So here we are at Advent again. Advent, the beginning of the Christian year, and the time when we wait and prepare for the coming of the Son of God.
Advent is one of those "iffy" times ... one of the seasons of the church year when we become most conscious of TIME itself. And this is as it should be; because what we have done when we follow the Christian year is to become conscious of the sacredness of time.
Now, most of the time we don't think of time as sacred. If we think about the concept of time at all, we mostly think of it as a commodity, something to be bought and sold, something to be used up or wasted, something to be measured to the most precise degree. For most of us, time is something we never have enough of. Even in the Church itself, the concept of time as a commodity rules our lives. Think of trying to set up a meeting. Out come the calendars and the lengthy process of negotiating begins. It seems that there is never a good time for a meeting or an event, so pressing on us are the demands of time. Time is always precious, even in the Church; seldom, though is it sacred. Three hours or so on a Sunday morning are sacred, maybe enough time to squeeze in two services and church school, but rarely more than that.
This morning, though, this first day of the Church's new year, is different. Advent calls us to consider time in a new way. Advent calls us to consider the ways in which we measure time, the ways we think of time, the way we use our time. The coming of the new year makes us realize that time, for us, is different, somehow ... that it is not a straight line originating somewhere in the haze of history and stretching off into the mist of the future. As Christians we do not live on a time line, we live inside the great wheel of sacred time.
Advent, at least in the northern hemisphere, comes at the point in the year when we look around us at a landscape that seems to be dead. The views out of the windows open up with the leaves gone, but everything out there is gray and dead. For some of us the ground might be covered with the cold blanket of snow, and the dark comes early and stays late in the morning. Isaiah's cry this morning, "O that you would tear open the heavens and come down," has resonance at times like this. Oh, that you would tear open the heavens, Lord God, and let in a little light and warmth! It is no accident that the prophets speak most clearly to us at this time of the year. The ancient fears of the death of the sun rise in our breasts in this time of dark days, the ancient fear that things might always be like this: dark and cold and dead. We look for reassurance that things will come alive again. Here in this time of cold and dark we wait for news that we are NOT on a time line heading inexorably off to we know not where; but that things will come around again, that the light and warmth will return. We look for consolation, that the wheel will again turn, that hope is alive when the world around us seems to be slowly dying. Time seems out of control at times like this, beyond our power to measure and predict. We feel ourselves at the mercy of time, vulnerable somehow, only a part of God's creation and less sure of our own control.
At time like this, times when we feel our own impotence in the face of powers around us that we cannot control, the idea of sacred time again becomes real. Somehow, we are more able to grasp the idea of time as circular, the seasons change on God's timetable and not on our own, and we recognize our dependence on God's will for us. We hear and recognize in the prophet's words our utter dependence on God's will, and how far we have strayed from that will. For all of us, at this time of the year, even in the mall where the lights twinkle brightly, the tinsel glitters, and the strains of Silent Night become just background noise, we are conscious that something is missing, something is not right. The pre-Christmas rush seems a little sordid, and yet we let ourselves by pushed to our limits by it anyway. The pre-Christmas time line becomes like a roller- coaster swooping and dipping as our heads spin. Some of us yearn to get off this madly rushing train, but we are strapped in for the ride, victims of the machinery which seems to have very little reference to God or God's son whose birth we are awaiting.
Advent, for us who keep the Christian year, is the antidote to the madness of the mall, the straight line to Christmas and the madly rushing train which rides on it. Advent is the time when the prophets call us to take stock of ourselves, to decide how ready we are for the coming of the Christ child ... and not in terms of whether the presents are bought and the turkey stuffed. Advent is sacred time, God's time, time to get ready for the return of the Light. It is the time for listening to the prophets who tell us how far we have strayed from God's plan for us, and for sincere and prayerful change. For us who live in the part of the globe in darkness at this time of the year this is especially acute. No matter the twinkling lights and the glitter in the mall, the darkness is out there all around us. We would do well to heed the prophets now. They are telling us what is missing, and it is terrifying. They are telling us how far we have strayed from the loving circle of God's sacred time, and they are calling us back into it from the darkness. We would do well to heed them especially at this time of year when the wheel is turning again, and the child is waiting to be born.
We would do well, sisters and brothers, to get off the train rushing headlong towards December 25th, and spend our time reading the prophecies and praying for the birth of the child again, to make ready in our hearts and homes a place for that child who comes again in power and great glory as Matthew tells us he will. We would do well to begin again in this Advent season, to look clearly into the darkness and the cold out there and pray and work for a decent and warm and orderly place for the baby to come into. To make ready in our hearts and minds a place for the Christ Child to come once again. This is the task of Advent, indeed of all our time as Christians. The prophets are right: we must be ready, and the time is short! AMEN