Isaiah 11:1-10, Matthew 3:1-12
Theologian Karl Rahner once wrote:
“Every year we celebrate the holy season of Advent, O God. Every year we pray those beautiful prayers of longing and waiting, and sing those lovely songs of hope and promise. Every year we roll up all our needs and yearnings and faithful expectation into one word: “Come.”
And yet, what a strange prayer this is! After all, you have already come and pitched your tent among us. You have already shared our life with its little joys, its long days of tedious routine, its bitter end. Could we invite you to anything more than this with our “Come”? Could you approach any nearer to us than you did when you became the “Son of Man,” when you adopted our ordinary little ways so thoroughly that it’s almost hard for us to distinguish you from the rest of our fellow-men?
In spite of all this we still pray: “Come.” And this word issues as much from the depth of our hearts as it did long ago from the hearts of our forefathers, the kings and prophets who saw your day still far off in the distance, and fervently blessed its coming.”
Let us pray: may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable to you, our God, in the name of Christ our Lord, Amen.
The season of Advent always comes at the beginning of winter…and winter seems always to have a different feel about it than other times of the year. A reflective feel; even the Earth seems to sleep and ponder in preparation for the coming spring. In winter, I often am reminded of the times I’ve been away and wanted to travel home for the holidays. Let me take you back to one such time:
I leaned back and gazed out the window on a wintry scene. Snow flew past, bare branches outlined with a touch of snow rose above local shops and buildings. I was at my local café, in the background Christmas music was playing calling me to nostalgic reminiscences of “the good old days.” A Chai tea steamed on my tabletop, its rich creamy taste tingling my taste buds and reminding me of yet another homey kind of feeling. I got to thinking, what is it about this time of year…?
For some, it might be going home for the holidays. For some, it might be other places that trigger in our memories all that is good, all that stands for the deepest yearnings toward earthly happiness that one can hope to achieve. It may be the quality of the air breathed in that place. It may be a familiar landscape with a certain feel about it. It may be because of memories from the past that were particularly stirring. It may be special friends or family you see once or twice a year. Or, it may be a familiar sanctuary of solace. Or it may be simply taking a break from the regular routine; mysteriously causing that shift of perspective to things more meaningful than the daily grind of work or home or life.
Beyond the simple physical, I think there is much to be said about going home. Home is a place that echoes to us of something more. On the spiritual sense, going home is where the soul safely resides, the place where one is most complete. It is the heart of things that we long for. It is the authentic presence of God. When one is home (and for some it may not even be home), it is as if for a moment we are held in God’s loving embrace, standing in the center of God’s will.
With Advent eyes, going home is also anticipation for the future. Going home is knowing there are open arms waiting to draw you close. Going home is knowing there is a place prepared just for you. For the faithful heart, going home is knowing the soul will come to rest safely on a farther shore. Divine hospitality waits for those who travel on pilgrim feet, and it is my prayer for you this year that your path, both as a congregation and as individuals, will bring you ever nearer to the bosom of God. Advent is also remembering that any expression of home that we find in this worlds-realm is upheld by a much brighter existence imprinted in the very heart of things, the heart of our ultimate and eventual Home.
Advent is truly a time of waiting. It is a time between the times, a thin space where we are reminded to keep watch, to look for Christ’s coming. Yet how can we tell that Christ is coming? Where is our John the Baptist to tell us the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand?
Today’s lectionary readings are about the Second Coming of Christ. Traditionally, these readings point not to the coming of Christ at Christmas, but the coming of Christ in all his risen glory. Traditionally, the Second Coming of Christ will hail the final and ultimate reality of the Kingdom of God on Earth as it is meant to be. For the disciples and the early church, it was a real and present arrival, much-anticipated in the midst of a dying Roman empire. They expected Jesus to really come, as in walk through that door and be among them again as he did just after the Resurrection. Today, we are still waiting. Should we still expect Jesus to walk through that door at any moment? Yes, we should.
Some may ask, “Does God still speak today? Are we still asked to keep waiting for the return of Christ? Will he come? How do we know that God is faithful still, in this, God’s Creation, and at this time in the history of the world? In this congregation? Is the story still unfolding?” Yes! God still speaks, and Christ comes to each of us. Christ comes, eternally into our very being; Christ comes when we open wide the doors of our hearts and invite him in. My question for you, specifically, is: When Jesus comes, what will he find?
We must watch, we must pray that we do not miss Christ’s coming, in whatever guise it may be, whether it be a mountain’s witness or an evergreen tree reminding us of eternal things with its perpetual green bows-pointing to Heaven in the midst of an otherwise barren winter. It may be in your fellowship and study together, or in worship each week. It may be in service to others. It may be a combination of all of these. Do you daily watch for Christ’s coming? Do you stand at the door waiting for a chance to serve our Master? I urge you, as the scriptures warn us, keep watch, for Christ is the eternally coming one and we do not know the day or the hour!
We must watch and wait for his coming. Not passive waiting but an active waiting, always aware, always watching lest one glimpse of a heavenly moment in the midst of our daily life goes by and we miss it. We should be watching and ready to receive Christ when he comes at all times, not only in Advent, but in every season of our lives; and when he does come, we should be ready to welcome him and serve him in all things.
When you are faced with times in your life that mirror the longest nights of the year, know that you are offered the gift of Advent waiting-and God’s eternal candle flame, indeed, in every season of life if you but open your eyes to see it. My hope and prayer for you is this: May the flame of God’s vision and purpose illumine your dark days, bringing to your hearts the time and space you need to kindle your own inner embers back into the bright flame of hope that waits for the coming of the Light. For it is through Christ, in Christ, with Christ, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, that our embers truly glow. And when our embers glow, we in turn are able to light the way Home for others. May all glory be unto the One for whom we wait, He who was born, died, and rose again for us, even Him who is the Christ. Amen? May it be so.
Deep Peace be with you
Light Eternal shine upon you
Like clear flowing streams within you,
May the Breath of the Wind stir your soul.
May Love hold you,
May Spirit guide you,
All the days of your life. ~ stc