Holidays bring on nostalgia for better or for worse. As I am preparing for Thanksgiving dinner tomorrow, I think of years past. Growing up, my family shared holidays with the family next door and anyone else who needed a place to go. One year budgets were tight so we ordered turkey subs and sat together on the dining room floor because we didn’t have a table big enough. Another year, one of the Persian kittens had crawled inside the turkey carcass as it sat thawing in the sink. Memories roll through my mind with each item I cook.
When I turn my attention toward Advent, the same thing happens. Good memories and less pleasant recollections. There was the arrival of the Sears Roebuck Wish Book and all the pretty things a child could desire. There was baking and candy making that started the day after Thanksgiving and continued every day until Christmas. Some years there would be an Advent Calendar to help keep track of the days. It all sounds good, but it was hard. My mother wasn’t a fan of the holidays even though she opened her house to anyone on Christmas day and baked more breads, cookies, and candies than she could give away, her unhappiness blanketed everything. The older I got, the more open she was about her holiday hatred. I was a few years into ordained ministry before it struck me how much I love the holiday season with a particular fondness for Advent.
Advent is really a time to look back as much as it is a time to look ahead with hope. The words of the prophet Isaiah speak to the bleakness of a time in Israel’s history and their need for the light of God. The ways of God were lost, or at least hidden, under swords, spears, and the learning of war. Isaiah issues a divine invitation to “walk in the light of the Lord.” No matter what is happening personally, or communally, or nationally, people of faith are invited to relearn the ways of God and walk on holy paths. Such hope-filled words!
For years now, I’ve thought of Advent as a time to refocus. It’s easy to get lost in the swords and spears and wars. We can be consumed by the anger, fear, and hatred that seem to be everywhere. We can easily give in and let bleak despair fill us. Advent is a time to raise our heads and look for God’s steadfast presence and take up the work of peacemaking and justice-seeking. The invitation issued by the prophet was not a passive one. It was an invitation to action, to movement, to learning. Herein lies the hope of the season.
The Romans and Matthew texts strengthen the invitation. Wake up and stay awake! The Second Coming remains a mystery to me, but I hear the message in these verses anyway. Today I’m inclined to think that Jesus shows up when we are busy, busy turning swords into ploughshares and spears into pruning-hooks. You know, speaking love in the face of fear. Joining forces with those advocating for equal rights and recognition. Essentially, Jesus shows up when we seek God in every other human face.
The urgency of these texts speaks to the belief that Jesus was due back at any moment. Today, the urgency is just as valid, even if for a slightly different reason. Many people claim to have accepted the invitation to journey to God’s holy mountain, yet they are unable to accept all who endeavor to do the same. This busywork we have invented for ourselves and plastered God’s name on is more about forging swords and sharpening spears than it is about creating ploughshares and pruning hooks. How is it possible to claim the name “Christian” and hate or look down on People of Color, LGBTQ+ folks, immigrants (documented and undocumented), refugees, Muslims, Jews, women, people with mental illness, people with physical disbilities, and on down the list of people who are “other”? These are sharp, deadly weapons; make no mistake about it. Look around at where we have been and where we are. Does it really add up to a holy path where peace prevails?
I truly love Advent and I am moved by the hope in these texts. God has been our witness through times of despair and times of joy. God has watched us wander far and return to a holy path over and over again, throughout human history. The invitation issued by the prophet still stands. It is time to walk in the light of the Lord. However, we need to wake up and stay woke. We will never get to God’s holy mountain as long as we participate in fear and hatred. And we will surely miss Jesus’ arrival if we are not focused on the ways of love and justice for the whole of creation.
May the God of hope be with us all this Advent season.
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RCL – Year A – November 27, 2016