Okay, so the New Year doesn’t start until Sunday, the first day of Advent, but I always kick off my lectionary posts in advance, so I’ll send you the greeting now. Happy New Year! Also on Sunday, The Episcopal Church changes over to using the Revised Common Lectionary rather than the one in the Book of Common Prayer, so our readings will be a bit different now, but will be in line with other liturgical Christian denominations as well as with Anglicans in other provinces who have already been using the RCL. So, that said, our readings this week are:
When taken in this sequence, this is an intriguing set of readings. We start in Isaiah, with a journey up the mountain to God’s kingdom. This journey takes us out of the violent, warlike world and into a place of light and learning and peace. The psalm continues this image of a journey from this world into the kingdom of peace and quietness and prosperity. The epistle speaks of waking from sleep, making the journey into wakefulness, the place of light.
This idea, this image – it was not new to the people of Israel. They cut their teeth on the stories of Moses and the Israelites, and their long journey from their lives as slaves in violent, decadent Egypt into the promised land, the land of milk and honey and flowing streams and growing crops and all good things that could be showered upon them. And later, when Israel was overthrown, and the Jewish people went into captivity and exile, they still dreamed of their journey back to their glorious homeland. They yearned to leave behind this place of pain and frustration and anger and hurt, and make their way back to their homeland, where they could have freedom and peace again. Back to Jerusalem, where they could have peace within their walls and quietness within their towers. And prophets, like Isaiah, came to them and told them of a savior who would be sent by God to kick out the violent oppressors and lead them into a new age of peace and prosperity, so that all the world would look up to God’s chosen people and admire them.
Of course, what they got was Jesus. Jesus did not kick out the violent oppressors, and he did not lead the people on a march to prosperity. In fact, he turned everything upside-down for the Jewish people, by telling them that it was next to impossible for a rich person to get into heaven, and that in the end, the poor and the humble and the meek would get everything. And because of this, many of them – most of them, almost all of them! – did not recognize Jesus when he came.
These people did not know when the messiah was going to come. They had heard the prophecies and the stories for years, for decades, for generations. Some had given up hope that a savior would ever come. Those who thought they were prepared would jump on the bandwagon of this prophet or that one, until he was arrested by the Romans for insurrection. They were desperate for a new message, for good news, for the journey into peace and prosperity and light.
This new season of Advent that begins on December 2 – it is our season of preparation for the messiah to enter the world. One of the wonderful things about God is that God lives outside of time. God is not bound by yesterday and today and tomorrow as we are. So while we know that Jesus did come into the world at one particular time and in one particular place, that does not keep God from entering the world right now, or three days from now, or six months ago. God is continually born inside us, and the messiah is continually entering the world. Given this, why does God need Advent? Why isn’t every day Christmas?
And the answer is: God doesn’t need Advent. And every day is Christmas, just as every day is Good Friday and every day is Easter and every evening is the Last Supper.
But we need Advent. And we need Lent and Christmas and Easter, and we even need that interminable stretch of Ordinary Time. We need to remind ourselves of the things that are important, the things that are good and real and true. During these four weeks (give or take) of Advent, we can be pregnant with Mary. We can walk that road to Bethlehem. We can hear the prophets who say, “Soon! Your savior will come to you soon! Turn your heart to God and be ready!” We can hear the voice of Jesus in the gospel lessons, telling us “I am coming back for you. Be ready for me!” We can make a space within ourselves for Jesus to enter our world. Isaiah – the great civil engineer of the bible – talks about filling in the rivers and bringing down the mountains and building a straight path for God to walk. And we know God doesn’t need a straight path. But we do. If we make that space within ourselves, if we remove the obstacles, then we can see God coming. (“Jesus is coming. Look busy.”) And, like the father of the prodigal son – or like a child whose parent is returning after a business trip – when we see God coming, we can run out to greet God. We can jump up into God’s arms, settle in for that divine hug. We can smile up at God, feel God’s hand tousling our hair, hear God laugh in sheer delight at our joy that we are together.
This is why we need Advent. On Christmas, we run to God, and we say, “God! At last you are here!” Maybe even, “Whadja bring me, Daddy?” But until then, we wait. We get ready. We vacuum the carpets in our mind, brush out the cobwebs in our heart. We sweep the leaves and branches from our porch and shovel the snow from our front walk. We light a fire in the hearth and a candle in the windows. We open ourselves to make a home where God will feel welcome. And then, because all journeys are unpredictable, we wait. We listen for the footstep, the knock on the door. We know it will come, because we have been promised for years, for decades, for generations.
The savior will come, and awaken us from sleep. Jesus will be born, to lead us on that journey to the kingdom of peace and quietness and prosperity… though these may not be exactly what we expect. But we have to be ready, because God may not – will not – come in the shape we expect to see. God is a God of mystery and surprise and great, deep humor.
So here I sit, wearing my t-shirt and sweats, my hair tied back in a ponytail, a smudge of dirt on my cheek. The dustcloth is in my hand, and I am readying my space for God to visit. And when he comes, I will walk in the light of the Lord. Won’t you join us?