Sermon: Advent 1 Year B – Advent Hope

Isaiah 64:1-9

1 Corinthians 1:3-9

Mark 13:24-37

Psalm 80:1-7, 16-18

The Collect

Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen

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Welcome to the season of Advent. If you were here yesterday, you know people are already sprinting ahead to Christmas, buying presents, singing carols, drinking peppermint mochas. I mean, I’m doing the same thing. I bought so many presents at the Christmas market yesterday, not even counting the gifts I picked up in previous weeks. I chose the game night theme for December to be a gingerbread nativity decorating contest. But all of that is *not* why I love Advent. 

Advent is my favorite season of the church year. I like that it’s a cool time of year, and the darker days are easier on my migraines. It’s also one of the few times in the church year that we are invited to reflect on the harder parts of hope. At the end of the month there will be a baby. It’s easy to be hopeful around a baby. That is Christmas hope. But right now, when the baby’s not here yet, when the world is filled with wars and death and darkness, hope feels different. This is Advent hope.

This kind of hope is more necessary now than ever. Advent hope is not blindly turning from the dark things, wishing that things will be brighter in the morning. That day may come. But right now, at least for the next 18 days or so, the days are getting shorter and darker. I know many of us have had some dark days lately. Where hope looks more like surviving the next minute, not even able to *see* a far off bright day. Sometimes it feels like the past few years, maybe even the past 15 years, we have been living in this sort of end-of-days, “dire warnings from the prophets” time. This is Advent. 

Sometimes it seems so silly to hope, such a meaningless gesture in the face of all that is wrong in the world. Like, what can we even hope for with Israel and Palestine? So many people have lost their homes, their sense of safety. So many people have lost their lives. Most of the time the past 2 months I have gone to bed tired and heartsick. There’s nothing I can do. I don’t even know what outcome to hope for. 

Jesus tells us what to do. Keep awake. This is not the time to give up and go to bed. This is not the time to grow weary and sleepy. This is not the time to turn away from the hard things of the world. This is not the time to get tired of hoping. This is the time for that desperate Advent hope. That hope that the Son of Man is coming back to right all wrongs and gather his people together. 

That does not feel like Christmas to me, but it still feels like hope. We can face the hard things because we are staying alert to the coming of the Son of Man. We know that the world as it is today is not the end state of things. When the world seems hopeless, the Son of Man is breaking through. 

We can’t tell the day or hour. That’s why we have to pay attention. Maybe the Son of Man is *already* coming in great power and glory, but we’ve been too sleepy to notice. Maybe we’ve been looking down, turning away, because it’s too hard to stare at the brokenness of the world. 

It’s in the paying attention, the keeping awake, that we hope. It’s like paying attention to a sick loved one’s breathing. Noticing any change. Praying. Hoping. It’s not wanton optimism. It’s not faking cheerfulness because you think that’s what people want to see from you. Keeping awake, praying your hopes with desperation, counting each breath. That is Advent hope. 

Advent isn’t my favorite season of the church year because I *like* to be desperate and sad. I do think we often rush past the desperation and sadness because we don’t like to feel those things. But to ignore those things, to jump straight to Christmas hope in the new baby, that’s not paying attention, that’s not staying alert to the ways God is breaking through exactly in the desperate times. Advent is my favorite season because when I am in a sad and desperate cloud, I can keep awake in the hope that God is breaking through the clouds. 

Madeline L’Engle has written a lot of Advent-themed stuff. There’s a poem that begins “this is no time for a child to be born” that I encourage you to read. In one of her memoirs, she wrote that her own children were born in the midst of the Cold War, when everything seemed very tenuous about life on earth. She said that she still planted her garden that year. “Planting onions that spring was an act of faith in the future, for I was very fearful for our planet.” 

Even though she wasn’t sure life on earth would continue, Madeline L’Engle planted onions. Maybe it was foolish to do something like plant a garden when things are so dire. But we are not supposed to crawl into bed and wait for the end of the world to find us. We are supposed to keep awake!

Advent hope is planting onions even though the news is full of desperation and death. Advent hope is paying attention to what’s happening, keeping alert to how God is breaking through the clouds. God will be there when the onions grow. God will be there in the desperation and time of death. God will be there in the time of judgement. God will be there when all is lost. Advent hope is keeping awake and planting onions because God will be there. Amen.

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