This sermon lights the candle of hope on Advent 1. Advent is a season in which we embrace the darkness. Our hope is not in the wishful thinking that God will someday remove everything we don’t like. Rather, our hope lies in the promise that God is with us, God is for us, and God will journey with us through the darkness to the light. The key texts are Psalm 25 and Luke 21:25-36.
When I was a little boy, I had an adventure. There was a piece of furniture on the far end of the house called a buffet. It was a wide, table-height cabinet that had a set of accordian doors on two-thirds of the right side, and one squareish rolling door on the left.
The rolling door always intrigued me. I loved rolling it up, because it seemed to simply disappear. Then I would roll it down and do it again. Up and down.
The door covered an empty space. I’m not sure why it was empty, but that hollow box was just big enough for my body. So, of course, I had to crawl in.
Thwap! The door rolled shut behind me just as my nose touched the back wall of the empty box.
Do you remember when I said it was just my size?
I couldn’t move. The walls held me close on the sides and the roller door could not be kicked open like a normal swinging door.
Trapped. In a dark box.
All I could do was scream, “MOM!” over and over, and hope she could hear me from the other side of the room.
I was trapped in that box for three days.
Not really. It was probably more like five or ten minutes, but it felt like forever.
I’m pretty sure this is why I still suffer from a fairly significant case of claustrophobia.
Why would I begin a sermon on the first Sunday of Advent with such a horrible story?
It think this story illustrates very well the purpose and the feeling of Advent.
Advent is about being trapped in a dark box, wondering if anyone can hear our cries for help, and if anyone can open the door.
These dark boxes come in all shapes and sizes.
Some people are trapped in the dark box of oppression, slavery, abuse, or discrimination. They feel powerless, alone, and wonder if anyone even cares to hear their cries for help.
Some people are trapped in the dark box of grief. Perhaps this is the first Christmas without a loved one and the darkness seems to much to bear.
Others are trapped in a the dark box of either physical or mental illness. Every day is a struggle with pain, depression, or anxiety.
The season of Advent is countercultural. It is not the jolly season of Christmas. It is not a time to jingle the bells, and Ho-Ho-Ho. It is the time to embrace the reality of the darkness and sit in it for a while.
The key word to Advent is waiting.
All I could do in my little black box was wait. I was completely helpless and needed someone to come and open the door. All I could do was hold on to the hope that my mother was either close enough to hear me, or attentive enough to notice that I was missing.
We find ourselves in a season of waiting as a congregation. Pastor Lamont is here to guide us through the transition process, and it is going to take several months.
In my unreflective and uncentered self, this drives me bonkers. I hate to not know what is going to happen. But, there’s nothing I can do about it, except take a deep breath and wait.
Wow, Pastor Steve, this sermon is really not getting any better.
Let me ask you this question: What is the only way to defeat darkness?
Darkness is not a something, it is the absence of light.
A single candle can drive back darkness.
The candle we light today is hope.
“expectation of something desired;” also “trust, confidence; wishful desire;”
This is what our scripture readings for today are talking about.
Psalm 25 was a song written by King David during a time of his life when his enemies wanted to kill him. He was being falsely accused of evil and publicly shamed.
He cries out to God,
Psalm 25:19–22 (NRSV)
19 Consider how many are my foes, and with what violent hatred they hate me. 20 O guard my life, and deliver me; do not let me be put to shame, for I take refuge in you. 21 May integrity and uprightness preserve me, for I wait for you. 22 Redeem Israel, O God, out of all its troubles.
Then we come to our Gospel reading in Luke 21.
Allow me to make a disclaimer. We decided to use the Revised Common Lectionary for Advent this year. If you don’t know what that is, the Revised Common Lectionary is a selection of scriptures that have been mapped out for every week of the year. It is used by thousands and thousands of churches all over the world every week.
It is cool because the preacher doesn’t get to choose the text. We are confronted by the text and have to grapple with texts, whether we like them or not.
Let me confess. This passage is not one that I would choose to preach on a Sunday morning. It is one of those texts that conjures up horrible nightmarish images of the end of the world.
Luke 21:25–26 (NRSV)
25 “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. 26 People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.
What is going on here?
I could spend the next hour digging deeply into all the symbolic and prophetic language that Jesus is using in this passage, but we do want to make sure lunch doesn’t get cold.
Let me put it simply.
The people who lived in Jerusalem and Israel at the time of Jesus were living under the oppressive occupation of the Roman Empire. The people were obviously unhappy with this situation. In fact they had been under oppression for centuries.
This was their black box.
They were crying out to God.
Jesus knew that things were going to get worse before they got better. Forty years later, after four years of full on war, the Roman Empire marched into Jerusalem, destroyed the Temple, massacred the people, and wiped out the nation of Israel.
This was the “end of the world as they knew it.”
This is a very, very dark box.
Luke 21:28 (NRSV)
“stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
This is the reality in which we live. There is a lot of darkness in our world. We all live in, or have experienced, a dark box.
Yet, Jesus has come.
God has entered the darkness and has promised to be with us in it and through it.
Our hope is in Christ, and that, some day, God’s love will reign, and God’s peace will be the light that drives away all darkness.
Until that day, we wait, and we hope.