Today, friends, we enter a new season — a new year, according to the church calendar, and we may be sensing some of that newness ahead of us here at BUCC today.
Today we enter the season of Advent— something’s coming; that’s what Advent means. Advent is a season for watching and waiting for something new. It’s a time for preparation!
But what are we preparing for?
We have just celebrated Thanksgiving. And in the world out there, the moment we put Thanksgiving behind us (if not sometimes before that!), we turn immediately toward Christmas—right? shopping, presents, cards, parties, you name it.
Is that what Advent is all about?
For many years Advent didn’t even exist for me. And then came the year I was pregnant and expecting a baby at the very beginning of December. So clearly I needed to get my Christmas shopping out of the way well ahead of time (which was not something i had ever managed to do before that year). And at midnight on December 3rd, I gave birth to my third child, and this time it was the baby girl I had been longing for!!! — my daughter Karen—and I was ecstatic!!!
And because of the preparation I had done ahead of time, I could spend those weeks of December holding and enjoying my new baby, and reflecting and pondering what this birth would mean for my life, as well as considering the story of the birth of Jesus from a slightly different perspective.
Well, that was then—quite a number of years ago now (right, Karen?). But the impetus to use those 4 weeks to ponder and reflect has stayed with me to some extent over the years since, (and especially after I became a minister). And it seems to me that we here at BUCC might find it useful, especially this year, to use this Advent season quite intentionally for some reflection and preparation.
As I look at what’s going on in the world around me— for example, at the changing mood in this country these days I wonder what lies ahead for us, for our country, and how to address it or prepare for it.
And with the news this congregation received this week about Rev. Dee’s future plans— our church has much to think about and prepare for as well.
There are plans to be considered and put in place, and they will be, of course.
But what I would like to suggest to you this morning is that our preparation involve not just outward words and actions, but that we consider the possibility —each one of us— of setting aside some time to look around us and within ourselves, to open ourselves to God’s presence, and take some time during this season to reflect, to ask ourselves how God might be able to use each one of us in this church, in this community, in this fractured country of ours— and to allow some time to LISTEN within ourselves for God’s answer.
As I began to think about and work on this sermon, I found myself thinking repeatedly about the two most recent books we have read and discussed in our church’s Seekers book group. Each of these books seems to me to express—in very different ways — how I’d like to suggest we prepare ourselves for all that lies ahead.
The October book was called The Time Is Now, by Joan Chittister—a Benedictine sister and an active advocate for peace and justice in church and society.
“We have a choice” she says. “You and I stand in a space between two worlds. The first…is the one we were told—and never doubted—would last.”” She’s speaking of our country’s governmental framework and also of the values undergirding that. “The second world in which we are steeped, the one we are living in now, defies everything we were taught to expect.”(pp. 11-12) and the question of her book is, “Will we take up what we know is our moral and spiritual responsibility to make the world a better place for all, to bring to life the fullness of Creation for all? To help bring about equality, safety, security, and compassion for all? (15)
And what she calls us to, challenges us to, is living our faith on the streets of the world rather than just talking about Jt. (17)
“We often ignore, resist, reject the idea that, like Jesus, we have a role to play in righting a world whose axle is tilting in the wrong direction.(27) “The question, What will you do? is at the core of spiritual maturity, of spiritual commitment. To follow Jesus means that we, too, must each do something to redeem our battered, beaten world. (26)
So she calls us to be bold and courageous and out there—in ways I generally shrink from doing.—but when I read her statement that “it is God’s way, it seems, always to send the weakest among us to do what must be done.” (112) I realize that she doesn’t let me off the hook from continuing to think about all that I see going on out there and wondering what my part in it should be.!
The second book, that we read this month is called The Power of Ritual: Turning Everyday Activities into Soulful Practices”. The writer is Casper Ter Kuile, who is a Ministry Innovation Fellow at Harvard Divinity School and also helped to create and cohost a podcast called “Harry Potter and the Sacred Text”. As I urge you to allow yourselves to use some time during this season of Advent to reflect upon your life and your community (including your church and your country), let me share with you just this one quote from his book.”
“If prayer still sounds like an impossibility, too foreign or religious in some way, just start with this. Talk to yourself. Talk about your life, about what you’ve done and what you’ve failed to do. Talk about who you are and who you wish to become and who the people you love are (and the people you don’t love too). Talk about what matters most, even—and especially—if you know that nobody is listening except yourself. Because unless we are honest, unless we speak the truth, we will forget what we want to stay loyal to.” (p. 182)
Back to the message of the Advent season.
One of the first things I do when preparing to preach is to look at the lectionary scriptures suggested for today. And what struck me as I read those passages was that Jesus’ birth and the lead-up to it got no mention at all on this first week of Advent. Both Old and New Testament scriptures point instead to the end times, a Second Coming. We will get to the Christmas stories in coming weeks, but we’re not there yet.
So today’s scriptures reminded me that along with hope and joy,
Advent has within it some degree of fear and foreboding.
No one has waited for a child without some anxiety, some fear, and yes, foreboding. God’s Church waits each year for Jesus’ birth, God’s coming, with some fear and trepidation as well. Because we know in our hearts that with the coming of the Christ Child, we have work to do, threats to meet, and dreams to make real, in our individual lives, in our church, in the world around us. !
Expectations are a tricky thing. Expect God’s kingdom is what Jesus tells those who will hear. It is coming and the old will pass away.
What we do and how we jive matters as we wait for the coming kingdom- —and, more immediately for the changes that are already happening, in our church/ and in the world around us.
How can we prepare and what can we contribute, each one of us?
How we care about one another, both those we know and those who are strangers to us, is at the heart of this faith that God calls us to.
As Paul says to the church at Thessalonica in one of today’s scripture readings that I didn’t include in the bulletin:
“May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all.” (IThess. 3:12) That seems like a good place for us to start.
Let me close with one more quotation from Joan Chittister’s The Time Is Now: (I meant to put this in the bulletin and make it responsive, but forgot that piece)
People: How do we really get out of the swamp we’re in?
Answer: By confronting it.
People: But what will that take?
Answer: A model, a vision, a commitment, courage, and…………………………………………….
People: What else is needed to fix this muddled world?