Advent 1, AIsaiah 2:1-5
(Sit and let the time stretch out.) Waiting…. We’re just… It’s not entirely comfortable, is it?……Waiting, I mean…..It’ll be well…well….just waiting….We wait.
“Not everyone can wait.” says Dietrich Bonhoeffer. It is uncomfortable. It is foreign. “Waiting is an art that our impatient age has forgotten,” Mr. Bonhoeffer says. “It wants to break open the ripe fruit when it has hardly finished planting the shoot.”
We wait. We wait because it is Advent. The tender shoot of Christ, Emmanuel is just planted – we are not yet ready. The stores may be ready. The sales are set, the glitter and glitz is arrayed to best advantage in its conspicuous abundance . The turkey leftovers are put away, the stuffing stuffed down, the pumpkin pie a fast fading memory.
We wait. We wait because we are Christians, and for us this is the beginning. We are in Advent. This is the beginning season. The season of waiting. The still season. The season of darkness. The night before the dawn. The season of hope not yet fulfilled.
The impatience of the age notwithstanding, I always loved Advent. It seemed to me a refuge from the bustle, the frenetic frenzy, the flashing clamorous glitz that is our modern preparation for Christmas. The darkness of Advent was close and soft and velvet, embracing the soft glow of the candles we light, one at a time, week by week. The waiting, a time of rest, of gentle spiritual slumber.
Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord… Mountain climbing. Mountain climbing! This does not sound restful. Earnest Hemingway once said, “I love sleep. My life has the tendency to fall apart when I’m awake, you know?” I have a great deal of empathy for Mr. Hemingway in this regard. Naps are truly my friend.
In Advent God wrests our attention, if only briefly, away from the shopping, the cooking, the decorating, the parties, the million and one to do’s that can never quite be finished. Can He not grant us the gentle sanctuary of Advent’s sweet repose?
Wake up! You know what time it is! Now is the moment to awake from sleep. Waiting is not comfortable. God has no intention of making us comfortable. God’s intention is rather to make us wake up and live. “Not everyone can wait,” said Dietrich Bonhoffer. “The only ones who can wait are people who carry restlessness around with them.” And according to Paul Tillich, “God is present in the force that makes us restless.” God means to be present in our lives NOW. “We must,” opined Henry David Thoreau, “We must learn to reawaken and keep ourselves awake, not by mechanical aids, but by an infinite expectation of the dawn, which does not forsake us in our soundest sleep.”
“For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near” Paul and his followers anticipated the coming of the Son of Man imminently. They would have been less surprised to turn around and see Christ, arrayed in all His heavenly glory in their own backyard than they were to see their generation dying before that happened. It was years after Paul had been martyred and virtually all the people who actually knew Jesus had died, that the people who knew people who knew Jesus began to think to themselves, hmmm, maybe it would be a good idea to write some of this stuff down. More than 20 centuries later, what do these words, so carefully preserved, mean to us?
Is Jesus really saying that we shouldn’t eat, shouldn’t drink, shouldn’t marry? These are the worst accusations he hurls at Noah’s ill-fated cohort, “they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark”.
Jesus was, of course, quite right about thief thing. If you convince me that a thief is going to show up between 1 and 4am a week from next Thursday and if that thief is even half as punctual as the cable repair person, said thief will meet with an unpleasant welcome, and I will give you my heartfelt thanks. If, however, you tell me that a thief will absolutely, definitely come to plunder my home eventually, just sometime, my thanks may not be so ready. Now I have to decide – do I stay awake with my baseball bat and my can of pepper spray for the next 25 years, or do I sleep and hope you’re wrong?
Either Jesus was carefully building a fellowship consisting of untold centuries of dehydrated, starving, horny insomniacs, or he meant rather to cultivate in his followers an awareness, a vigilance, an urgency to live each day for God.
Noah’s neighbors failed to open their eyes to God’s condemnation of their selfish ways in Noah’s conspicuous activity. Our neighbors, quirky as they might be, are unlikely to take up driveway space to construct massive floating menageries in the name of God. Perhaps we can nonetheless open our eyes to the evils of injustice, of hunger, of violence against God’s people.
We cannot be certain (as this reading reinforces) – We cannot be certain, but experience thus far suggests that Jesus won’t physically come sweeping in our door with choirs of angels singing and trumpets blazing. Perhaps we can nonetheless discern His presence here and now – in the bread we break together in community, in a smile from a stranger, in the faces of the lost, the lonely, the tired, the abused.
Many of you know C.S. Lewis’s Narnia series, (The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe and so on) Children across several generations travel to the magical, mystical land of Narnia, with its talking animals and sentient plants. Divine presence is represented by a Lion. Good and evil wage their eternal struggle. C.S.Lewis describes this Advent scene. “Far overhead from beyond the veil of blue sky which hid them the stars sang again; a pure, cold, difficult music. Then there came a swift flash like fire (but it burnt nobody) either from the sky or from the Lion itself, and every drop of blood tingled in the children’s bodies, and the deepest, wildest voice they had ever heard was saying: “Narnia, Narnia, Narnia, awake. Love. Think. Speak. Be walking trees. Be talking beasts. Be divine waters.”
In the still night of Advent we restlessly wait, we hope, we prepare. We prepare not for the birth of the Christ child in the world, but for the birth and rebirth of Christ in our hearts, in our lives. We prepare to be the eyes, the feet, the hands of Christ.
Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world – Teresa of Avilla
Mark Salzman asks in Lying Awake, “Am I really a person who lives by faith? God can surely tell the difference between someone who walks in darkness and someone who walks with her eyes shut. Which am I?”