1 Advent: First Sunday in Advent
November 28, 2021
The beginning of the church calendar year.
One of the enduring memories of childhood is the beginning of Advent. In our house we posted the Advent calendar on the refrigerator door and eagerly anticipated opening each little glittering window as the countdown to Christmas. With two brothers and a sister, there was always some discussion regarding who and when each day’s picture would be revealed. We looked forward to the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas as a time of excited anticipation; for of course, Christmas Day and the presents. Weeks of making our lists, getting and receiving Christmas cards, the Christmas parties with eggnog and sugar cookies. And the best of all CHRISTMAS VACATION!
I remember Christmas Eve services, originally beginning at 10:30 p.m.. Everyone was dressed in their finest, the smell of candles burning, the unique churchie smell, musty prayer books, floor polish, the smell of vacuumed carpets, shoe polish, and a mixture of after shave and perfume. And the church seemed extra bright being the darkest part of the year.
This is a distillation of many Christmas Eve services, each was similar but also each was unique. Each was an unfolding of the one before. Each was a compellation of the preceding. Even though each year followed the same pattern, each brought a new list of experiences from the preceding year, and new thoughts and a sense of anticipation for the coming year.
We are beginning, again, the journey in the Christian calendar. We have been through it many times year after year. Even though this story is familiar to us, it is a different story, because, it is a “new me,” and “new you,” who are about to experience it. How well it would be to experience the story of Jesus, for the first time. Would we feel different, and perhaps more tense as it unfolded. How would the many confrontations, dangers, and twists be to us, not knowing the ending? Especially with events like the killing of the holy innocents and the beheading of John the Baptist! Surely, we would be uneasy in our seats as the Pharisees and Sadducees were closing in on Jesus.
We are waiting for Christmas, we are waiting for the beginning of this great story.
As in today’s lessons they begin with a sense of waiting and looking for the future…
We hear such phrases as:
in the last day…
we shall come again…
The days are surely coming…
when I will fulfil…
In those days…
Look at the fig tree…
Heaven and earth will pass away…
All these phrases look to a future time, place and events. They are the “Christmas list” when the current expectations are revealed in real time, and not just our imaginations.
Mary’s pregnancy is featured heavily in this part of the story.
Pregnancy is one of the great times of waiting and anticipation. What will the pregnancy be like: long and hard, perhaps preterm, perhaps “when is the child going to come out!” What will the child be like, who will it look like, who will it take after? This is the beginning of the great unfolding of a life, in the context of many other lives. Everyone involved will change, grow older, mature, interact with the environment and other people. Even the parent’s, aunt’s, uncle’s, brother’s, sister’s and grandparent’s lives will change and unfold in relationship to this child and each other. Even though they all make plans and have expectations, life is not an assembly line stamping out the same events and people every year. We can’t really know how our lives and those around us will unfold and develop.
This is a process and development… a maturing, a growing, nurturing, guiding…
In the unfolding of God’s story, there is a certain rightness in the way the story moves, one event to another, a growing sense of a shared history. There is a feeling that timing is important, that God’s story must not just move in time, but actually fulfill time, to make the story have movement, meaning, purpose and direction. We are being woven into the fabric of God’s story.
Even Jesus expresses this at the scene of his first miracle at the wedding feast. He responds to his mother’s demand to “do something.” He says, “woman, my time has not yet come.” He continually observed that things must and do occur in a certain sequence. He says: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near.”
So, even though the story doesn’t change, we do… Again, we are not the same person we were a year ago. Things have changed in the preceding year, births, deaths, graduations, marriages, new jobs, retirement, loss of a job, illnesses, healing, diseases, economic crises, political turmoil…. We have grown… The Christmas story may be the same, but we are different. Even though it may have been only a year, our understanding of our own past may have changed.
So, for us, it may be, in reality, a new story, we may experience the story in a new way. What is important to us in the story this year may be different than last year.
God is revealing himself to us though his story. God reveals himself in terms we can understand. Revealing himself through time, using events and people, and story to fill out a picture of who he is and how he acts in relationship to us.
So, it’s not so much that God reveals himself to us, but it is we who must be ready to experience it, by joining his story as it unfolds in our lives.
So, the story may not have changed, but we have.
A quote from T.S. Eliot sums up this feeling of being different and familiar at the same time, he writes.
“We shall not cease from exploration And the end of all our exploring Will be to arrive where we started And know the place for the first time.”