The Second Sunday of Advent
December 8, 2019
Luke 2: 15-1
“Pondering in the Heart”
I have a confession to make. I am one of the 10 people in the world who love the end of daylight savings time. I always have. As a little girl, I found safety in the dark as it wrapped around me in the early evenings of December. Growing up in Church, the December darkness made visible to me the waiting time of the Advent season. I felt embraced and loved, and although I didn’t have the words as a child to name it, I knew that it was a time to hibernate – a time to be still, a time to wait, and a time to let God unfold my heart. I felt the anticipation of what was coming next, but mostly, I felt safe in the darkness.
Ironically, this waiting time of darkness in the calendar year is my busiest season of the Church year. Rather than hibernating, I design and stage Christmas Pageants, organize gift-giving projects for the congregations where I have served, write curriculum, create special Advent studies and workshops, carol with groups, and make sure that families have materials to keep a holy Advent at home. I am busier during this time of year than at any other season.
I know that December is plenty busy for you too. There is so much to be done and so much to look forward to. We plan parties, search for perfect gifts, and delight in the time with family and cherished friends. These familiar rituals give us comfort and a sense of safety in the darkness, much like I felt as a child. Busyness and waiting accompany each other in Advent.
Today’s Gospel tells us that Mary and Joseph had a busy waiting season too. They were visited by angels, traveled far from home, searched for shelter, received shepherds and Magi. Did I mention they had a baby?
There is a dark underside to this beloved Scripture – an un-wed mother about to give birth in an unsanitary place, an oppressive government taxing the poor, scarce housing, visitors with strange words and finally, a desperate flight to refuge in Egypt. The experience of Mary – and Joseph’s -waiting time was not safety. Prophecy and promises were made into a world that was dangerous and dark. Yet, Mary faced that darkness. “She treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.” She did not know how it would all turn out. She had been promised that her baby- her son- would be the Savior of the world, but looking around her, I suspect she wondered just how this was all going to happen. The world in which she lived was badly in need of saving - and this newborn baby- her son- was going to be the one to do just that? What does salvation even mean when shelter is temporary and fleeing danger is the next step? There was no guarantee of anything. And there was certainly NO safety. But there was – and is – within the prophesy -a promised hope. And so, Mary held all these things in tension and pondered in her heart.
Her witness invites us to do the same. The darkness we know is out there beneath the holiday bustle and the jingle bells is not all that different from hers. Hope and fear stand side by side in the darkness.
There is much to fear. Our nation is in turmoil. The damage we have done to our planet rapidly engulfs us. Children are shot and killed in their schools. Babies are caged. There are wars and refugees. The rich are richer and the poor are poorer. So. Much. Is. Wrong.
In an essay in last week’s New York Times’ Sunday Review, the Rev. Tish Harrison Warren writes,” The believer and the atheist alike can agree that there is an undeniable brokenness to the world, a sickness that needs remedy. Whether we assign blame to human sinfulness, a political party, corporate greed, ignorance, tribalism or nationalism (or some of each), we can admit that things are not as they should be.”
Advent feelings of safety, like the ones I remember as a child, do not help us acknowledge the deep grief of the time in which we live. An Advent season that invites us to ponder - rather than paper over our grief - demands our attention and our response. In Warren’s words:
“Our response to the wrongness of the world (and of ourselves) can often be an unhealthy escapism, and we can turn to the holidays as anesthesia from pain as much as anything else. We need collective space, as a society, to grieve – to look long and hard at what is cracked and fractured in our world and in our lives.”
Advent gives us the gift of that collective space. The truth Advent reveals is that we cannot find hope until we face our fear -looking “long and hard at what is cracked and fractured.” Pondering our grief together is what makes possible the Hope represented by the candles we light in the darkness each of the four Sundays of Advent. In that light, we meet the One who is coming, who already is “Emmanuel” – “God with us.” That is what we are waiting for while we ponder. Our Advent hope cannot be that God will wave a magic wand and make the world as it should be. That is our task and we must face it together.
The hope that we are promised is that God will be with us as we struggle to bring light out of the darkness. We are not alone in a grieving world, nor are we alone in the work of mending the cracks. God has, is and will be, with us. That is the Good News that sent the shepherds and Magi into a dirty stable to worship a vulnerable newborn baby. That is the light that shines in the Advent darkness and draws us into the deep mystery of “God with us.” A pondering Advent calls us to live the tension of grief and hope –and to proclaim that hope to each other and to the grieving world in which we live.
Madleine L’Engle, whom you may know as the author of A Wrinkle in Time, was also a poet. She expressed the Advent tension in words that echo in my heart and I offer them to your hearts for pondering this Advent season:
He did not wait until the world was ready,
till men and nations were at peace.
He came when the heavens were unsteady,
and prisoners cried out for release.
He did not wait for the perfect time.
He came when the need was deep and great.
He dined with sinners in all their grime,
turned water into wine.
He did not wait till hearts were pure.
In joy he came to a tarnished world of sin and doubt,
to a world like ours, of anguished shame.
He came and his light would not go out.
He came to a world which did not mesh,
to heal its tangles, shield its scorn,
In the mystery of the Word made flesh
the Maker of the stars was born.
We cannot wait till the world is sane
to raise our songs with joyful voice.
For to share our grief, to touch our pain,
He came with love: Rejoice! Rejoice!