Sunday, December 2, 2007

First Sunday of Advent

Not a whole sermon -- just the first few paragraphs of last year's sermon. This year I didn't preach -- I got to listen. Aaaaaaah.

Do you find yourself cleaning the house at the beginning of Advent?
I do. I am, of course, not finished –I have in fact barely begun–
but I have been in a "got to get rid of the clutter" frame of mind.
Inside and out.

Why is this an Advent reflex? Why, I have been wondering,
is this an instinctive response of mine, year after year?
"Simplify, simplify," said Henry David Thoreau.
Easy for him to say, since he wasn’t doing his own laundry,
nor was he, as we are, even in our sojourns near ponds,
pursued by all manner of beeping machines,
by meetings and memos, by the need to earn a living,
and by increasingly inhumane work schedules,
even or especially if we, like most in this congregation,
live in the land of white-collar jobs or in the land of academe.

Why the urge –and, I am going to suggest, the need– to take away
rather than to add
in this Advent season,
to weed out, to stop, to be quiet,
why this need
when the beginning of the season,
which today’s scriptures herald,
speak the language of prophecy,
of social and cosmic revolution,
yea even of doom
along with holiness and joy?
Whew. How are we to unpack that set of lessons?
How are we to do this
when the centripetal forces of the culture
–that’s centripetal, fleeing the center, becoming uncontrollably scattered–
have us in their grip, and even more so
in this season
which the gods of the market have made into an orgy of spending?
How are we to greet Advent, which announces not only
the birth of Christ,
but Christ’s return at the end of time?

I say, simplify.
I say, stop.
I say, breathe.

I say, thank God we have more than three weeks
in which to do this.

I want to invite you to think of this Advent
as a kind of retreat.
This is not an original idea.
Many of us in the Christian community
view Lent as the retreat before Easter.
Advent too is a preparation time,
though no longer the penitential season it once was.
It is, though, a season. Not a day, not a week. A stretch of time
in which we ponder and prepare for the feast
of the Incarnation,
of the real presence in real flesh of the true God in our midst.

The Church is often foolish, but here the Church is wise:
the ancient liturgical tradition in which we dwell
gives us a season to prepare.
It does not spring Christmas on us,
and when it does, in fact, Christmas itself is a season,
twelve days. Remember that
when the advertisements and stores
and even our family schedules
are one big countdown
to the 25th.
Hear the wisdom of our tradition,
ancient, steady, and in this day, even more countercultural than ever.

Stop. Join me, and help me,
and help one another
to take a breath
in and out,
beginning the Advent retreat,
a retreat inside the world,
inside our world,
not away from it.

How to do this?

Haha, I am stopping here (I didn't in the original sermon) and you can share your ideas, experiences and wisdom in the Comments section.

Welcome to Advent. Thanks be to God.

1 comment:

johnieb said...

I found myself, as a convert of less than two decades' standing, to be saying at coffee hour this week, or perhaps after the evening Lessons and Carols (good.), "I resent 'the Holidays'; they tug me away from both Advent and, more especially a proper Christmas." when I often emerge again.

There is the significance of being one who has stood "All Along The Watchtower", however wrongly, in the admonition of the season "Watch, be alert, but don't get excited over nothing."

Finally, to breathe Godde's life with Godde, as an embodied Odd Child of Hers: to take intentional care of my health.

Icy but with a late burst of the Sun about an hour ago: no day to emerge: devout reading and prayer.