It is the third Sunday of Advent and the Christmas Carols are everywhere. On the radio, in the stores and offices, on the TV commercials and -- of course -- in the elevators. And even those of us working hard to observe the Holy Season of Advent, find ourselves fast-forwarding a bit and starting to hum along. "Joy to the World,” "Away in a Manger," "O, Holy Night ..." After all, it's not as though we don't KNOW what happens next. The baby in the manager ... the shepherds and wise men gathered in wonder ... the star, the angel, and the great news, "Peace on Earth, Good Will to All." It's what we're preparing for. It's what we're waiting for. It's what we're expecting.
For Advent is a season of expectancy – and my favorite description of that expectancy is one I’ve used before. The expectancy of "waiting" during Advent is different than some of the other kinds of "waiting" we do -- waiting for a bus, for example. Waiting for a bus is both boring and anxiety producing. Will it be on time? Will I make my connection? Am I waiting at the right bus stop ... what if I looked at the schedule wrong? Where IS that bus, anyway? That's waiting in anxiety.
Waiting in expectancy is more like being seated in the concert hall, waiting for the curtain to rise. We know something wonderful is about to happen: and everyone else is waiting with the same expectation. We may know what to expect -- we've bought the tickets, looked over the program -- but the experience is yet to happen: and we wait -- expectantly; we wait in the tension of both knowing and NOT knowing -- open to the experience about to unfold.
I believe that is the kind of "Advent Attitude" God calls us to aim for: to live in both the trust and the tension. And though Christmas Carols abound, we ARE still in Advent: and there's one Advent hymn that has traditionally carried the essence of that call:
O come, O come Emmanuel, And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee O Israel
A song of yearning -- of longing -- but also of promise. "Emmanuel" -- a symbolic name to be given to the child whose birth was foretold by the prophets as the sign that God would deliver a people from their enemies: the incarnation of the covenant between creatures and the Creator that is as old as Genesis; as Abraham and Sarah; and as new as today.
It's a longing for a restored creation -- restored relationships -- with God and with each other. "The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom ... they shall obtain joy and gladness and sorrow and sighing shall flee awa,." Isaiah wrote to a people who had been exiled in Babylon for decades. And in our reading from Amos tonight, the prophet offers God’s promise: “I will bring back my exiled people … they will plant vineyards and drink their wine; they will make gardens and eat their fruit.”
They were a captive people -- without homeland or hope -- and yet they waited for God's promise to them ... made through Abraham and renewed through Moses ... proclaimed by Amos and Isaiah -- to be realized. Did they wait in anxiety or in anticipation? My money would be in anxiety ... like my example of the bus stop: did we get right? WAS there a promised land? Will we ever get back there? Who IS this God, anyway ... how will we know him when we see him?
And so the prophets paint a vivid picture of the Zion for which they yearn ... helping them remember the promise they fear they'll forget ... urging them to hope ... to trust ... to wait expectantly for the deliverance God has promised will come: "O come, O come Emmanuel" they prayed: and yet, when he came, they didn't recognize him because he was not what they expected. It was as if they were waiting for a bus ... and God was inviting them into the concert hall.
It's a standing invitation ... and it has our name on it. Each and every one of us ... wherever we are on our journey. God calls us all into deeper relationship ... with God and with each other. Calls us to dare to hope for what we may not even be able yet to imagine ... to believe that the God of Sarah and Abraham, of Moses and Miriam, of all the faithful of every generation offers to us the same promise of fullness of life -- abundance of love -- "thy Kingdom come."
Will we recognize it when we see it? Can we dare to trust a God who promises us "more than we can ask or imagine"? In these waning days of preparation ... of Advent ... my prayer is that we can be open to the hope that God can indeed redeem even the darkest and most challenging obstacles that stand between us and that promised land Isaiah proclaimed and Amos described.
And also that we can be open to the challenge that God may be calling us to participate in overcoming them. Overcoming them by:
· Preaching peace in a time of war – whether or not we’re in an election cycle
· Bringing hope to the homeless and hungry – not only by providing Christmas food baskets and supporting wet-weather shelters but by challenging unjust economic systems that continue to oppress the marginalized
· Proclaiming God’s love available to ALL – by giving voice to the voiceless in the Anglican Communion; to the gay and lesbian faithful whose relationships and vocations continue to be treated as sacrificial lambs on the altar of global Anglican politics.
Preaching peace, bringing hope and proclaiming love: these are among the signs of hope – of peace, of love & of peace – that our Advent candles represent.
Are there other signs of hope among us that we don't even recognize yet? My money is on the answer "yes" -- and my prayer is that in the coming year we may be given the grace to recognize them ... and the courage to act on them! The New Year ahead of us will no doubt offer both opportunities and challenges. So let us give thanks this evening for the gift of this time of preparation... as we wait -- expectantly -- in the tension and trust that is Advent.
O come, Desire of nations bind
in one the hearts of all humankind
bid thou our sad divisions cease
and be thyself our King of Peace.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee O Israel!
Thanks be to God. Alleluia. Amen.