November 30, 2008 Advent Sunday (RCL, Year B)
Isaiah 64: 1-9, I Corinthians 1: 1-9; Mark 13: 24-37
The first morning of the year, dawn and sunrise . . . the first morning of the world . . . the new world . . . the day stretching out before us in a mysterious openness, full of hope and possibility, unpredictability, and at the same time hints of a darker tone, a premonition of danger, out at the edges. But all ahead of us, potential, the prospect of glorious victory or catastrophic defeat, winning and losing. The first morning of the year, the first morning of the world, the curtain rises: Advent Sunday.
As I have often said, I am descended myself from a long line of Northern European introverted males, well practiced in the fine art of the suppression of deep emotion. All the heated passion of a Scandinavian. And on this first morning a temptation to minimize, to avoid, to suppress. Roll over and go back to sleep.
But the alarm comes. “Hark! A thrilling voice is sounding.” And from a place deep within we are lifted into the morning. “Sleepers wake.” And the evasions and defenses of our lives are surrounded and embraced and overcome by his new advent. Ready or not, there is light at the horizon, and the stirring up in us of a sense of ourselves that is new and fresh and ready for something more.
And there is for us here, and we hardly can tell where it came from, how we came to feel it, a sense of a profound yearning. A yearning. An anticipation stirring down in the foundations of our hearts, beneath all the things we want or crave, our deceptive appetites. I found myself thinking of what I think is my favorite Psalm, Psalm 84, not the one appointed for this morning in our lectionary, but deeply familiar and true to the spirit of this Advent, a poetry to lift in song something almost unspeakable. How lovely is thy dwelling place, O LORD of hosts! My soul longs, yea, faints for the courts of the LORD; my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God.
“My soul longs, yea, faints for the courts of the LORD.” Where does that come from? That breathless longing? What does that mean—in this world of financial meltdown and sudden economic dislocation, terrorism, war and rumors of war, fragmenting churches, fragmenting societies, fragmenting nations? This longing of Advent, this sense of a space opening up in us that can be filled only by his presence, his blessing.
So Isaiah, “Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at your presence.” All of us together, like the Christians of Corinth, discovering in our yearning for him a richness beyond anything we ever expected. As Paul says to them, “I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge . . . so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end.”
The story begins anew. Early morning, Day One. As the old dorm poster had it, “the first day of the rest of our lives.” Bethlehem, Gethsemane, the Cross and the Empty Tomb and the Upper Room, the outpouring Holy Spirit—the whole story, ahead of us, again, for the first time. And the spiritual discipline of this season—a little more challenging for us Northern European introverts, but so for all of us—not to turn away, but give ourselves up to it, to allow it to enter us: the mystery of our yearning for his presence, to sustain our lives, and to bring us from our wanderings to the home he has prepared for us.
So simply to say: Happy New Year, on this Advent Sunday. As we hear the Word, as we know the spiritual benediction of his offering at the Holy Table, as we go forth into the world in his name. Carrying within us this yearning, as the Holy Mother carries within herself the Holy Child. May there be in this day, this Advent, and all the new year ahead, the richness of his forgiveness and healing, a renewal of life, and always, his blessing.