December 2, 2018: Sermon preached by The Rev. Carolyn H. Eklund
Year C; Advent 1; 12.2.2018
Have you ever grabbed a piece of fruit and took a bite out of it only to discover that it was not yet ripe? What does that taste like?
I bought these pears yesterday at Hannaford. They are, pretty aren’t they? I’m tempted right now to grab one and bite into it. But it’s not ripe. It’s still green. If I bit into it, I’d find that it would probably be hard and tasteless. I’ll put it back in the bowl and wait until it is ripe.
I bought these pears to talk about waiting. Today is the First Sunday of Advent. The word “Advent” does not mean “wait” surprisingly. The word “Advent” comes from the Latin word “adventus” which is a root of the word, “to come.” In Advent we “wait” for the coming of God in Christ, when in 22 days we celebrate Christmas, the birth of Christ – “God with us.”
Every year, as Christians, we live in a strange in-between Advent time. We mark the time in Advent with weekly candles and daily calendars. But we also live in a world that celebrates the commercial enterprise of Christmas that begins earlier and earlier every year.
One of the good things of acknowledging Christmas in Advent is the St. Paul’s Christmas Fair. Yes, we just concluded one of the most successful community Christmas fairs of Brunswick – yes 22 days before Christmas. The Great Hall is decked with lots of Christmas decorations. And who DIDN’T shop yesterday for Christmas gifts?!
But then, we come in here to the Nave and the décor is relatively austere with plain evergreen and our blue hangings to represent Christ’s royal lineage and his Mother Mary. There are the Advent candles to help us count the weeks until the coming of Christ. But there really is nothing in here that looks like Christmas.
Christians are called to wait faithfully and expectantly in these few days. We are to delay gratification as best we can in this consumer time of year. We will wait for the coming of Christ like I’ll wait for this fruit to ripen in order to get the best, sweetest, softest, ripest taste. I must not grab one and bite into it. I must set it aside and wait for its full, sweet ripe taste to emerge. The fulfillment of its purpose.
The Prophet Jeremiah knew what it was like to wait expectantly for the promise of God’s goodness when he wrote in the reading this morning, “The days are surely coming…when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah….the promise of justice and righteousness.” God’s promises are what the people of faith wait for. They are what people of faith hope for, even in times of doubt and loss.
In the days of the prophet Jeremiah, after Jerusalem fell and the people were deported to live in what is known as the Babylonian Captivity, for 70 years all seemed to be lost. Could the people have any hope in God’s promise for so many years in captivity? You can hear the plaintive, hopeless cry of the people in the familiar Dry Bones passage from Ezekiel. The people lamented, “…’Our bones are dried, and our hope is lost…’” A despairing lament if I ever heard one.
But, thanks be to God, the bones did live. God fulfilled God’s promises to breathe new life in those dry bones. The passage is one of the most hopeful in Scripture. It echoes those familiar words that we hear in Handel’s “Messiah,” “Every valley shall be exalted…and the rough places made plain.” God promises to raise the lowest points and make smooth all that is coarse and jagged. And it happens in God’s time…while the people of faith wait.
This weekend I dug out the Advent daily reader called, “God is in the Manger.” Each day offers an excerpt from one of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s writings. He was an abiding observer of Advent. The selection for Day 1 of Advent, today, is from a letter he wrote from prison to his fiancée. It introduces the theology and discipline of waiting and the difficulty of practicing waiting when all around him people were grabbing ungratefully for immediate satisfaction in the days of Nazi Germany. Bonhoeffer wrote,
“Celebrating Advent means being able to wait. Waiting is an art that our impatient age has forgotten. It wants to break open the fruit when it has hardly finished planting the shoot…whoever does not know the austere blessedness of waiting – that is, of hopefully doing without – will never experience the fulfillment.”
“For the greatest, most profound, tenderest things in the world, we must wait. It happens not here in a storm but according to the divine laws of sprouting, growing, and becoming.” (“God is in the Manger” Advent Daily reader).
I believe that we are governed by those divine laws of sprouting, growing, and becoming…as we wait, we are becoming the people God calls us into being…becoming the people who are the righteous ones.
In just 22 days we will assemble here with family, friends, neighbors, and guests on probably what will be a cold, dark winter’s night to celebrate “God in the Manger” on Christmas Eve. And we will look for his coming again with power and great glory – another act of faithful waiting. In the meantime of this waiting, we mark each day with an Advent calendar or we light the candle and say a prayer. These acts of faith help us mark the time.
I found this simple Advent Calendar that I want to share with you. It’s called the “Advent of Kindness” Calendar. I made a copy for each of us. It started yesterday, December 1 with this act of kindness, “Give someone a hug or a compliment.” That was easy to do yesterday at our Christmas Fair. It was particularly easy to give compliments because so many people worked hard, made wonderful things to sell and shared so generously of their time, money and energy.
For today, December 2, the act of kindness is “Let someone in front of you in line.” Hm, “Let someone in front of you in line.” Now that one is harder for me, and it surprises me that it is hard for me. It’s hard for me I think because of my competitive streak. God is definitely calling me to be lesscompetitive and more generous this season of Advent!
I hope you will take this daily calendar and spread God’s kindness in the world. And as we wait and watch during this season of Advent, who knows, maybe our acts of kindness could very well reveal a glimpse of God’s promise of hope in this suffering, ‘stormy’ world.