Advent 1B 2020

We mark the beginning of Advent, the first season of the church year, which focuses on our spiritual preparation for the coming of God. We ask for grace, so we can cast away the works of darkness and use the armor of light to transform ourselves and the world. While we are preparing so busily for Christmas, we are also supposed to prepare for the Day of the Lord, the moment which reveals God’s glory and our moment of reckoning.

Are you ready for a new beginning? In the last nine months of Coronatide, surely we have left many things behind. Are you in need of a little encouragement, some spiritual comfort food? Our souls and our lives may depend on our willingness to look for God and for new beginnings. We live in times when the fragile light of our shared humanity seems to be eclipsed by the shadows. In a world riddled by mistrust and fear, injustice and shocking economic inequity, we have heard a deep cry for healing and for transformation of relationships.  It is increasingly clear that we need some sort of intervention.

Could it be time for the Day of the Lord?

While some anticipate that the Day of the Lord will mark the end of time  –  some have asked me if this is the end time, and that is certainly one theme in today’s gospel passage from Mark  –  there is a second layer of meaning in this segment of Mark’s gospel. Mark re-tells Jesus’ parable of the Master returning to the household, using the four time markers of the Passion story. Jesus gathers with his disciples at evening, is betrayed and arrested at midnight, denied at cockcrow, and sentenced to death at dawn. The message is subtle and very real: when we least expect it, in times of disruption and dismay, even as we are forced to confront the cross, the power of heaven is manifest on earth.

All of this invites us to hear a little differently the Christmas story for which we are preparing. We cannot pretend we don’t know the story of the child born in Bethlehem. Let us listen with fresh ears, to a story of uncertainty, of vulnerability, and of unexpected blessings and songs of angels. Listen to the story of small things that changed the world:  a new baby, his frightened parents, some shepherds, some angels.

God always seem to be most willing to break through the veil between heaven and earth in times of profound suffering and disorientation. When we need to perceive the presence of God, we want to look most closely at the points of intersection between the power of God and the depth of human need.

The truth is that we are not powerless. We can do something about the need by the grace of God. Each small thing we do propels the grace forward and transforms our common life.

If you want to prepare for a good Christmas in Coronatide, look for Christ in another person. By that, I mean look for those who  are vulnerable, who suffer, who carry their crosses, who are abandoned. Bring that awareness with you into the world, which is both increasingly diverse and increasingly polarized.

If you want to prepare for a good Christmas in Coronatide, resolve each day to be a moment of grace for someone else. What  small things can we do in love that bring the light of God into the room? What small sacrifice can we make that will allow our neighbors to see God at work in the world?

If you want to prepare for a good Christmas in Coronatide, decide to give gifts with meaning. Offer something to those you love that speaks of grace, of God’s boundless love, of our power to transform suffering into joy. (Our Community Connections group is happy to help with that – through the NOEL gift program – offering Necessities of Everyday Life to our homeless neighbors in Harrisburg).

The Gospel invites us to be awake, to bring light into shadows. As people who follow Jesus, we cannot look away as people are suffering. In the big picture, the Gospel is about grace in daily life. It is about how we can use the accident of our good fortune and privilege to do the work of love in the world. It is all about what Jesus would expect us to do.

            There is a new life emerging. Are we there yet? Maybe not. We can seize the moment! In small ways, offered with intention, we can be the light the world needs so desperately.

            Be of good courage, my friends, pray fervently, put on the armour of light!