Jesus said, “In those days, after that suffering the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.”
Thus begins the gospel lesson for the first Sunday in Advent. What a downer for all the joyfulness with which the holiday season is infused. Almost every year someone asks me why, when everyone else is getting into the holiday spirit, we Episcopalians enter Advent with all this doom and gloom stuff about the end of the world?
Maybe it’s not the end of the world about which Jesus spoke. Maybe he wanted his listeners to hear something else. Most adults I know have personal experience with moments in their lives when the sun refused to shine, the moon failed to light the night, the stars no longer glittered, and no heavenly power could penetrate the dark. It isn’t only us, the psalms are filled with questions about God’s apparent absence in time of trouble. It is in these moments, these troubling moments in which hope seems pointless, that Jesus comes to those who look for him, not only with words of consolation, but with his embracing presence.
Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.
That’s the promise of Advent. We don’t have to pretend that dark days won’t come. They will. It’s a delusion to believe that being Christian means nothing bad happens, or that God’s grace can’t seem distant, maybe gone for good. The opening lessons of Advent are not about doom and gloom, or the end of the world. They’re simply honest about life, our own lives, and give us the tools to infuse them with renewed hope in what we may not be able to see, yet certain that God’s own Spirit intercedes on our behalf through our sighs too deep for words (Rom.8)
Behind the Christmas scenes of mangers, shepherds and angels stands the cross, behind that the open grave, and above it all the one who comes in great power and glory to give life in abundance. It’s the promise of light and life that darkness and death cannot defeat. These first few days of Advent are meant to help us face the dark with courage and strength, empowered by God’s Spirit to walk upright with hope into a greater light that cannot be taken from us. We will find it glowing in the manger. Nothing could be more improbable, but that’s how God does things, improbably, against all expectations.
Advent comes every year in December on the church calendar. In our daily lives, advent like times have no schedule, and always come when it’s most inconvenient. These four weeks of quiet, contemplative meditation that lead to Christmas Eve can prepare us with the faith, hope, and love we will need for those moments.