As a part of a get-to-know-you event some years ago the question was asked to name our favorite day of the year. Some said the last day of the school year, others their birthday and so on. I was so intrigued by people’s answers that I began asking everyone I knew, “What is your favorite day?” I still remember my mother’s choice: Dec. 21. I was amazed because that is the darkest day of the year—the one with the least daylight. My mother loves the sun; I was not sure why that would be her answer and so she explained. That day is the shortest but it also means that the light will begin to return; it cannot get any darker. The light is returning!
Today is Gaudete Sunday, Rose Sunday. The third Sunday of Advent, when the color is a little lighter to remind us that the true light is coming into the world! Advent is a time of darkness and of waiting, waiting with expectation of the coming of the light of our Lord. Waiting is never easy, at least at first, until we settle into the rhythm that it holds.
In a lot of ways this time of the pandemic is an extended advent. We are waiting: waiting for this time of separation, fear, and grief to be over, waiting with expectation for the development and distribution of a vaccine, waiting and expecting our lives to find some sense of normalcy. Waiting and expectation. At times the waiting is frustrating even painful and often we want to be distracted from it and that is ok. But, hopefully we can learn from the liturgical season of Advent and use some of this time of waiting to pray and seek God’s presence in our lives. The joy we can experience in this time is precious and comes directly from our relationship with God and the love he has for each of us.
Today’s lessons are a perfect reminder of the joy of the Messiah coming into the world. I encourage you to spend some time with them and to reflect on the light and hope they promise. Rather than choose one of these lessons to explore in my remarks, I want to take a moment to focus on the Biblical heroes we have in our lessons today and what they might have to teach us in times of darkness and in times of waiting, in Advent times.
In this morning’s lectionary we heard from four important characters in the Bible. Isaiah, Mary, Paul, and John the Baptist are great figures in our religious tradition. Each played a significant role in the unfolding of God’s plan of salvation.
We began with Isaiah, who was a prophet for over forty years during the eighth century before Christ. He was powerful in that people listened to his words and in many cases even took his advice. His declared again and again that the entire world belonged to God. His warnings that God would destroy the world led many to turn back to God. This morning’s passage is joy-filled as Isaiah describes his vision of the new world that God will create.
Mary, the mother of Jesus, the God-bearer as she is called in many traditions, was certainly vital to God’s story. Carrying the infant Jesus, giving birth to him, raising him to know God his father and staying near him throughout his life and death gives her a position of unquestioned importance and honor.
Paul gave up a comfortable life as a wealthy man for one filled with danger in order to bring the message of the good news of Jesus Christ to the larger world outside of Jerusalem. For the churches he established through his travels he was very revered and sought out to answer questions, to settle debates and to teach. He was important to these people and still today he is listened to with great care.
John, the baptizer, lived a bizarre life and faced a gruesome death, and yet he had large crowds of followers, who pursued him, eager to hear his words and to take the action he offered in baptism to change their lives.
These are people we have come to know through scripture and they are important people. In today’s lectionary we learn a little more about each of them. But actually these lessons are not about these four people. Instead they each speak about the power, the grace and the spirit of God working in their lives. They attribute all they have accomplished to the presence of God with them. These lessons are not about Isaiah, Mary, Paul and John; rather they are about God and the message He sent to the world through them. They each were God’s vessel.
These four were blessed because of what God did for them. None were filled with illusions of their own importance; they were aware of their need and dependence on God. Because of their hunger for God, they could be fed by His presence. And because of their relationship with God they were ready to become God’s witness. Putting that together with their understanding of who they were and even more importantly, who they were not, they were able to be filled with God’s spirit and to carry out His will for them.
Two of today’s lessons state this directly. Mary in the Magnificat, proclaims her nothingness without God. And John states repeatedly that he is not the Messiah, that he is the witness to the Messiah’s arrival. Great as these characters were, they understood that their greatness came from God. What they were able to do to further His kingdom was about God, not about them.
And as we contemplate these Biblical heroes and the furthering of God’s kingdom we see that God is a God of the present. Each generation has its own heroes with this same characteristic that they had. God’s light will reflect through those who are in relationship with Him.
When we ponder about what is happening in the current moments of our lives God will lead us to seeing His will for us. He will show us the light we so desperately seek. By spending time listening to God and looking for God and acknowledging God’s presence in the events of our daily lives we will recognize the Holy Spirit leading us to the joy of now. That is one of the great gifts of the Advent season. We are reminded of the importance of our relationship with God, of our need and dependence on that relationship. Times of waiting are a gift if we use them to look at our actions, our thoughts and what God might have to say about them.
May we keep the perspective of these Biblical examples and remember as did they, that God is God and we are not. Our positions of importance are ones of love and trust rather than control and power. This pandemic has shown us over and over that we are not the ones in control.
Out of the darkness of Advent the true light will come.