The words of the commentator to Homily Service for this Sunday in 2008 are true still today. All the problems of today are the same problems. They will persist… and so will the light that we celebrate coming into the world.
Before we can see the light, we have to know the darkness.
The lessons for this day are not uplifting, nor particularly hopeful. They include community laments, acknowledgments of sin, realities of destruction, despair, and chaos, as well as a sense of God's abandonment. But these are precisely the realities (albeit in a different context) that people sitting in the pews face today, as they grapple with the housing crisis, an anemic economy, a high unemployment rate, an exploding population that the earth cannot sustain, global warming, a painful war, and uncertainties over the future. Perhaps the proclamation and recognition that God's people have repeatedly grappled with similar realities in ages past, and have emerged with their faith not only intact but strengthened, will lay the groundwork for an Advent season based in faith and hope, with the expectation that regardless of what the future brings, God is indeed with us. . . .
– Carol J. Noren
So why does Advent begin in the realm of the Prince of Darkness when we are eager to celebrate the birth of the Prince of Light? Why do we drape our sanctuaries with the heavy purple of twilight rather than the illuminating rose of dawn? Why do we recount prophecies of the end of the world when we want to hear tidings of the beginning of a new creation? Why do we light only one candle when we want to ignite the full brilliance of God's glory?
It is a good question. So is this: Why do we continue to dwell in the darkness of injustice and oppression when God has already shown us justice and mercy in Christ? Why do we continue to engage in the darkness of armed conflict when the Prince of Peace has already walked among us? Why do we continue to pursue the darkness of greed and power when Christ came among us as a servant and called us to lives of service? Why do we continue to embrace the darkness of pride and selfishness . . . to rest in the darkness of satisfaction when there are others around us who still struggle under a blanket of poverty? . . .
The Good News of Advent is that our darkness is not complete nor is it final, for the Light of God dwelt among us, and still does, and will again. The Good News of Advent is that even in the utter darkness of our human sinfulness, we can light a single candle and God is here.
We begin in darkness because we are people. We do not remain in darkness because we are God's people. We begin in darkness, for we are human beings. We need not curse the darkness, for we know how to light a candle. It is an Advent candle.
– John H. Barden
The prophet Isaiah (64:1-9) reminds YHWH “we are the clay, and you are our potter…” Advent gives us space and time to be re-made by the potter as we bump up against the cheerful demands of the season while hearing the laments of the scriptures.
The season calls us to rest before we find ourselves agog with frenzy. We sing the hymns that speak of quiet, hear the words of warning, gather with the people of God, and notice the light of only one candle… then two… and three... until there are four. This is the gift of a waiting time not a busy time.
While we are being moulded into the potter’s vision, Mark’s Gospel (13:24-37) tells us that we are to Keep Awake… Watch Out… Be Prepared… because there is a birth coming that is greater than all births, and this one will change the cosmos. You don’t want to miss it.
And none of us needs to miss it because the epistle of 1 Corinthians 1:3-9 assures the church that we are “not lacking in any spiritual gift” as we wait “for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
It is God who strengthens us.
Carol J. Noren is a Methodist who has served congregations in Minnesota.
John H. Barden is a Presbyterian pastor serving as Vice President for Admissions at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Texas.
Homily Service 42, no. 1 (20 Oct 2008): 4-15.