First Sunday of Advent A – Remembering God’s Time During Our Time

November 27, 2022.

             Advent means “Coming”. During this season the liturgies encourage us to reflect upon the mystery of God’s coming among us as we look forward to the Christmas celebration. It is a season of expectation, reminding us that we live in time. The irresistible march of time has puzzled philosophers since ancient times. We shall learn a great deal about ourselves, if we get in touch with the moods that shape our lives – moods that almost invariably involve the passing of time: our hopes and fears, our yearnings and disappointments, our sense of achievement, the lessons life is teaching us. Our faith should help us to situate this pattern of our lives within the designs of God. Where the march of time is leading us has only become clear, of course, because God has made known to us why the world was created.

            How does your time look between now and Christmas? Is your calendar for the next four weeks a jumble of “musts”? There’s shopping, wrapping, shipping, delivering. There are the Christmas cards. There’s the tree to be bought and decorated. There’s the outside decorating. There’s whatever baking we might do. There’s a “Messiah” concert and a family gathering. There’s a carolling party, the school holiday program, the office Christmas party, etc. Then there are gifts to get for family, friends, acquaintances. Maybe there are some December birthdays, wedding anniversary, etc.  It’s all there on your calendar and it’s all your time. And then there’s God’s time. It’s all contained within the circle of the Advent wreath, the wreath with the first candle lit this morning. It’s the beginning of Advent, the beginning of the church year, that big wheel of time that every year turns us from the waiting of Advent to the joy of Christmas, to the waiting of Lent to the joy of Easter, to the waiting of Eastertide to the joy of Pentecost, to the joy of life in ordinary time and back again. So here is the span of God’s time we enter this morning. This candle marks the beginning of the time we will spend with the prophet Isaiah, that prophet from the Hebrew Scriptures known and trusted and quoted by the writers of the New Testament.The light of this candle infuses today’s readings. Isaiah implores his listeners to walk in the light of the Lord into the kingdom where people do not learn how to make war but instead turn their energies toward cultivating the earth and not destroying it.

             Paul in this Sunday’s second reading (Romans 13:11-14) echoes Isaiah’s vision in the first reading (2:1-5) when he urges his listeners to wake up, to leave the works of darkness and “walk in the light of the Lord!” Paul also echoes what he had heard that Jesus said to his disciples: “Let us then throw off the works of darkness and put on the armour of light.”  Matthew in the Gospel (24:36-44) tells what Jesus said: “For you do not know on which day your Lord will come. …  So, you  must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.”

             The four Sundays of Advent remind us this First Sunday Hope: the coming of Jesus next Sunday Faith: To prepare the way for the Lord when we light the first and the second candles, and Isaiah will remind us what happens in the light: growth, a green shoot from a dead stump. Paul will remind us of Isaiah’s prediction about that dead stump of David’s line bearing new fruit in the person of Jesus. On the third Sunday Joy: the joy at the coming of Jesus when we light three candles, Isaiah will tell us about deserts that bloom, the blind who see and the lame who leap. James will remind us in his letter those who waited patiently for their faith to bear fruit. Jesus will confirm, he is the one whom Isaiah predicted. On the Fourth Sunday of Advent Peace: Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace for those He favours when the four candles will burn in this wheel and the promises will soon be fulfilled. Isaiah will tell us about a young woman who will give birth to a son and name him Immanuel, “God with us.” Matthew will set Jesus’ birth to Mary and Joseph in the light of Isaiah’s prediction. Finally, we will light the central light on Christmas morning and hear John begin his gospel: “What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all the people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. … And the Word became flesh and lived among us … full of grace and truth.

             And so the circle of Advent time comes around again. But Advent is not a time when we go through the motions of remembering a story whose ending we already know. It’s worth remembering that we begin our journey around this wheel this morning with Jesus’ own prediction of how he will come to us again.  Advent is an invitation to renew our Christian commitment and to start living the life that Christ’s first coming more than 2000 years ago made possible in order to prepare for his final coming at the end of time. This time of Advent is about the light shining in the darkness but not obliterating the darkness. It is about the kingdom having already come near to us but not yet having been fulfilled. There is much work left to be done – and not just all we face these next four weeks. If God is to do his work in us, we must first remove the obstacles which prevent his birth in our soul. Casting off the deeds of darkness gives us the opportunity to live in the light of the gospel.

             Will the kingdom come in a similar inevitable way? What will we have done to hasten its coming? Will we recognize it when it comes? Who are we? Which farmer in the field? Which woman grinding mill? Will we go about our pre-Christmas tasks, marking out our time, and forget about the Advent stories of God’s time? Or, perhaps, can we overlay these two arcs of time, taking good care of the tasks that will make for a special holiday season and staying awake for the signs of the kingdom – of God’s time – breaking into our time? Because it is not that we shouldn’t enjoy the hustle and bustle of the secular season of “X-number of days until Christmas” and to fall for this month’s commercialism. But Jesus became human and came into the chaos of our world to show us how to navigate our way through it using love and compassion as our touchstones. The eternal Son of God seeks entry into our innermost being so that he may share his life with us.  He stands at the door and knocks but will not come in uninvited.  This is our opportunity to welcome him and advance on our spiritual journey by walking in the light of the Lord.

            The beginning of this season is a call to conversion addressed to all of us because God wants us to grow closer to him and to experience the warmth of his love more deeply.  We need to open our hearts to receive his Son Jesus Christ into our lives.  His presence can be experienced in the people we meet and in the situations that come our way each day. In a book of prayerful poems called “Being Home,” Gunilla Norris strives to live in the overlap between our time and God’s time. She wants to be a steward of her everyday tasks in such a way that allows her not to despise the din of the world and its tasks, but to use them as a portal into deeper living. In a poem called “Polishing the Silver” she prays: “As I polish let me remember the fleeting time that I am here. Let me let go of all silver. Let me enter this moment and polish it bright. Let me not lose my life in any slavery – from looking good to preserving the past, to whatever idolatry that keeps me from just this – the grateful receiving of the next thing at hand.”

             Brothers and sisters, Let us pray: Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armour of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.