First Sunday of Advent – Mark 13:24-37
I realize that inviting you to contemplate the safety of the darkness of the Womb which gives birth, is a bit of a risk in the midst of a pandemic. Surely, the hope we crave might be more easily come by with images filled with light. Alas, Advent is a season of waiting in expectation. So, while we long to rejoice in the light, I’m inviting you to wait in the expectation that there is so much LIGHT emanating from the LOVE which gestates in darkness.
The anonymous-gospel-storyteller which we know as Mark provides us with a kind of pathway into the very darkness which we all too often fear to embrace. Peering into an unknown future, this ancient gospel-storyteller speaks of a time of distress which is passing. This distress gives way to darkness; a time when, “the sun will be darkened, the moon will lose its brightness, the stars will fall from the sky and the powers of the heavens will be shaken.”
Look around you. Let yourself see the darkness in which we find ourselves in this Advent like no other we have experienced. These past months have seen so many of the things we take for granted fall away, only to be replaced by dire news of rising numbers, which threaten to breech the very foundations of institutions and systems which we have always assumed will save us. Is it any wonder that prophets heralding the news of salvific vaccines curry our favour amongst the clamor of the prophets of doom, who warn us of the end of the world? It is so tempting to abandon the darkness, lean into the light, and rush beyond the end of the world, to the promised land of milk and honey, where all is calm, and all is bright. But linger with me in the darkness for a while. Perhaps there is WISDOM which can only be revealed in the darkness; the kind of WISDOM which has the power to give birth to new ways of being LOVE in the world.
It has been said that a crisis reveals what has always been there. Perhaps the same can be said of the darkness? If someone had told us, last Advent that the world as we know it is about to come to an end, many of us would have assumed that such predictions are simply rhetorical devices designed to make us wake-up and pay attention to what is happening all around us. Indeed, like so many preachers, I too have employed end of the world rhetoric in my own Advent efforts to wake-up complacent listeners. This year, perhaps we are more willing to concede that the world as we knew it has already come to an end, back in the first wave of this pandemic. But every year, the world as someone knows it comes to an end. Poverty, oppression, hunger, illness, disease, racism, anger, violence and greed, these aspects of our lives together, bring an end of the worlds of so many of us, each and every year. Someone’s world is always coming to an end.
This pandemic, like all crises has done so much more than simply bring hardship and death to the world. In the early days of lockdown, a journalist Peter C. Baker wrote this, “When a crisis visits a community, the fundamental realty of that community is laid bare.” This pandemic has revealed to us the problems which we are all too willing to ignore, or to tolerate, or to deny. In addition to exposing what was already there, the pandemic exacerbated the suffering of those who were already struggling under the weight of our treasured systems and ways of being in the world.
If you are watching me on a screen, chances are you are richly blessed and well placed to be insulated from the full impact of this pandemic. Many of us have the option to flee the darkness and distract ourselves with light which is a paler version of the very Light we long for. It is so very tempting, to forsake the revelations of darkness in favour of visions of jolly old super-santas capable of numbing us back to sleep. But the echoes of cries from our distant past, stir us with warnings, “Stay awake!” “Keep watch! For you do not know the day or the hour.” As much as I’d like nothing better than to lull myself into a long winter’s nap and wake up to find we’ve arrived on the far side of this pandemic, I believe that our ancient ancestors were on to something when they warned that as the world grew darker people should “Stay alert!”.
I’m convinced that if we have the courage to see what is being revealed in the darkness of this pandemic, something new will be born! My hope is, that what is about to be born will not be born out of our fear, but rather out of the LOVE which lives, in, with, through and beyond us. Birth and darkness are intimately related to one another. Gestation takes place in the darkness; seeds need the darkness of the earth, and humans we need the darkness of the womb. Movements and revolutions are created in the darkness. The darkness of poverty and despair, the darkness of injustice and war, the darkness of danger and death germinate the seeds of movements and revolutions which change the world. We have scarcely begun to imagine what might be born out of the darkness of this pandemic. But I am convinced that in order for LOVE to be born out of the darkness, we must have the courage to look beyond our fears and peer into the contours of the darkness.
Yes, we long for the way things used to be. I miss you all, more than I know how to say. I long for the day when we can gather together in person, here in this sanctuary. I can’t wait to share the peace with embraces so tight that they will give us comfort and strength. I would love to be able to sing carols, and celebrate communion, on Christmas Eve. I have faith that those days will come again.
But if they come again and we have failed to see what this crisis is revealing, we will return to a Church which was failing in all kinds of ways to usher in the DIVINE MYSTERY’s Reign of Peace. Yes, I want the stores to fully open again. I want people to be able to go back to work. Yes, I am convinced that in time the various vaccines which are within our grasp, will make it possible for us to return to what so many of us see as “normal life.” But if we go back to the status quo without seeing what is being revealed by this crisis, we will fail accept that our economic systems are oppressing the poor in ways which cannot and should not be tolerated? Yes, I want to be able to travel again, and I am confident that the day will come when I can get on an airplane and fly across the country and see my family. But if we fail to see the benefits which lockdown brought to our bruised and battered Earth, we will fail to face up to the impact modern travel has on the fragile ecology of our planet? I want to celebrate Christmas with my family. I want to see my grandchildren open their presents. I want to gather around a Christmas feast and celebrate the LOVE that we share. Like many of you I grieve the loss of so many moments together. I will be the first to rejoice when the all-clear is sounded and we celebrate the end of this pandemic. I am confident that a new age is about to be born in which we can rejoice and be glad. I long to celebrate the death of the coronavirus. But I also believe the words of Joan Chittister, who said, “Every age that is dying is simply a new age coming to life.”
If we have the courage to peer into the darkness to see what is being revealed, we will surely see that we cannot simply return to the way things were. Longing for a return to what we call “normal” will only lull us back into sleep, from which we may never again give birth to LOVE.
Keep awake! Be alert! For a new age is about to be born. Look into the darkness and you will see new ways of being, born out of what is being revealed. In the darkness of this pandemic, there is much more to see than the death-throws of all that must die in order for new life to be born. Look into the darkness and you will see that new life gestating, as LOVE is born again, and again, and again.
In the darkness of this pandemic, we have also seen the courage of doctors, nurses, caregivers of every kind, as they have healed the sick and accompanied the dying. In the darkness of this pandemic, we have seen the compassion of neighbours reaching out to neighbours in ways which have inspired hope, even in the most jaded of us. In the darkness of this pandemic, we have seen LOVE’s birthing revealed in so many random acts of kindness. There is so much WISDOM being revealed in the darkness.
As we journey through Advent this year, let us explore the contours of the darkness in which we are gestating, so that what is about to be born, might be a world in which we see the LIGHT of the DIVINE MYSTERY, which is LOVE, live in, with, through and beyond us, empowering us to forsake the way things were; to let go of our longing to return to “normal”, so that we are ready to embrace new ways of being, as we usher in a new age in which justice leads to peace.
Keep awake! Stay alert! LOVE is being born in the of the darkness, and the LIGHT, which is DIVINE MYSTERY, is being revealed, over and over again! May the LIGHT which is LOVE, be born in you, so that the world may know in you, the ONE who IS our LOVER, BELOVED, and LOVE Itself. Amen.
FULL WORSHIP VIDEO for the First Sunday of Advent