Happy New Year! Advent Begins

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December 02, 2018


Truly. Happy New Year. In our Episcopal liturgical calendar, it’s the first day of a whole new year. And in that calendar, we begin the year with Advent. Advent means “coming” and we are starting a season of preparing for the coming of Christ. That’s why we lit the candle.

What’s so fun about our liturgical calendar, is that it’s different from regular time – our contemporary Gregorian calendar. This kind of thing serves us. Helps us remember whose we are. where we are. where we are going. We can be tethered to our spirituality as we attach ourselves to our liturgical calendar…on a different trajectory than the culture around us. It may serve as a powerful reminder.

And what do calendars do? Inform us of coming events or signal us to remember past events.

Though our calendars will not hit Christmas Day for 23 more days, in our stores and neighborhoods, Christmas has come…so much for effective calendar keeping.

However, we can effectually practice the season of Advent over these next four weeks – it can both inform us and signal us to remember.

We have additional help outside of the calendar as we practice Advent. We function in the midst of much sign and symbol in our Episcopal tradition – calendars, colors, candles, hymns, and music of seasons. We tend to involve many senses as we approach God. Sight. Smell. Touch. Sound. The more senses involved, the more we are involved. One sense is sight and has to do with color.

We’ve just come off what the liturgical calendar calls “ordinary time,” though there is nothing ordinary about it. It’s a season of growth after Pentecost. The color that expresses it is green – which kinda makes sense as it expresses growth. To remind us, this color was on the altar and lectern and podium, and we, as clergy, wore it. But now, new year, new season, new color – blue, or purple. Again, using our senses to remind us of reality. In our liturgical practice blue signals expectation and preparation.

And speaking of senses – the Advent wreath also helps us – light and color.

The flavors of waiting are illustrated in the Advent wreath: preparation, joy, and celebration. These are shown in the candle colors: dark blue/purple, rose, and white.

In simplicity, as an additional candle is lit each week it symbolizes growing anticipation for Christ’s coming. Increasing light. Advent is a time of journey from darkness to light.

The season of Advent is, on the whole, a season of waiting with some different flavors to it – Advent is both simple and complex.

Apart from colors and calendar and symbols we see from our readings today, that this waiting is not linear – we hear about the promise to be fulfilled in Jeremiah and in Luke, Christ’s return. It’s about looking back – Christ coming to us as a baby; looking forward – Christ returning, and looking around – Christ confronting us…confront is kind of a strong word – perhaps bringing us up short is more what I mean, getting our attention in our now…our daily lives.

Advent. Looking back, looking forward, and looking around while journeying from darkness to light. In the midst of this, it is also both personal and corporate.


We pick up on this in our Jeremiah reading. At the time of Jeremiah, Israel was in the thick of the Babylonian exile. Kathleen O’Connor in her commentary on Jeremiah describes it this way: “The people were taken captive, dragged from their land, and deprived of their Temple. They…faced death as a people, and…[cried] out to God in anger and despair.”

Darkness. Personally, and corporately as a people.

It’s into this darkness Jeremiah proclaims: “The days are surely coming, says the Lord when I will fulfill the promise, I made…I will cause a Righteous Branch to spring up for David.” In the midst of harsh reality for them, Jeremiah has a confidence that probably seemed a little crazy at the time.

Have you heard the phrase, “Stump of Jesse”? …conceptually connected to what’s being said about the Righteous Branch. It's a reference to genealogy.

What’s happening is that David’s line has been cut off…the hope of Israel is likened to watching a stump blossom and grow a branch, become a tree…which can’t happen apart from something beyond what is graspable. That’s a dark time and takes a lot of hope and a lot of faith.

This then and there, informs us here and now.

If God can bring to life the line of David and provide for Christ to come…God can move in our darkness. Jennifer Ayres, at Emory University’s School of Theology, helps us connect the then and there with our here and now as she writes on this Jeremiah passage. She associates despair with “failed attempts to procure security for ourselves” and asserts “Humans meet despair when they cannot imagine God’s promised alternative future.” Let me say that again: She associates despair with “failed attempts to procure security for ourselves” and asserts “Humans meet despair when they cannot imagine God’s promised alternative future.”

Another way to describe darkness may be an absence of security…

Advent is a season to journey in our darkness to light – where Jesus confronts us.

It’s looking back, looking around, but also looking forward – perhaps crystallizing our convictions concerning Christ’s return.

We hear this in the gospel reading today. Jesus is describing things that may strike fear into folks, but he says, “stand up, raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” Not fear, anticipation.

This anticipation leads to preparation. Jesus says “be on guard” – not in a battle kind of way, but in a be ready kind of way.

If we really believed Jesus was coming back…would that affect our lives? Well, yea.

Anticipation, preparation.

Heidi Neumark, a Lutheran Pastor, in her book Breathing Space, writes on Advent. She says:

Probably the reason I love Advent so much is that it is a reflection of how I feel most of the time. I might not feel sorry during Lent when the liturgical calendar begs repentance. I might not feel victorious, even though it is Easter morning. I might not feel full of the Spirit, even though it is Pentecost…but during Advent, I am always in sync with the season.

Advent unfailingly embraces and comprehends my reality [she says]. And what is her reality? Longing. [She asserts] Advent is when the church can no longer contain its unfulfilled desire…

Darkness. Anticipation. Preparation. Honesty. These speak to us in our waiting – our desires wants, needs - personally and as a community.

I said earlier that Advent is not linear. In terms of the snapshot we covered here, we begin to catch that. It’s not tidy. It’s looking back, looking forward, looking around. Many conceptual spirals whirling, not one linear train of thought to follow. When there’s a lot of potential chaos not only in culture but in magnitude in this Advent season, one of the best things to do is stop. Be still. Wait. It’s counter-intuitive, but it’s the full body stop that helps us take in what’s around us. And like all our other signs and symbols of practice we have, when we do a full body stop it signals our minds, our hearts, our spirits to slow down, to stop as well.

Wait as the psalmist did. Hear again from the Psalm appointed for the day:

“Make me to know your ways O Lord; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you, I wait all day long.”

May we know courage, faith, and grace in this Advent season.