Advent 1, Year B, 2011

Listen to the sermon here.

The days got short and dark quickly, didn’t they?  Even though the shortened days come like clockwork, every autumn I am surprised.  I feel rushed into the falling leaves and apple cider.  I want to cling to warm, long days and fresh peaches just a few more weeks.  The early darkness is ominous somehow.  Darkness shrouds our world every afternoon, earlier and earlier, pushing us inside where we can take shelter in the warmth of our homes.  But we know the darkness is out there and it leaves us on edge.

Is it any wonder that we start flooding our world with cheerful Christmas lights and tinny holiday music and gingerbread lattes?  We cannot help ourselves. We cannot wait for Christmas. We cannot handle the anxiety of the darkness.  We have to mitigate the discomfort the darkness creates in us.

Restore us, O God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved.

Now imagine this same darkness, the same cold nights without the luxury of electric lights or piped in Christmas music.  Imagine the darkness without a hot mug of peppermint mocha.  Imagine being eight months pregnant, the hours stretching before you, the weight of your body pressing down on you, the anxiety of bearing the Lord’s child weighing on your mind.  Pregnancy has a way of slowing down time, pulling days into impossibly long stretches of time as you feel each creak of your joints, as you look at your nursery, so ready for a baby.  As you worry each time you don’t feel the baby kick or roll.  As you imagine the delightful and the horrific possibilities–the smell of a new baby and the violence of birth.

Restore us, O God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved.

Each Advent we join Mary in her agonizing wait.  We know that Jesus will be born alive and squirming.  But Mary did not.  We know Jesus is God incarnate, but will still be a normal human baby, easy to hold and to love.  But Mary did not.  Mary must have wondered who this strange child would be.  Is the God of the universe capable of loving his mother?  Is the God that created all life able to be contained within a human exterior without destroying the vessel that contains him?  Oh, how Mary must have worried and waited.

Restore us, O God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved.

Mary was not the first person to anxiously wait for God.  Longing for God has been part of the human condition since Adam and Eve were banned from the Eden.  The separation we have from God is not natural, not how we are meant to be.  The Psalmist today is miserable.  He cries

How long will you be angry with your people’s prayers?
You have fed them with the bread of tears,
and given them tears to drink in full measure.
You make us the scorn of our neighbors;
our enemies laugh among themselves.

The Psalmist feels that God has turned his back on his people and calls out to him

Restore us, O God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved.

The Psalmist does not ask for God to intervene, to defeat the Psalmist’s enemies, to change their situation.  He asks God to shine his face upon his people.

The Psalmist expresses our deepest desire so simply.

At our core, we long for God.  We long for the intimacy of knowing and being known by God.  We long to be restored to the days of Eden, when we could walk with God in a garden.

When we are in our darkest corners, what we want is for God’s light to break through somehow, so we know we are not alone, so we know he will sustain us no matter what happens.  We can survive any number of personal tragedies so long as we have a sense of God’s presence in our lives.

Restore us, O God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved.

We live in an in-between time.  Biblical scholars refer to it as the parousia.  The already, but not yet.  Jesus has come, but we are not yet fully restored to intimacy with God.  We live in-between the incarnation and the coming of God’s Kingdom.   We live in-between knowing God loves us enough to die for us but not seeing mercy and justice dominate our world.  We still wait.  We wait for Jesus to come back.

Advent gives us a liturgical space to live into this tension.  The nights are dark, but it is not yet time for Christmas.  Michael’s stinks like potpourri and Quakerbridge Mall has prepared Santa’s throne, but we know in our hearts we are still waiting for that baby to be born.  Still hoping that baby will bear God’s light.  We light one candle every week to give us hope, to remind us we will not be stuck in the dark forever.  Eventually we will light the center candle, the Christ candle.  Eventually that baby will be born.  Eventually he will come back.  Eventually we will be restored to perfect intimacy with our Creator.

But for now, we wait.

Restore us, O God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved.

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