Sermon – November 30, 2014 1st Sunday of Advent

Waiting in the Dark
Advent is a time of waiting.  And if there is anything harder to do than wait, it is to wait in the dark.  I’m terrible at it.  Which I was reminded of this very Friday – the day after Thanksgiving:
This summer my family moved.  We packed up everything, managed to let go of truck loads – literally – of our stuff and move into a much smaller, no storage space house.  Which was great with me.  Until Friday.  When I started to put up the Christmas decorations.  And discovered that some of them were missing.  I wasn’t missing a few strings of lights, or greenery, or anything I could run to Meijer and pick up again.  No.  I was missing the three counted cross stitch stockings with my precious children’s names on them, which had been painstakingly and lovingly crafted by my sainted mother, who had invested weeks of her life and most of her remaining eyesight in these keepsakes that would forever more carry remind her grandchildren of her undying love for them and the magic of Christmas.  These things were works of art.  They were too pretty to hang from the mantle.  They were framed.  Big.  Gold. Frames.  Priceless keepsakes.  Where were they?
Unfortunately, I discovered that they were missing about 4 oclock on Friday afternoon, and you know what happens at 4:32.  The Sun goes down, and you can’t rummage through any more boxes out in the garage.  It’s dark.  Nights are so long. the sun goes down at 4: 32 and doesn’t show it’s bright little face until 6:50 in the morning.   Which is how long I had to wait before I could get back out there and look for my missing treasure.  It was a long, dark night of waiting.  (*)
Advent is a time of waiting.  And the darkness isn’t just meterological, is it? I mean, what do they call Friday?  Black Friday.  And you can almost count on there being plenty of stories about the people out trying to get a bargain, acting like they’ve lost something – – – like their manners.  Or their temper.
The news is pretty dark, what with the events in Ferguson, Mo. It seems  that racial tensions and problems – one of the most tragic parts of our shared life – still aren’t being dealt in a healing, healthy way.  It’s pretty gloom and doom out there in the big cold world.  Economic uncertainty.  Political unrest.  Social polarization.  Environmental disasters.  It’s a dark time on planet Earth.
If we pay any attention at all, it is easy for our hearts to resonate with the words of the Old Testament prophet Isaiah, who cried out this prayer:   “O Lord!  Would that you would tear open the heavens and COME DOWN!”
It’s easy to think of God sitting up, beyond the clouds, in majesty and glory upon His throne.  And what we need is for Him to rip a hole in the clouds, and descend with power and might to remake the world one more time.  If God would do that he would set things right!  He’d shine a light on the rats and roaches that are ruining our country and our world.  He’d rescue the little guys, upside down in their mortgages, and put to work the restless, purposeless young people who see no future for themselves.  O!  Would that you would tear open the heavens and come down!
That isn’t our Advent hope, though.  Not because it couldn’t happen.  But because it has already happened – God has already torn open the heavens and come down.  The very first section of the very first account of Jesus’ life – the Gospel of Mark – uses that very image to describe the inauguration of Jesus’ ministry:  He says that the heaven were torn open – literally ripped – like a cloth, and God’s Spirit descended on the Christ.
The Gospel of Luke traces the rip in the heavens all the way back to the night of Jesus’ birth, when the skies over the shepherds opened and the good news of great joy was announced by a heavenly choir.
God ripped open the heavens and came down in the person of Jesus Christ.  Since that happened, hope has changed.  What he did, how he lived, who he touched, what he said – all of that means that what we hope for and how we wait for it is qualitatively different now.
Our hope is deeper and more profound because it is based on the knowledge that God was not content to sit in the heavens and tsk tsk over human suffering and sin.  God ripped open the world and entered our darkness whole heartedly, taking on all our limitations and pains and problems.  God couldn’t wait for conditions to be right, or the world to be a promising place.  He couldn’t wait until everyone and everything was ready.  He jumped right in, in a surprising place, and at a surprising time.
I think that is one of the reasons Jesus, when he is talking about the future of the world, says that God’s coming is when the sun is dark and the moon has lost it’s light and the stars have fallen from the sky.  Because God comes when things are dark.  When we have lost our ability to see the future, God comes to bring us a bigger and better future than anything we could have imagined.
This is hard to see in the macro world of economics and politics.  I’m not at all comfortable naming this development or that one as a sure sign of God’s future working itself out among us.   It is too soon to say if our country will become a better one because of these difficult days.  better?  I hope so.   But I don’t know about that.
But I do know that it is sometimes, often, the darkest areas of a person’s life are precisely the place where God’s tears into our lives to re ignite hope and open a future.
This has happened to me.  This has happened to many of you. But I want to tell you a story that comes from another community about how God works to bring people in darkness the light.  (Shane Claibourne – Irresistable Revolution, p. 183)
This story is about a couple who couldn’t have children.  (Kinda like some couples in the Bible.)  And about a teenage girl who was having a baby for which she wasn’t prepared. (Kinda like Jesus’ mother.)  The couple invited the homeless girl to come and live with them, and after the baby was born, she stayed.  The couple helped her raise the baby, while she pursued her dream of going back to school to become a nurse.  They have been living together for over a decade now.  They are a family.   And the baby is a teenager.  And there is a heart-wrenching twist to this story, because the older woman in this family is very ill now.  But she has a nurse in her home to help take care of her, just as she once took care of the nurse.  Out of darkness – there is a profound and beautiful hope.
So – how do we hope given our faith that God has torn open the heavens and come down?  Jesus says we hope and wait expectantly.  And the best image I’ve come across for that kind of expectation is that it is like being a kid, waiting for a parent to come and pick you up.  (Idea came from a PCUSA prof at Luther Seminary.  Name lost)    After school, a music lesson, soccer practice.  You remember that feeling?  And sometimes mom or dad was late.  Now I guess kids can text to find out where mom is.  But back in the day, that wasn’t a possibility.  The best we kids could do was to do whatever we could think of to shorten the time and the distance between us.  We’d walk to the corner we knew mom would drive around.  We’d stand there, leaning out into the street to look for the familiar car.  We’d listen for the sound, watch the place it would appear. We’d wait expectantly, not passively, but moving in the direction of the one we hoped to see.
Advent Hope is like that. It is the kind of hope that looks alert for opportunities to move in the direction of Jesus Christ.  God couldn’t wait to bring us hope, and we can’t wait to do whatever we can to share that hope with others.  We know God is with us when we do.
One of the things you do as a congregation is provide opportunities to reflect the light of Christ.  Your announcements – hanging of the greens, children’s pageant, presents for families in need – all of these are opportunities to encourage one another to move in God’s direction as we wait this Advent season.
The days may be short.  The darkness may be all around us.  But as people of God we never lose hope. The communion we share at the Lord’s table is a potent sign of this truth.
For, as we’ve been saying for centuries:
Christ has come, Christ is coming, Christ will come again.
Right here, right now, in the darkness, the light we await lives within us.
God tore open the heavens and came down. Thanks be to God.

(*) There is no good time to get back to this in the sermon, but I did find the cross-stitch stockings.   We tore UP the garage the next day.  They weren’t there.  Then my husband said, “Let’s go look in the old house.”  And there they were.  In the living room of the empty house, in the cabinet where I’d always kept them.
Wishing you a joyous Advent and a very Merry Christmas!  – Pastor Cindy