Advent 1 Sacred Time – Holy Waiting

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          Our lovely readings this morning from Paul’s letter to the Romans and from the Gospel of Matthew speak about waking up.  Paul writes,

“… you know what time it is. The hour has already come for you to wake up from your sleep… the night is far gone, the day is near.” — Romans 13: 11-14

And Jesus says in the story from Matthew…

“Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.” — Matthew 24: 36-44

We have long heard that Advent is a time of waiting, of waiting for the coming of the child Jesus into the world, waiting to welcome him and his message of hope and peace to a weary world.  Today, we begin that journey again in a prayerful way.  We know that too often,

the busy-ness of the holiday season can obscure the sense of the sacred in our lives. The sad irony is that setting apart time for connection with the sacred gets pushed aside in order to create the trappings of what is supposed to be the season of celebrating the incarnation of the Holy! We will begin our Advent journey toward Christmas by emphasizing the gift of being awake to the “now”… the gift of sacred time with God, with each other, and with those in need of hope. Let us pray,

O Holy One, we believe that you have always been with us in our world, in the history of humanity, now and in the future.  Be with us in this moment, this day and guide our hearts and minds as we wait in hope for the coming of your Son again into our midst and into our lives. Amen.

          The twentieth century theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945) wrote, “Advent season is a season of waiting, but our whole life is an Advent season, that is, a season of waiting for the last Advent, for the time when there will be a new heaven and a new earth.” I have been thinking about this concept of waiting in our lives.  For those who went to shop on Black Friday or traveled over this last week, there were long lines and at times, seemingly unending waiting.  But we know that that is nothing compared to the agonizing wait that any of us have experienced when a loved one is sick or awaiting critical medical test results.  We surely all have had the experience of sitting in a waiting room while surgery is underway or awaiting a phone call for important medical test results.  It can be impossibly difficult. And how many of us have been waiting in recent years for the end of the pandemic and a change in course from the onslaught of bad news that has barraged us every week.  It has been heartbreaking and overwhelming.  And yet, we wait.

But, we can not forget there there are also times of  waiting for good news. There is the joyful waiting of expectant hope.  We think about awaiting the birth of a new baby into your own lives or into the life of your extended family.  The preparations are filled with joy and hope.  Who among us hasn’t waited to see family again after a long time apart or waited to welcome home a child or grandchild to our homes? 

The season of Advent as a liturgical season has taken on this idea of “waiting” as a central theological idea. It is as if we get to the first Sunday of Advent and all of a sudden, we are back to a time when Jesus is not present “yet.” It is a season that exemplifies the “already and not yet” concept. We may sometimes think of this “in between” time as if it is disconnected from the unfolding of the sacred. Our Worship in the coming weeks is based upon Richard Rohr’s book The Universal Christ which invites us to imagine that Christ is  in the fullness of everything, always and already present. It was out of this “Christ-soaked” world that Jesus was born. He is the physical manifestation of what was already here (and continued to be) from the beginning (“The Word was in the beginning with God,” John 1). In the preface to his book, Rohr quotes the 20th century theologian and priest, Karl Rahner who wrote, “The only real absolute mysteries in Christianity are the self-communication of God in the depths of existence-which we call grace, and in history-which we call Christ.”

 We are invited this holy season to join this time of holy waiting and to reflect upon what it is exactly for which we are indeed waiting. Perhaps what we are really waiting for is ourselves–to fully know the presence of the sacred reflected in and through all around and in us.  We can say that we “wait,” but the waiting may be revealed if we are open to the spiritual journey that awaits us, a journey that may remind us yet again that, as Rohr says, we are all in Christ, moving from what we thought we always knew to what we now fully recognize (page 40, Universal Christ).

And, as we wait expectantly, as we wait on ourselves to “see” the Divine, to more deeply understand the immensity of God who has always been in our lives, we may be helped by the act of contemplation. A “practice of attentiveness” is a way to begin to “fill in the gaps.” Part of this practice is to soften our focus, to let things be mysterious for a time, to simply wonder without the need to have all the answers, to let things simply soak in. This is “time reimagined” for most of us.  As we know, waiting is hard and so is taking the time for quiet contemplation, but what if “attentiveness” and “keeping awake” was less about hyper-vigilance and more about allowing a non-anxious stance for this season where awe and wonder take the lead?  What if we can create the space in which our attentiveness is geared to recognizing the reflected light of Christ (“the day is near”) in ourselves and our world?

Seeing the reflections of the sacred requires that we pay more attention to the “right now” rather than the past or the future. Our minds are so easily occupied by memory and imagination… wonderful gifts that we possess. But living in those places often rob us of another great gift–the ability to “notice the now” in a deeper way.  We are never actually separated from the presence of God–from the sacred–except in our mind’s incessant activity. Even our scriptures for this week can conjure up anxiety or confident hope, much as the concept of waiting can do. Rohr describes beautifully in his Advent reflections, that “The theological virtue of hope is the patient and trustful willingness to live without closure, without resolution, and still be content and even happy because our Satisfaction is now at another level, and our Source is beyond ourselves.” The word “sacred” literally means to “set apart.” How might we connect to the idea that all of time is full of the possibility for reflecting the sacred? All we have to do is stop in a moment and notice it. Marvel at something. Take a deep breath. Light a candle. Listen to favorite music. Speak of the deepest things we know with a friend. “Spend” a bit of time to make life better for someone or some place. Any of these activities are the way we turn what is often a busy season into a journey toward deeper connection to the universal Christ.

We know that we are called to be reflections of the sacred that within each of us is the spark of the divine that speaks of God to another.  What might we radiate forth in this beautiful season to others of their divine love and what might be attentive to that may speak to us of the ways in which God continues to be active and revealed in our lives.  Amen.