Our text this week reminds us that we live in the time of promise, of already but not yet. Already our salvation has been effected! Christ has come and has effected our salvation! But we are still earthly creatures and we struggle with earthly problems. There will be portents of wars and fear and foreboding, people will faint from fear. Jesus knows us. Jesus knows that we turn to fear and abide in fear all too easily. Jesus knows that we fear loss and that change, any change, even positive change, brings with it loss. Jesus knows this. He speaks directly to our current experience just as he spoke directly to the experience of those who heard his voice.
The lectionary has placed this ominous text on the first Sunday of advent, advent which is a pregnant time, a time of waiting, of anticipation. It is a time when we are fully out of control, just as a pregnant teenager is fully out of control, events taking place within her body, changing her being, and completely beyond her control. So we too, inviting God into our lives, often find ourselves out of control. It’s not for the faint of heart. It is a time of waiting and anticipating that God will do great things within us and through us, things which we can neither see nor anticipate. This loss of control, this ambiguous beginning, can be frightening.
More than ever we enter Advent as a time of waiting in the dark, anticipating the coming, the birth of our Lord, but knowing that while we wait, we wait in the dark. Luke uses many references to that day, those days, and the days that are coming. It seems that he wants to remind us that ‘that day’, the one where we get the phone call we never expected to get, the one where the test results coming back are not what we wanted to hear, that day is coming. The lectionary this year, appears to direct us to that day when we will dwell in darkness and must discover how to be faithful even then.
“There have been many losses,” writes Janice Jean Springer, reflecting on the days following her diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease. Among these losses, she counts the erosion of her “self-image as a strong and vibrant woman … ” By contrast, the struggle to keep her balance, to not fall, seems unpleasantly familiar.
She has lost other things as well, but perhaps the most painful loss of all: “I’ve lost my illusions. I’ve lost the illusion that I am exempt from the losses and limits that besiege other people.”
She writes that each of us will be confronted by losses that make us wrestle with the question, “[How] can I be faithful in my new circumstances?”2
How then to be faithful? Even in the midst of darkness, while we wait and anticipate the coming of our lord. Faithful in the midst of a pregnant time, a waiting, anticipating time, in the midst of the already, but not yet.
This weekend we gathered with friends and family in a celebration of the abundance and good things that God has given us, not the least of which is each other. We gathered to intentionally celebrate all those things we tend to overlook on a day to day basis. That we have enough. That we are enough. That we are loved and cared for beyond our expectations. We gathered to celebrate that we have roofs over our heads and solid walls keeping out the cold and cutting wind. We gathered to celebrate that we have refrigerators full of good things and stoves on which to prepare celebratory feasts! We gathered around our televisions to watch football games and cheer on our teams. We gathered to watch the Macy’s Parade or the Westminster Dog show. Some of us binged on Netflix, some of us hiked in the beautiful outdoors. We shared greetings with friends from all over the world via social media, and some of us curled up by the fire with a good book. But whatever we did, we were intentionally grateful for all that we had been given, all that we have been and are blessed with. We celebrated the eucharist, which literally translated means to give thanks, to celebrate, to be grateful, and while we might not have thought of linking our breaking bread together around the table to e eucharistic, in many ways it was exactly that.
When Jesus gathered his friends and they broke bread together he told them, ‘remember.” He knew how easy it is to get distracted and lose our perspective. Fear saturates the air we breathe. Fear is an expert at making us forget who we are and whose we are. Fear has a way of taking over, of driving our behavior and limiting our choices. So Jesus asked us to remember and this weekend we did. We remembered our blessings, the gifts we have received, the gifts that others are for us, and the gift we are to others. The command, Do Not Be Afraid, appears in the bible more than any other, 365 times to be exact. Gandhi is quoted as saying, “The enemy is fear. We think it is hate, but it is fear.” Do not be afraid, God tells us. If perfect love casts out hate, perhaps perfect faith casts out fear.
