Wibbly Wobbly Advent
Below is the text of Sarah Brock’s sermon preached on Advent 1C 11/29/15
All Saints, Brookline
Jeremiah 33.14-16 Psalm 25.1-9 1 Thessalonians 3.9-13 Luke 21.25-36
If you were expecting a nice, sweet, ‘getting ready for baby’ sort of Gospel for the First Sunday of Advent, I’m afraid you’re a bit disappointed. If, like me, you’ve been feeling quite overwhelmed by all of the darkness in the world lately, it might sound painfully real.
Today we’re jumping right in with all the complexities and juxtapositions of awaiting Jesus as we start a new year in the Church calendar. Longing and fear, hope and despair, light and darkness, salvation and judgment, the beginning and the end.
“People assume that time is a strict progression of cause and effect, but ‘actually’ from a non-linear, non-subjective viewpoint,
it’s more like a big ball of wibbly wobbly… time-y wimey… stuff.”
You may recognize this as Doctor Who’s explanation of time for those of us who are not Time Lords. In Advent, we get to experience a little of this ‘wibbly wobbly’ -ness, without all the inconveniences of traveling through time and space. Today’s Gospel serves as a clear reminder that this season of Advent isn’t just about excitedly awaiting the birth of baby Jesus. It’s also about anticipating the kingdom of God. A weird twisting of time. The intersection of past and future.
But, why must we begin with such daunting darkness: ‘distress among nations,’ roaring sea, fear and foreboding? Isn’t getting ready for Christmas supposed to be a time of joy and singing, decorating and baking? Especially now, with fear spreading across the face of the Earth as terrorists attack the innocent, refugees seek safety, hate speech rages across the interwebs… As if that’s not enough, the days are getting shorter and our part of the world is, literally, getting darker!
Many of you know, teaching high school chemistry was my first career. At the beginning of each school year, I would tackle the concept of energy with my students.
In particular, light – a form of energy that we encounter daily in our lives. However, the bit that students often struggled with was understanding its counterpart – darkness. As you likely recall from your own science education, darkness (what we tend to think of as the adversary to light) is not itself a form of energy. Darkness is simply the absence of light.
So, what do you do when it gets too dark? Turn on the light. It seems so simple. Yet, when I look out at the world, it seems so impossible.
So many people are suffering. Good people. Innocent people. Suffering from
racial injustice, terrorism, natural disasters, illness, loss, loneliness… The list of tragedies seems endless. But, it’s not just our time that is filled with pain, also Luke’s and Jesus’s before us.
It’s tempting to give in to fear and anxiety. Surprisingly, listening to these words Jesus speaks to his disciples overwhelms me with hope. Desmond Tutu says, “Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.”
It’s in the middle of this foreboding prophecy that we find words of light. Jesus urges us to look at the trees. When trees begin to sprout (now a faint memory as we watch the last leaves drop to the ground) we will know that summer is near. When we see these signs in the world we will know that the kingdom of God is near.
That time is now. It’s our time and Luke’s time and Jesus’s time. Because in its ‘wibbly wobbly’ -ness, all time is God’s time.
We are in a thin place, like Luke, like Jesus, where the Kingdom is breaking through. We must only look around us to see the light of Christ flooding into the darkness. As we await the birth of a baby, the light of the world, the light the darkness does not overcome, we also await the fullness of time, the reign of God, the light of our redemption.
But, our waiting isn’t passive. Jesus calls us to “be on guard,” to “be alert,” to pay attention to the signs in the world around us. This seems to me to be an incredibly tall order. When I look around at the world, the enormity of the problems and suffering is daunting. The weight of the world’s grief is overwhelming. How can we possibly “stand up and raise our heads” as Jesus exhorts?
Jesus’s call to action is a good place to start. It’s easy for me, and maybe for you too, to allow my inability to heal the deep wounds of the world keep me from doing anything. Or, at the very least, to wonder if my small efforts make any sort of difference. Is it really worth it? This complacency is what Jesus is warning us about! Do not let your hearts be weighed down. Do justice! Love mercy! Walk humbly! And, if you’re wondering where to begin, simply stand up and raise your heads! Offer a smile, hold a door, sit and share the suffering of one other person.
If I was a motivational speaker, this is the moment where I would urge you to ‘be the light.’ But, I’m not.
Thankfully, for all of us, we don’t have to be the light in the darkness. We don’t even have to turn on the light. The lamp was and is lit by the birth of Jesus. Christ the light shines through the darkness. The light of all the people. We need only to reflect it into the deep, dark wounds of the world. We need only to let others reflect it into the deep, dark wounds of our own hearts.
In the times in my life where I find myself wondering how to love, how to serve, how to heal the world, I often come back to these words from Howard Thurman:
“Don’t ask what the world needs.
Ask what makes you come alive and go do it,
because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”
It’s when we’re most alive, that the light of Christ shines mostly brightly in us and through us. It’s when we’re most alive that we shine light into the darkest corners. It’s when we’re most alive that we open ourselves to the light shining within us. And, when you know what makes you come alive, going and doing become manageable, wonderful even. Whether it’s teaching or feeding or protecting or healing or beautifying or creating or welcoming or discovering or any of the countless ways of being alive,
serving becomes inherent. Standing up and raising your head becomes customary. Recognizing the Kingdom breaking through becomes as wonderful and awe-some as recognizing the first signs of new life in the Spring or the early pains of labor.
This Advent, as we await the birth of the light of the world, as we look for the light of the in-breaking Kingdom, as we shine with the light of Christ into the deep wounds of the world, I offer up a Celtic benediction:
May the light of God illumine the heart of our souls.
May the flame of Christ kindle us to love.
May the fire of the Spirit free us to live this day, tonight, and forever. Amen.