the good of all of God’s children.We live in a time full of challenges… It can seem sometimes like very troubling times-with works of darkness all around us.Daily we hear reports of increased violence, here and in lands far away, lack of respect for ourselves, for each other, for anyone a bit different from us.We reject the lessons we have learned, be it through science, or truth, or experience.Sometimes it can seem like we have embraced arrogance, we have become an “it’s all about me” society.And I think we have to push back a bit, to proclaim our shared humanity, in word as well as actions, in the ways we choose to live our precious lives: “Yes, the world revolves, but just not around you or me… around all of God’s beloved creation”.As the prophet Isaiah proclaims, we look forward, in action rather than distraction, to a time when we “shall beat our swords into ploughshares, and our spears into pruning-hooks; when “nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”
The words of our psalm have us praying for peace and a relief from whatever troubles us… and praying for each other.And the letter to the Romans reminds them, and us “You know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep”.
This focus on peace, opportunity and action reminds me that today is also “World AIDS Day”, established in 1988 as a global response to something that threatens so many.I am forever thankful for the opportunity I was given to lead our diocesan initiative to be part of the solution… through focus on the basics: food, education, health care at a local level in communities throughout East Africa.We made a difference to be sure, but the profound difference I became aware of, is how doing that work changed me… it opened up to me a whole new world- through travel and education and fundraising and actually getting to know-close up and personal- more of God’s dearly beloved- both the two and four legged kind, all in their homes and natural habitats.I saw breathtaking scenery and unimaginable poverty.I got to meet, and work with people from around the world, including the leadership of HOPE Africa, who were united in working toward a time when, working together, we inched a bit closer to God’s kingdom.There were issues, of course, we are, after all, human… but we were determined to continue the work, fueled by God’s imperative…and by hope.HOPE is not wishful thinking or charity…HOPE Africa means: H=Hope, O=opportunity, P= partnership, E=empowerment.
As we lit our first candle of the Advent season this morning- the candle symbolizing HOPE- I am reminded that despite the many obstacles we may encounter along the way- in our daily lives and in the world around us- we are so fortunate to be able to offer ourselves, to experience and bring hope.
As we gather here in this season of preparation, in this blessed sanctuary, this little church, this mighty church… let it be a bit of sanctuary for you, for all of us… where we can come together, we can rest, but also get renewed, working together as part of God’s beloved community, looking toward that peace and listening for that hope which will come again in the cries of a newborn baby.That baby reminds us of a world full of possibilities, and a world that needs our care.
So I invite you this morning, to pause for a moment, to focus on that candle… be drawn in by that flickering flame, and let it bring hope to your heart…pay attention to the light: what brings you joy?what passion warms and stirs your heart? how will you be a part of ensuring God’s beloved creation?Amen.