The Darkness of Advent

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December 01, 2019

Advent is here. The word advent means “coming.” And we hear that in our Isaiah reading – a bidding for people to come. And we hear of Jesus’ 2nd coming in our gospel reading. 

Come. Respond. Move toward something…but what? We hear at the end of our Isaiah passage: come to the light. 

In this time of year, it is dark. A lot. Maybe it’s dark when we go to work, and dark when we come home. It can affect our well-being, our energy. We can easily become inert and feel like its midnight and be shocked when we look at the clock and see its only 7 p.m. 

In the midst of this dark potentially inert time, Christmas is already around us. This past week – before Thanksgiving – Little Rock had the lighting of the Christmas tree downtown. This month will quickly become full – busy with food, parties, shopping, decorating. 

Into the short days and busy-ness we throw church into the mix: We’ve got the Christmas pageant – which many of our children have been diligently been preparing for. We’ve got music, which in the Episcopal tradition may feels odd to some, but can be so meaningful. We do not do Christmas songs before Christmas. It’s just too soon. And we’ve got the Advent wreath, which tonight, speaking of the bidding to come – come to our Advent event. Complementary dinner, Chris will help us understand this season and the meaning of the wreath. We’ll also have opportunity for wreath making for you to take home your own wreath, as well as ideas of how to practice Advent in the home. It is our great hope that this will be parish wide – families, young adults, not so young adults…everyone included. 

So, we’ve got darkness perhaps stress, and church that is a bit out of sync with culture. When we put all this together, maybe personally it just feels like, when will this be over? 

Jan Richardson in her Advent Devotional, Night Visions, helps us take stock a bit. Here’s what she says: 

“The season of Advent means there is something on the horizon the likes of which we have never seen before.  It is not possible to keep it from coming, because it will.  That’s just how Advent works.  What is possible is to not see it, to miss it, to turn just as it brushes by you.  And you begin to grasp what it was you missed…So, stay. Sit. Linger. Tarry. Ponder. Wait. Behold. Wonder.  There will be time enough for running. For rushing. For worrying. For pushing. For now, stay. Wait. Something is on the horizon.”

Our readings today around circle around ideas of darkness, light, and time.

We mentioned it’s dark outside a lot right now. But darkness is more than nighttime. It can infer a moral quality, which we hear in our Romans passage: “Let us then lay aside the works of darkness,” and Paul provides a pretty long list of examples. 

Darkness can also infer a more cosmic flavor. We also hear in Romans: “put on the armor of light,” – why do we need a word picture of armor? And we hear in Isaiah: “come let us walk in the light of the Lord.” There is a light belonging to God and a dark that is not. We live in the midst of kingdoms in conflict.

In our contemporary culture we additionally add a meaning to darkness: suffering, or difficulty. Those times where we do not know where God is, and maybe we do not know where we are – this might be circumstantial, a medical diagnosis, grief over loss…or spun from all kinds of things. St. John of the Cross, a 16th century monk is famously known for his writing called: The Dark Night of the Soul. It’s actually a poem about those things we encounter that must be dealt with to us draw closer to God. St. John is asserting that darkness is a gift, a means to God in a way. 

We glimpse the importance of darkness for growth as we consider a seed planted in the ground or the womb in which babies develop – a dark place that fosters growth and life. 

Darkness also forces us to use our other senses. Our sight is curbed. We need to rely and experience awareness through touch, hearing, taste, and smell.

What we never hear is that darkness is unsafe. That is will harm us. It is something we journey through, something we are aware of in our behaviors, something around us. And sometimes it is a really easy place to literally or figuratively hide. 

So, darkness can be good or not so good.

Advent starts in the dark. Israel waited Andre looked for the fulfillment of promise, and we hear of the three wisemen who journeyed in the dark following the star and looking for the Savior. 

But darkness does not mean the absence of God. Throughout scripture there are many contrasts of dark and light. We hear beautifully in Psalm 139: “If I say, ‘Surely the darkness will overwhelm me, and the light around me become night,’ even darkness is not dark to you [to God], the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you.” For God there is no difference. 

This can encourage us in this journey of Advent. Maybe the darkness of this season confronts our hiding, or our behavior, or simply bids us come to the light – experience the journey, encounter our need for a Savior. And as we do, develop our other senses to “see.” Hear the silence or listen to music that fosters our reflection. Smell the smells of the season – the cider, the trees, the preparations of feasting, that unique scent of winter. Taste the season perhaps by an approach of simple eating and enhancing taste as Christmas nears. And literally see light increase through the use of the Advent wreath. 

The bidding is “Come:” respond, look, move toward.

And Advent is long – we become aware of time. Historically its flavor is more that of Lent, of repentance. Which kind of makes sense as we prepare to encounter Christ’s coming – both the looking back and remembering and the looking forward to the return, the 2nd coming; these twin themes of Advent. 

We need to careful. We may think of this time - this darkness and waiting - as past tense. We know the story. Jesus is born and creation and shepherds and the whole nine yards go crazy – touch down. But we look forward too – Jesus is coming again…this thought may cause us pause. Hopefully not fear, but a taking stock. Hence: repentance. A turning. A mini lent before Christmas. 

That’s where again we encounter time – now is the time. We hear this in Romans and in our Gospel reading. Jesus gives example of people doing regular daily things – working in the field, grinding meal. Part of that message is keep doing regular stuff. Daily stuff. But be ready. Be aware: “43But understand this,” Jesus says, “if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. 44Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.” 

May Jesus surprise us this Advent Season…Jack Boozer, former professor of Christian Theology at Emory University describes Advent with a bit of exhortation: “In this strange season,” he says, “we are suspended between realization and expectation, may we be found honest about the darkness, more perceptive about the light.”