BIBLE READINGS: 1 Corinthians 1:3-9 Mark 13:24-37
Advent is about conflicting claims.
For four weeks, I am going to be preaching about visions of peace and hope, hills made low and valleys raised up, lions lying down with lambs or swords beaten into ploughshares.
We are going to read of ominous warnings of the end and watch a crazy man cry out in the wilderness that salvation is coming. Beautiful promises to the poor and oppressed will be pronounced, and our worship will focus on hard to pin down concepts of hope, peace, joy, and love.
And then we will get into our cars and drive back into the swirling confusion of demands for donations to charities, jewellery commercials, consumer guilt, family pressures, and worries about money drowned out by tinsel, carols, sweets and promises of incredible interest-free financing for 24 months. And the words of peace and hope for a hyped-up and worn-out world seem quaint and pretend. Not really real at all.
I know what feels real. I can describe for you the smell walking through the Rockdale Plaza, the sound of the holiday music every day, every night without stop on our radio stations and the feeling each time I hand over my credit card. And when I turn on the news and see more war and starvation and sickness, and when I look into my own life and the lives of those I love, and let myself notice all the brokenness and anger, and the sadness I can even sometimes admit that there's an easy and sickly sweet comfort in succumbing to the holiday buzz. Where the perfect gift can heal the breach and the brightness of children waving candles and puppies in bows obscures for a while the darkness inside us and around us.
And yet every week in Advent, I am called to stand in this pulpit and talk about another reality. The one that's often hard to see and that we almost never touch - this reality of enduring peace and transforming hope, of God entering into the world and changing it. This light that the darkness can never put out. Every week of Advent claims that Christmas means something, and something is coming; that something changes at Christmas. And we use words like "incarnation" and "salvation," and sing O Come, O Come Emmanuel, and then – and then each week I will bless you and send you back into the real world.
Advent is absurd. It's utterly absurd. We proclaim at Advent a beautiful, peaceful world of wholeness and harmony, as though saying all of this makes any difference. As though Christmas really changes things. That God came near, God entered in, which means everything is different! And sometimes we even believe it.
But if we're honest, we will say we're still waiting. Waiting for things to be made right. Waiting for wholeness. Waiting for hope. If we're really honest, we'll confess to the darkness and not just the light. Otherwise we are collaborators with the retailers and feel-good spirit peddlers of the season who turn Christmas into a temporary antidote to our pain.
Just because Christmas is coming doesn't mean cancer is leaving, or children in detention centres are being released, or jobs suddenly appear and tensions between us disappear. The birth of Jesus doesn't erase the death of a child or the loss of a lifelong partner. And unless we say this aloud - unless you and I announce that Advent embraces these realities, makes space for them and gives voice to them - we will feel more alone and isolated right now than any other time of year.
And this is where Advent's absurdity is a profound and blessed gift to us.
Advent is honesty. Advent lets us go to those places of waiting and unearth them, hold them out in front of us, and cry out, "Come, Lord Jesus!" and "O that you would tear open the heavens and come down!" (Isaiah 64:9) Because when all the rest of the world would rush us out of our discomfort and tell us to cheer up, Advent calls to us, Keep Awake. See the need, hold the sorrow, and sit in the waiting.
God has come; God is with us. At Christmas we will celebrate this astonishing and world-altering truth. And because Christ has come, the end is written. We are the people of the promise; we wait for its fulfilment.
We hold the waiting for a world that so desperately needs saving. We hold the promise on behalf of those who feel forsaken, and for ourselves in our own forsakenness. In Advent we become - all of us - the voices crying out in the wilderness, prepare the way of the Lord. We declare what we cannot see - or what we only see in glimpses: hope in the face of hopelessness, peace amidst conflict, joy in apathy, and all-forgiving love. We preach it and sing it and live like it's true, because it is, even if we can't always see it around us.
This Advent, let's make our church the place where we say it like it is. Where we sit in the darkness together and point to the light that is coming, already breaking through. Let's let "Come Lord Jesus!" be a real cry that means something to our world and our families and our own selves. Let's enter the absurdity this Advent.
Acknowledgement: Rev Kara Root