December 3, 2017 — Rev. Paula Norbert
Today is the first Sunday in Advent…and we are invited to prepare our hearts and minds once again for the coming of Jesus at Christmas. We read again from the great prophet Isaiah where he speaks of the coming of the Messiah, the long expected one, the one who the people had hoped would save them from suffering and war and division and sorrow. Isaiah lifts up the promise of peace as he describes the “peaceable Kingdom” when all conflict is resolved and people may live in peace. And so, we continue to look forward to the coming of our Lord as we mark this season which is also the beginning of a new liturgical year and our readings will turn from the Gospel of Matthew to that of Mark. Let us pray, in the darkness of these days, we wait with great hope for the coming of you, Our Lord, who is the light of our world. Inspire us and help us to wait patiently for your presence among us. Amen.
In today’s reading from Mark, we jump ahead to one of the final chapters of his Gospel where we find the collection of sayings of Jesus where he talks about something important that is going to happen. And Jesus is telling his listeners of that day and is telling us, that we need to stay awake, we need to be conscious as we prepare for the coming of God. We want to be intentional in our waiting, to be studious, to look into things, to be critical, to examine our own lives and be aware of the coming of God into our life. It’s wonderful advice for any time in our life, but we might ask how we can do this, how can we be alert in a new way to open our hearts and minds and spirits to what God is so deeply desiring for our world.
I remember about 20 years ago, my dear great Aunt Margaret, who was 92 at that time and had been a teacher for more than 40 years, so independent and active and self-reliant, fell as she was heading out her door one morning and broke her hip. She lived with her sister, my grandmother, and so she was taken by ambulance to the hospital but within hours, the situation became dire and we were told that she might not make it through the night. My Aunt Margaret was like another grandmother to us in so many ways. She never married or had children and so her love and generosity and kindness was lavished on all of us, the children of her niece and nephew, my mother and uncle. She was such an essential part of our lives over many years, involved in all of our family holidays and with us every Christmas, attending all of our graduations from high school and college and even grad school. She was truly amazing, and so we were bereft at the thought of her leaving us. We were at the hospital and by her side as the hours passed. That night, my cousin, my sister and I decided that we did not want her to be alone, especially if these were her last hours. And so we spent the night taking turns sitting by her bedside and grabbing what little sleep we could on the hard couches in the waiting room near the ICU. It was a very long night and I can almost remember the dark and the cold, the sorrow we felt. As the dawn broke and we saw some light in the sky, we felt a glimmer of hope that she was still with us…and as the hours passed, she became alert and the doctors decided that they would actually operate to mend the hip. In fact, she did recover and made it to rehab and finally back home, at least for a while.
There is something about light in the darkness that does give us a glimmer of hope. We know the saying that it is always darkest before the dawn, and I think any of us who have been awake in the middle of the night, maybe to sit vigil with a sick child or loved one or feeling heavy burdened with worries that won’t allow sleep to come, it can seem like such a time of darkness and of hopelessness, and yet, when the light begins to break at the edge of the horizon, it does give us hope. Who among us hasn’t looked for the glimmer of light out the windows after a long and difficult night?
It is no coincidence that we celebrate Christmas in the darkest time of the year. The winter solstice in pagan times was always celebrated and is still with big bon fires and other light to chase away the fear in the darkness. We live here in a small town that doesn’t have bright lights to obscure the night sky and it can be pure magic to step out on a winter’s evening and look up at the drama of the stars and the moon sending us light from the cosmos. Yet, there are some nights when the sky is clouded and the darkness sets in and we may imagine the fear of those who lived her at a time before lights and electricity. We speak of Christ as the light of the world, a light that brings hope and peace and comfort to so many, and that is the gift to us now.
As we move into these weeks heading to Christmas, I invite us to think about how we will make room for the light of Christ in our lives, perhaps in a new way. How may we wake up to the message of peace and hope in our own lives? How may we spread that light and hope to others who so desperately need it? Perhaps there is work to do to open ourselves up to the light. Are there places in our lives that need peace, relationships that need to be mended, forgiveness asked or given, people we might reach out to in an intentional way to manifest the love of Christ in concrete ways? Are there ways we might support peace by supporting families who live in some of the wartorn areas of our world? Certainly, we are invited to work for peace and to pray for peace wherever we can. As we journey through this time of Advent, I invite us to take time to be awake and to follow the star, as the Wise Men did more than two thousand years ago. It is a star of hope for our lives. May we be light hearted in these beautiful and sacred days as we make our way to Christmas. Isaiah said that we should walk in the Light and follow the path of righteousness and of peace. “Come let us walk in the light of the Lord.”