Luke 21:25-36: Jesus said, “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory.
Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
Then he told them a parable: “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.
“Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”
So, once again we begin Advent. So what is Advent? Who started it? Has it always been like this?
Surprisingly, there aren’t waves of information, but what there is points in very similar directions. Advent can be first found in the Christian Calendar somewhere around the sixth century. Previous to that there is tradition of what was called St. Martin’s Lent, which was a 40 day fast before Christmas. Advent then, as now, generally speaking, was a duel theme of preparation. Preparing to mark Christ’s entry into this world and preparation for Christ’s return. In its original understanding, Advent was very similar to Lent in that fasting, meditation, introspection and repentance were among the main themes. As time has gone on, Advent has been somewhat distanced from the Lenten disciplines, although it remains a time of deep introspection.
The Advent wreath has become an intricate part of the Advent liturgy, with it’s four or five candles (not all Advent wreaths had a white Christ Candle.) Three purple and one pink candle became staples. In moving from the Diocese of Calgary to the Diocese of Huron 16 years ago, I discovered there was and is some difference in traditions around which order the candles should be lit.
A couple of notes around colours. For many centuries both Lent and Advent hangings and vestments were purple, marking the theme of repentance. It is only in the last few decades that a strong push is making it’s way through the church to make the Advent colour blue, to show that it is very different that the Lenten season and thus having it’s own colour. So of course, being me, I always want to ask if we would make the purple candles blue? There is also the Gaudete Sunday tradition on the third Sunday of Advent. Gaudete means rejoice. Rose or pink coloured vestments can be used instead of blue or purple and the pink candle in lit in the Advent wreath. There is also a tradition to call the pink candle the Mary candle and it is then lit on the 4th Sunday of Advent, and usually includes Mary’s song from Luke.
So, there is a bit of history of Advent. But still the question remains. What is Advent? How will the next 20 odd days be different for you than normal? As I have suggested in a couple of ways, I think Advent is worthwhile, but it is completely lost in the all out mad commercial rush to Christmas. The temptation is for the church to join in that wild fray and make everything from November 1st about the birth of Jesus. Well, that’s not accurate. It’s all about Christmas but we try not to mention Jesus unless we have to.
So, I’m going to suggest that the understanding of Advent as preparing our hearts for Jesus first and second coming is lost. How do we bring it back?
I think there is great value in contemplating a twofold question. Why did Jesus come in the first place? What was it about the development of the world, the evolution of civilization, the actions of human beings that made that the critical and therefore perfect time for Jesus to come dwell among us. That leads to part two of the question. When is He coming back? Same thought process. What will be the historical, sociological, theological and human behavioral understandings that will bring Jesus again?
As I nuanced last week, there is a dramatic shift going on in Christian writing about this dynamic. Instead of seeing God as this distant task master who will return to call us to account; there are questions being asked about how interconnected are earth and heaven?
We can make the case from today’s readings. What both Jeremiah and Luke are doing is pointing to a set of circumstances that will bring God into a closer relationship with humanity. We would automatically suggest first coming in Jeremiah and second coming in Luke.
But what if it is all the same message? What if the prophet Jeremiah and the gospel writer Luke are asking the same thing? When are we going to understand the God of love? When are we going to understand God’s desire to interact intimately with those God created to love? When are we going to start to understand that heaven and earth are, in some sense, supposed to be coming closer together, not being drawn further apart?
When do we begin to understand that the call to love is the central message of God and that heaven becomes much clearer to us when we as human beings begin to come closer to what all the authors in the Bible are describing – a world in which all are included and none are excluded. A world where it’s more important to understand how to love each other, than it is to create rules to keep some people out and give power to those who are in.
Maybe, just maybe, that is where we should start with Advent? Over the next four weeks can we focus on asking what it takes to bring heaven and earth together? What does God truly want? Should these four weeks be about blowing our credit limits, exclusive parties, and all out pursuit of the non-existent perfect Christmas? Or can we spend the next four weeks reaching out to others? Can we spend the time in spiritual contemplation of what it means that Jesus came and will come again? Can we really try and figure out what God thinks the heaven and earth combination is? I think we might find it in compassion, respect, inclusion, sharing, loving, encouraging and many other positive experiences. What say you – should we try to change the world? Or should be let the self-centered, profit seeking, power demanding, ultra-controlling leadership continue to define who we are?
Rev. Keith Nethery