A sermon preached by the Rev. Dianne Andrews at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Port Townsend, WA, November 29, 2015.
We enter a new season, a time of waiting and preparation. It is the season of bold angry prophets, angels on a mission, and pregnant women who feel new life stirring inside. We are entering the season of waiting, and anticipation… a season when, in our part of the world, the days grow short, temperatures drop and we make our choices about how far we will align ourselves the culture’s nagging pull to participate in seasonal “busyness” and empty consumerism. We have made a choice by coming here this morning to wait and prepare in deeper way. But, as we hear in our lessons today, we are not entering Advent quietly. The lessons speak of both of the human experience of despair and they show us signs of hope. The lessons were were recorded in ancient time and they speak, just as well, of our time.
There are signs of distress among nations, signs of distress within the nations…distress within our nation. The litany of violence grows longer day-by-day. Fear of total calamity is in our midst. Our inner landscapes are disturbed by what is happening around us. Foreboding seeps in. We come here today to hear some good news because we know, in faith, that the story is not finished, it is not complete. We come for the light and the hope of this darkening season. In Luke’s telling of the Gospel we hear Jesus acknowledge that the end of injustice and oppression is near… as God’s way of life, of right relationship… and peace… and righteousness… is laboring to be born. Amidst the groaning and laboring of our time we are being stirred awake… Called to look up, get off our duffs… called pay attention and participate in this new birth, in this new creation.
During the recent power outage I heard several accounts of folks who felt drawn to head downtown to experience the dark and the quiet… an experience that we don’t often get these days… darkness that is known when we get out and away from towns and cities, … darkness that we know in times of forced “lights out” that provides the opportunity to see the world with different eyes, to look up into the night sky and see and experience more of the grandness of the heavens that is always present, but an experience in which heaven’s grandeur is often drowned out by the light pollution of our modern times that diminishes the acuity of our night vision. In the midst of the power outage routines were interrupted, dark silence descended and there was an opportunity, a call, to experience and remember our place in creation… afresh…with new eyes and keener vision.
Mystics have written about entering the silence, entering into the experience of feeling even the total absence of God… and staying there… of not giving up… of not yielding to the temptation of making a final decision that God is simply not here, not with us, not real…. that God is a delusion of human creation. The dark night, the seeming emptiness, the place of not knowing… of not knowing the answers, the plan, the way forward… is actually an expansive chrysalis, a place in which we can be still, take rest, unwind, and stop the frantic search because, when we do stop trying so hard we begin to detect rays of hope in the darkness, signs of God’s presence, the sprouts of small leaves on a fig tree that herald the end of winter
and that promise the bounty fruits in summer. What has not worked in the past, all that has sought to diminish life is passing away. A new birth, a new creation is laboring to be born. We know that the promised child will be born. But we don’t yet know what this will mean for us, and this world, as we approach the year 2016. We are called to be awake and prepare to receive the birth of God’s living Word that will dwell among us in our time and take a form that that will be as unexpected as king, a messiah, who will die on a cross, delivered to us in the form of a wee babe.
Today our attention turns to waiting as we begin again. We have the opportunity to experience this Advent deeply, to enter the stillness even as the signs in the heavens and voices of distress and fears of calamity roar in our midst… It is for us to prepare and make wide the space inside… to let go of the limitations of our own making… to seek God in the darkness and to sit in an expansiveness that allows our self imposed limitations fall away… that we may make room for God to be known to us and in our world. Some words by Jan L. Richardson from her book Night Vision:
Forgive us, God, When we live our lives within the lines,
when we say
this is the shape of our work this is the boundary of our habitation
these are the limits of our love
these are the lines of our
these, and none other.
Draw us beyond our patterns into yours
curving, spiraling, many-colored, ever-changing, stretching, pushing, challenging, renaming, unsettling, disturbing
and welcoming home.1
Today we begin again, called to be awake, and to engage in the expansiveness of wiating. We are being challenged to make room for God’s grand utterance of life.
To you, O God, we lift up our souls. We wait knowing that our hope is in you. Your promise has been handed down through the ages. The end is but the beginning. Help us to trust. Help us to engage and participate in this holy process of birthing… in bringing to life your dream for justice and peace and harmony, your dream for a new creation.
In the end we won’t return to a familiar landscape. Our Advent hope is that all will be healed and changed… hearts and minds, attitudes, practices and whole systems… that empires and industries will be transformed for the good … that war will cease, that radical justice will reign, and that God’s good creation be sustained and thrive. The cosmos is shaking… and the time of fruition is drawing near… Let us make room in the darkness of this time of holy waiting.
1 Jan L. Visions, Night Visions, United Church Press, Cleveland, 1998, pg. 25.