Yearly I am amazed at how close to reality the words of Scripture are. Today we hear of signs 'in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on earth nations will be in dismay'. The news media has been filled with the stories of nations in dismay: Paris, France; Beirut, Lebanon; Bamaka, Mali; Syria, Turkey, Israel, Latin America, the United States. The list goes on and on. We know that nations are in dismay. Heck, they are in chaos.
As winter draws near here in the land of the free and home of the brave, millions are hunkering down for warmth inside cardboard boxes with no jobs, no income, no food, no health care, no health. And at the same time in this land are the few who are sleeping in well-made beds, having feasted on anything they wanted and haven't a worry about jobs, income or health care. To be honest, it really isn't any different than 45 to 50 years ago when it was reported that thousands of children who lived on the Mississippi Delta went to bed every night without any food, sometimes for days without any food. And many still do. There is the constant presence of injustice and justice on this earth.
What does this have to do with the fact that we are celebrating the first Sunday of Advent, the season when we prepare to remember the birth of the One who came into the world to save it and offer it the chance of eternal life?
It has to do with the title the prophet Jeremiah gave to the city of Jerusalem: “The Lord our Justice.”
It has to do with Paul's words to the Thessalonians that ‘the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all.'
It has to do with Luke's words that your hearts not become ‘drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life.'
It has to do with the way we live our lives.
It would be nice this year, to spend the season of Advent simply waiting for the baby in the manger. It would be nice to experience Advent as nothing more and nothing less than a prelude to Christmas – a time of quiet meditation and joyful hope. It would be nice if we could just forget about “being vigilant” and avoid “praying for the strength to escape tribulation.” It would be nice to be simply waiting for that baby in the manger.
But the Scriptures proclaimed this first Sunday of Advent tell us there is more to Advent than simply waiting for the baby Jesus in the manger. There is more to this season than quiet meditation and joyful hope. We anticipate not simply the celebration of a birth, but the reminder that God has become one of us. We remember not only the moment when Jesus was born, but his ministry here on earth and the promise that he will return.
It's easier to look at the baby and the manger rather than the cross, especially in times like these. But the baby grew up. He challenged injustice. He reached out to the poor, the disenfranchised, the afraid, the strangers, the alienated. The baby grew up and healed, forgave and redeemed each and every person and still does. Our faith has to grow up too. We have to heal and forgive and redeem – do the work of God. This season reminds us that we are not spectators but participants. We have to enter that manger scene. We have to give birth to Christ and present him to the world. We have to leave that manger scene and grow up as Christ did and carry his message that God is with us.
But the signs of the times aren't only bleak; there are other signs – of God's reign. We see heroism and patience and understanding. We see honesty and unselfish service of others; we see genuine holiness and fidelity. This season reminds us that we can be transformed into God's instruments of peace. Let us remember that God walks with us as we journey together towards the redemption that awaits us. The light of our first Advent candle illuminates our way.