Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Winston Churchill was reprimanded at one point by Lady Astor for ending a sentence with a preposition. Churchill responded, “This is the kind of thing up with which I will not put.”[i] Well, I’m thinking here about endings, lots of things coming to an unexpected end in our world and in our nation, some of it surprising, or relieving, or galvanizing, or frightening. And this coincides with the church year having just ended. Today, the first Sunday of Advent, marks the beginning of the new year for the church, Advent being observed the four Sundays prior to Christmas.
The name “Advent” comes from the Latin adventus, which is an expectant “coming” or “arrival.” Advent anticipates the coming of Christ, the Messiah:
- his first coming as the child of Bethlehem, Jesus,some 2,000 years ago;
- his predicted coming again at the end of time.[ii]
Here in our midst we see the Advent wreath. The wreath’s circle symbolizes the love of God, with no beginning or end. The evergreens symbolize hope and the promise of new life even amid the cold of winter. The lighted candles symbolize the coming of Jesus Christ who is called “the light of the world.” Don’t we need light at this time?
The church color for the Advent season is purple or, as you see here, an indigo blue, which are also among the church colors used for the season of Lent. That’s because Advent has a rather solemn character, Advent sometimes being called a “Little Lent.” In the very challenging Gospel readings appointed for this season, we will be told to“purify” our lives, and to “prepare the way of the Lord.” How to prepare?
A week or so ago I shared a conversation with someone who was deeply distressed about what is happening in our world and in our own nation. A crisis, they said. For this person the crisis was around human rights and the denial or denigrating of rights for so many, especially those who are already living in poverty, powerlessness, fear, and prejudice. It was a long conversation, my mostly listening, and this person finally gave a great sigh and said, “It’s all so overwhelming and confusing.” They asked me what I thought.
I told them I found these times neither overwhelming nor confusing. To the contrary, I told them what I would tell you: so many things are very clear. These what-the-scriptures-call “end times” seem to me like a clarion call for those of us who are followers of Jesus. So many things are very clear and inviting. I said to this person what I would say to you. Two things:
For one, in our own country, if we look to post-election analyses, we can see quite clearly the wants and desires of so many constituent groups. Our nation’s great “melting pot” is not as blended and integrated as so many of us desire. The melting pot is just now only scalding hot, but the ingredients are not well mixed. That’s not confusing; it’s actually quite clear. Two recently-published books – New York Times’ best sellers – are well worth reading:
Nancy Isenberg’s White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America, and
D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis.
What’s going on around us need not be confusing; it’s actually quite clear. If you find these times a crisis, I’ll call it an inviting crisis. Our English word “crisis” comes from the Greek, krisis, which has a medical connotation. It’s a turning point in the treatment of an illness; a krisis clarifies, explains, diagnoses. Crises are not confusing; crises are clarifying. How so? That’s my second point.
The church’s season of Advent is a time of preparation in anticipation of the Christmastide celebration, a season characterized by purity, hope, and joy: joy to the world. What is the invitation for you, personally, during this season of Advent? I’ll use here the language of the church:
- Where do you need to purify your own conscience? (I’m not thinking about “them.” I’m thinking about us: you and me.)
- When we hear the Gospel charge to “prepare the way of the Lord,” how does that speak to you on behalf of others, especially those who are among the least, or last, or lost?
- Amidst such bad news in our world and in our country, where can you personally bring the good news Jesus promises, and to whom?
As followers of Jesus, we don’t just celebrate the past – Jesus Christ being born among us two thousand years ago. Nor do we just anticipate the end of time, when Jesus Christ will come again to this earth. As followers of Jesus Christ, we also appropriate how Jesus Christ lives within us, each of us personally, by virtue of our baptism. We – all of us – are Christ beaers. It’s not just the Blessed Virgin Mary, alone, who brings Jesus Christ into this world. Jesus is “the light of the world,” and, because he lives within us, Jesus says that “[we, therefore] are the light of the world.”[iii] Saint Teresa of Avila, the 16th-century Spanish nun and mystic, said “What good is it if Mary is full of grace if I, too, am not full of grace? And what good is it if Mary was the Christ bearer if I, too, am not the Christ bearer in my own time, and in my own country?”[iv] We, all of us, all of us quite uniquely, bear Jesus Christ to our world. Jesus is “the light of the world,”
None of us here has the platform to make a global change. All of us here do have access to the world that Christ so loves. To what corner of the world do you have access to be a Christ bearer, bringing Jesus’ light, and life, and love?
- What person, or what kind of person, already has a tender place in your heart? Advent is a perfect time to pray for this person or these persons that they be filled with Jesus’ light and life and love. Pray for them. Pray for provision for them. What’s the invitation for you to be a Christ bearer to this person or these persons?
- What person, or what kind of person, presents a blockade to you? That’s an invitation. Advent is a perfect time to pray for this person or these persons that they be filled with Jesus’ light and life and love. Pray for them. Pray for them long enough for the blockade to turn into a bridge in your own soul. And then, what to do? What’s the invitation for you to be a Christ bearer to this person or these persons, bearing Jesus’ light, and life, and love?
There’s an old Swedish proverb: “In every person there is royalty. Address the royalty and royalty will respond.” Who out there in the world, in your world, needs to know the dignity of their royal lineage in Jesus, the Messiah, the Christ? We live in very opportune times, what the scriptures call “end times.” What is the end for which God has given life to you, your very unique life?[v] Love came down at Christmas, promising peace, hope, and joy to the world. This Advent season, what’s the invitation for you – for you personally – to make Jesus Christ really present? How do you intervene with Jesus’ light and life and love. We clearly live in such opportune times.
[i] This is a paraprosdokian, an unexpected twist in story-telling,something which Churchill particularly enjoyed.
[ii]The Latin adventus is a translation of the Greek parousia, the second coming of Christ.
[iii] Jesus said, “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12) and, because Jesus lives within us, he said, “You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14).
[iv] Saint Teresa of Avila (1515-1582) a Spanish Carmelite, author of mystical writings much of which is extant.
[v] This is a riff on the Foundation and First Principle of Saint Ignatius of Loyola in his “Spiritual Exercises.” St. Ignatius asks the question, “What is the chief end for which we have been created?” He responds that we have been created “to praise, reverence, and serve God.”
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