Reflection: An Advent Shmozzle Dec 3, 2017
Isaiah 9:1-7; John 8:12
I’m excited about Advent this year. I’m not sure why, really. Some friends of mine were asking me what we were planning for Advent this year, and I said “it’s a bit of a shmozzle”. We’ve got prophets and Mary and Joseph and Elizabeth and Zechariah and John the Baptist and shepherds and angels all mixed up together. We’ve got a Christmas play on the second Sunday of Advent (don’t miss it!) and a Choir Cantata about the Nativity of Jesus on the 3rd Sunday of Advent. We’ve got Advent 4 on December 24th and then our Christmas Eve service. We’re kind of jumping in and out of Advent and Christmas all of December – and then on the first Sunday of Christmas, which also happens to be New Year’s Eve, we’re celebrating Epiphany – and having a Christmas Carol sing-along after church! If there were “Advent police” I think I’d be arrested.
Perhaps it’s the messiness that I’m finding so appealing. It somehow fits with the messiness of the season of Advent itself. Strictly speaking, Advent started as a sober and reflective time of preparation for the Christmas feast day – rather like Lent before Easter. The readings, like the readings we’re going to hear for a few weeks, were prophetic – they were about the hope and longing of a people who were waiting for someone to save them from exile, hardship, injustice, oppression. They were also about the early church’s expectation that Christ would return within their lifetimes to turn the world upside down and inside out and bring renewal to all of creation. For many of us who find it hard to take images of Christ coming on clouds with an army of angels literally, that part of Advent can feel downright odd – and readings from the Hebrew Scriptures can feel out of place when all around us we hear voices singing of “little Lord Jesus asleep in the hay”. For Christians, the whole thing can be disorienting. Sober reflection, joyful anticipation, staying with the waiting or jumping ahead to celebrate, waiting for a baby or waiting for a conquering King, living in the shadows or setting all our lights blazing – it’s a strange time we’re in right now.
Perhaps it’s that very strangeness that makes Advent so rich. We begin our Advent this year by hearing the words of the prophet Isaiah, speaking of a new child born into the royal household and the hope his birth brought to the people. Later Christians have heard those words as echoing how they felt about the coming of Jesus. They heard the promise of a child born to save the people, and thought: “That’s Jesus!” The gospel writer John expanded on the image of the light coming to the people when he wrote the introduction to his book: “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it!”
What good news it would have been to Isaiah’s people, to hear that a ruler would come who would not oppress them, but rather bring peace, wisdom and justice to their land! What good news it would be to any people living in difficult and dark times to hear that there is a light that can’t be put out!
Here is what Isaiah said about the person who would embody hope for Israel – who would be their light in the darkness:
He would be wonderful, wise, someone who could give good advice. He would be strong and speak for God, even represent God in a sense. He would be a Father to the people, providing direction and protection. He would be a peace-maker, not a war-mongerer. When I think of all of those people I mentioned before: how much difference might their lives be if this was truly a description of those who have the most power and influence in our world? As I said last week, what would it be like, if we chose our democratic leaders according to this criteria? And what if we ourselves lived so that we might echo this way of being?
What I also noticed about the passage from Isaiah is that in a way, it’s a blueprint for Advent and the themes we associate with this time. Hope, Joy and Peace are all there- as a gift of God’s love to the people – a people who were being held in contempt at this time for the failure of their rulers and the situation in their land!
As it was then, so it is now. Advent is messy and complicated, but so is life, and so is our world. When I thought about people walking in darkness in our own time a whole lot of people came to mind: those lost in depression and other forms of mental illness who just can’t see a way out; those who are imprisoned by addiction or abuse. The Rohingya people of Myanmar, who have fled in terror for their lives; the people of Syria or Afhanistan, whom we hardly even hear about anymore, as other headlines have replaced their stories. Those in Indonesia, where 100,000 people have been evacuated due to the threat caused by Mount Agung erupting. With World Aids Day just passed, I think of all the places in the world where there is still a huge stigma attached to having HIV/AIDS, and where treatment is still very difficult to receive. I think of the children and grandmothers raising other children, and those without anyone to look after them at all. I think of victims of violence, whose trauma is physical but more than physical. December 6th is the anniversary of the Montreal Massacre, and women are still being victimized all around the world. Men and children too! There is a lot of darkness in the world, and it can really burden us.
If you’ve ever been lost in the dark, you know the leap of heart you feel when you finally see a light. One automatically orients toward the light, heading that way because it symbolises safety and comfort. There are wonderful stories of people finding their way through storms and blizzards led by the light of a single candle in a window. It doesn’t take much light to show us the way.
What would that glimmer of light look like for some of the people who I have named – and some of the other people or situations you can think of in your own mind?
When I go back to that description of Judah’s new-born leader, and those themes of hope, peace, joy and love –it strikes me that if we live by the light of Christ we can be candles burning from a home window for others – or better yet, powerful flashlights out in the darkness seeking for people to lead them to safety. On most, if not all, of the issues I named, Christian communities have been deeply involved in providing hope, in shedding light into people’s personal darkness. We have done so in the name of Jesus, the light who has shone into our lives. I found out this week that West Village Church calls it “Gospel Saturation” – by which they mean “the idea that the church is the people of God, and God’s desire for his people to fill the earth and bear his image and likeness. So our desire as a church isn’t to fill a building but fill (or saturate) our city (every city for that matter) with Jesus’ people living out Jesus’ mission.” (Chris Synasael, Facebook)
If Christ is our light, and we are adopted into God’s people and transformed into the image of Christ, I guess that means we are, as Jesus said, “To be the light of the world”, just as he has been for so many. Jesus has been hope for the despairing, peace for those in conflict, joy for the beleaguered and love for the isolated and alone, for more than 2000 years. Can we say the same for his people? How will we, small candles lit from the Spirit’s flame, continue to bring light, in our homes, our work, our corner of the world and farther out? I invite you to take that question with you, into the days of Advent. Amen.