We are asked to step forward in faith and trust that we will be cared for. Crisis becomes not a reality but a lack of faith. We are tempted always to manage by crisis, to move from one dramatic event to the other, these crisis feeling so real, so pervasive that they can dominate our thinking and we become reactive. We are tempted to manage, to control, to manipulate so that things will turn out as we desire, and when they don’t we are tempted to assign blame. We are asked to step forward in faith, trusting that God is in control and that everything, all manner of things will be OK. We are reminded that everything does NOT depend upon us, and we need not anxiously attempt to manage, control, and produce. We can rest in deep gratitude knowing that God is with us, God is in control, and lucky for us, everything does not depend upon us. And in remembering this we give thanks, eucharisto, in remembering this we move out of fear and anxiety and into a deeper faith practice, a more faithful way of BEing in the world. We were not created to BE fear but to BE love.
Fear has a way of making us forget who we are, and whose we are. So on this first day of advent we are asked to remember:
Remember—you were created by love, to be love. Love has created you in its own image. You came from love, you were created by love, and your purpose on earth is to be love. Feel the fear and love anyway!
Remember—there is a goodness stronger than evil, a light that shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it! We are called to be that light which steps out into the shadows, not the comforting soft shadows of rest but the places where pain and hurt and loss seem so very strong and incontrovertible. We are called to be that love, that promise that speaks to the goodness which is stronger than evil, which will always overcome, and which is the final answer. We are called to hold the hand of those who walk through difficult and painful times. Centuries ago Hafiz wrote a poem saying, “Out of a great necessity we are all holding hands and climbing, Not loving is a letting go. Listen, the terrain around here, is Far too Dangerous for That!”
Remember—we are called to hold on to one another, especially when the terrain we travel through is difficult. We are one body in Jesus Christ. We belong to one another. We are called to hold out a hand to those who are alone, those who suffer. As we gather with friends and family around tables burdened with food under roofs which shelter us from the elements we are called to remember those who hunger, those who long for home and hearth, those who are homeless or refugees. We belong to each other, not loving is a letting go. Their suffering is our suffering. We cannot be well while our brother, our sister is not well. Our fates are tied together.
Remember—that the powers of the world, including most of the news media services, are for profit organizations which live and profit off of our fear and anxiety. When they tell us we will lose and we will suffer and we ought to be afraid, that we cannot be strong enough, rich enough, thin enough, remember that God knows you by name. That God knows you and has claimed you and no one and nothing can come between the love of God in Jesus Christ and you. Nothing. Remember that God created you in the image of God, you are enough, you have enough. When you find yourself feeling more and more anxious as the news persists in highlighting all the ways you ought to be afraid, turn it off. Rest instead in the Word of God. Rest in the promise of God’s eternal love and know it is OK.
Remember—you are more powerful than you think. Your words, your heart, your choices matter, and they impact others. What we choose to do with our words, our actions, our choices, impact others often in ways we cannot see. Remember that we all struggle with wounds, both seen and unseen and we need to be gentle with one another. We have the choice to be healers, to be friends to those who hurt and to remember that those who are in pain will often ask for help in the most ungracious ways, but that we can love them anyway. Because that’s who we are and that’s what we are created in the image of, a love that knows no boundaries, no limitations, and which loves the most unlovable. We are created in that image. Remember that.
Remember—mostly, who you are. Remember that you can choose to rest in gratitude and that a grateful heart is a peaceful heart, is a loving heart. Remember that God loves you and has claimed you. Remember that no one and nothing can come between you and the love of God in Jesus Christ. Remember that you are, yes you, you are a beloved child of God. Nothing can change that. As we begin advent entering into the unknown, the anticipation of the coming of Christ, I remember the many ways in which this community has chosen to live fearlessly as a witness to the love of God for all people. A church that has gone outside its walls to witness to the love of God for all people. A church that has intentionally engaged in reconciliation! Now more than ever, may we continue to boldly give witness to the Light that shines in the darkness and cannot, cannot! be overcome. May it be so.