Welcome to Advent, by Pastor Noel

First Advent, B            December 2/3, 2017


      As we gather today in this holy space—do you feel like rebels? Do you feel, as they say, “counter cultural”? Going against the grain? Out of touch with reality?

      Depending on our reality, that is exactly what we are!

      For most of the culture—the world outside—reality is only the bottom line, the best bargain, the biggest bang for the buck that fills a shopping bag fuller than anyone else’s.

      And that’s just the beginning of the difference between Advent here in church, and the same season out there.

      For example—color: in here we are dressed in blue for Advent, to honor Mary, mother of our Lord. It is also an ancient English color for Advent. Out there the colors are already red and green for Christmas (and there are many theories as to why we use those colors. The church color for Christmas is white.)

      Music: by the time December 25th rolls around I’ll be sick to death of Christmas carols! In here it is not yet Christmas—so we’ll sing Advent music that helps us get ready for Christ’s birth—not Santa but Jesus come to be with us as a helpless baby born in a barn.

      Decorations: out there is already awash in bells and bows and lights and Santas. Here we light a candle each week to mark the passing days of Advent.

      And even our calendar is different: out there it is the 12th month, winding down to the end of the year. In here we start a new year today with a new season, and even a different Gospel to read through. This is year B of the three year cycle, and we will read mostly from Mark, with John’s gospel from time to time.

      Does all this make Advent sound dull and dreary compared to what’s going on out on Main Street and the malls?

      Advent is not a season of racing around and of stress. Advent is a season of joyful expectation, of happy anticipation as we await again to rejoice in our Savior’s birth. It is a season to slow down, reflect, to grow our spiritual selves instead of our material selves.

      That’s why I’m so grateful that Ascension is dressed in blue—many churches still use purple for Advent and make this happy season one with Lent, which is very different.

      And the candles that we light each week here, and the special candles for Advent we may have at home, remind us that Jesus is the light of the world, and brings God’s light and love to a dark world.

      There is bitter irony in calling the biggest shopping day of the year Black Friday. Not much Christ light in that!

      Am I a little strong on this?—yes, I’ll readily admit to being a bit ferocious about Advent.

      Once I got chewed out because I complained about an ad I heard on the radio. It was touting the place where all your Christmas dreams come true.

      And it was Faye’s Drugstore.

      Now, I don’t know about you, but my Christmas dreams came true in a stable 2000 years ago, and because I know the joy and power of the light of Jesus in my life, I’m not going to sell that promise for a mess of bargains. At Faye’s Drugstore, or anywhere.

      Before you start calling me a Grinch, or throw things at me—remember my name. How could I not love Christmas with a name like Noël? My name means “Christmas!” And I have a birthday coming up—so this is the most wonderful time of year!      

      Really though, every day is the most wonderful time of the year when Christmas is all about Christ, because then every day is about Christ and living to follow him.

      Some people think that God has abandoned us. They think God should just come down and make everything OK. I think that if God did come down we’d be asked why we weren’t making everything OK.

      The Prophet Isaiah had that situation—and we just heard how he dealt with it.

      Life has turned from bad to worse for the people of God, and they are blaming God, “But you were angry and we sinned; because you hid yourself we transgressed.”

      Another way of saying that is, “when the cat’s away….”

      But if we look at life from God’s viewpoint, it is we who have hidden ourselves from God. We turn away from God and we are in sin—sin means being separated from God.

      Instead of abandoning us, God comes as one of us, and dies on the Cross to draw us all into his forgiving arms.

      And that is what we need to be remembering as we enter the season of Advent, with Christmas around the corner.

      God’s love for us is unending, God’s mercy on us is limitless. What God has done at Christmas is more amazing than anything we could imagine.

      At Christmas, God became part of Creation. Imagine Henry Ford becoming a Model T or taking Alexander Graham Bell out of your pocket as a cell phone.

      God didn’t just create the cosmos and walk away to let us deal with it, God became part of the whole messy business. Jesus was a person, just like you and me. (and divine, as we will affirm in the Creed shortly) He experienced life in all its good and bad, and no matter how bad it was, he reached out in love and forgiveness.

      That’s the message of Christmas.

      Before we get there, we have Advent—a time of waiting and watching. But when Jesus tells us to “watch” or “keep awake” he doesn’t mean sit on the sofa and turn on the television!

      The Greek for watch really means to be actively aware of what’s going on, to be on guard so that we can avoid getting into trouble. And the Greek for disciple does not mean just one who learns, but one who learns by practice.

      So our discipleship, our following Jesus, is not just as we read Scripture, or worship, but as we get out into the world and practice following Jesus.

      We are probably all actively aware of what is happening in our government. If you think there are injustices, practice following Jesus by reminding our government what Jesus says about caring for the poor and sick. Remind them that God calls us to welcome the stranger. Remind them of the gospel we heard last week –that whatever we do to or for another we are doing to or for Jesus.

      In this dark time of the year we follow Jesus as we take his light into the world—the light of God’s love and care, forgiveness, salvation, hope and joy.

      Each of us has work as Christ’s representatives in the world, as we watch, and are alert, so that we hear and live the authority that God has in mind for us.

      We can do this as we go about our daily business—making sure that everyone we meet is touched by the love that God pours through us. We have that authority.

      This Advent we can help people find meaningful ways to celebrate God’s presence with and within themselves.                 

      God’s love for us never breaks, never needs batteries, never rusts out or needs replacing. This is what we are called to watch and be alert for, what can fill us with joyful thanks, and what we have the authority to show and share.

      I know that many of us are already involved in our communities in helpful, caring ways.

      Today—for this Advent season and for every season, I invite us to find a way—or many ways—that we, and Church of the Ascension, with God’s help, can be the light of Christ.

            May the light of Christ shine through us all in this dark time of the year.

The Rev. Noel Bailey

The Reverend Noel Bailey was born in Providence, is now back in RI for the 4th time, and hopes that this stay is longer than some of the others. She was ordained Priest at St. Michael's, Bristol, in May 1988, More details