Advent Hope

December 2, 2012: Advent IC
Jeremiah 33:14-16; Psalm 25:1-9;
1 Thessalonians 3:9-13
; Luke 21:25-36
St. Nathaniel’s Episcopal Church – North Port, Florida

Advent I(At the Advent Wreath: 
FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT)

Reader:  The Gospel of John speaks of Christ as the true light coming into the world. In commemoration of that coming, we light candles for the four weeks leading to Christmas and reflect on the coming of Christ.  It is significant that the church has always used that language—the coming of Christ—because it speaks to a deep truth. Christ is coming. Christ is always coming, always entering a troubled world, a wounded heart. And so we light the first candle, the candle of hope, and dare to express our longing for peace, for healing, and the well-being of all creation.  (First candle is lit.)

Priest:   Let us pray . . .
Loving God, as we enter this Advent season, 
We open all the dark places in our lives and memories to the healing light of Christ. Show us the creative power of hope. Prepare our hearts to be transformed by you, that we may walk in the light of Christ.  Through Jesus Christ our Lord, AMEN *.

—————————-

I speak to you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit . . .

Good morning and welcome to the New Year – the new church year that is!  As you walked into the church this morning you probably noticed some new things, like the Advent wreath in place and the color blue everywhere.  Maybe you sensed that something different . . . something new and special is going to happen.

It’s the beginning of Advent.  Christmas is just a little over three weeks away.  And Jesus’ message of the day is to stay awake and to watch, watch for the signs that new things are appearing – new life is coming near.

For many of us, the now daily publication of a limited number of shopping days left before Christmas is in itself enough to keep us awake.   Concern about getting everything done provides an adrenaline rush to fuel all our holiday commitments, and plans and desires.  But Jesus’ call to us to stay awake, to watch – is a call to be aware of God’s Kingdom, a call to turn our attention to the things that really matter in the heavenly realm – even while we are still living in the middle of the everyday Christmas rush.

The holiday season can be a very lonely, empty time for many of us – lonely in spite of the high level of activity and increased number of social events whirling around us. Depression can hit us “big time” during this season of the year.

Depression is life without hope . . . or with very little hope  . . . when we feel continually beaten down – perhaps by seasonal memories of the past  – or by losses we may have faced over the course of the past year.

This morning we lit a first candle on the Advent wreath . . . This first candle is the candle of hope.  We all need to have a flame of hope burning somewhere in our soul . . .  The purpose of lighting candles on the wreath is to remember that Christ is coming into the world – that Christ is always coming into the world.  A lit candle is a symbol of hope.

Another ancient sign of hope is the fig tree.  And at the center of the gospel reading from Luke this morning is the parable of the fig tree.   Jesus tells the parable with these word:

“Look at the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.”

This parable is not what we usually thing of when we think of Jesus’ parables.  Most of Jesus’ parables have a story line – with a plot that tends to turn our usual ways of thinking upside down.  This parable of the fig tree is really more of an observation or a warning – it calls for us to watch out for the signs of change, for the signs of the arrival of new life.

But Jesus says that while we’re waiting and watching for the signs of new life there will be chaos and distress in our lives –in the outward turmoil of world events with “nations in perplexity” and in natural disasters . . . chaos and distress also in the internal recesses of our souls . . . with fear –  and the depression I mentioned earlier.  Through these tough times Jesus urges us to be patient, as if we are tending that fig tree – watching for the leaves to sprout – waiting patiently for the promised fruit to appear and ripen.

And Jesus gives us two pieces of advice on how to be patient and hopeful through difficult times.  First, he warns us that there will be times when “people faint with fear and foreboding” – because of what is happening in the world or because of what is happening within their souls.  But in these times Jesus promises to come to us; he promises that the kingdom of God is at hand.  And he calls us to look for the signs that God is near.

Through all this our experience of loneliness or depression may actually function as God’s call to us – God’s call to watch and to wait.  And the unrest in the larger world may act as God’s call to look for Jesus’ coming.

Jesus also warns us not to be weighed down with what he calls “dissipation and drunkenness and the cares of this life.”  He warns us not to fall asleep by sedating ourselves in times of trouble – self-medicating with wine or drugs or overeating or any other addiction.

Likewise we should not give in to the temptation of constant worry.  Worry stifles hope. Worry actually keeps us looking for trouble rather than being vigilant in looking for the signs of new life.

The Good News is this:  The Kingdom of heaven has already come near!  Jesus Christ has already been born . . . and he continues to be born in our hearts.

Advent is a time to wait and watch:  wait and watch for a light shining in the darkness.  We lit a candle of hope this morning,  and now it’s our mission to tend and nourish this flame of hope in the coming weeks . . .

Remember that sometimes we must be patient with God  –  we must wait for true healing, like waiting patiently for the fig tree to sprout and bear its fruit..  Quick fixes do not produce true healing; with quick fixes, the wound or the problem is still there just under the surface.

True hope seeks deeper healing . . . lasting fixes. Hope leads to real transformation in our lives.

And so, in this hope of light and healing . . . let us pray:  Loving God, as we enter this Advent season, we open all the dark places in our lives and memories to the healing light of Christ. Show us the creative power of hope. Prepare our hearts to be transformed by you, that we may walk in the light of Christ. . .  Through Jesus Christ our Lord,  AMEN.

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