By David Perril
“But in those days….” So begins our entry into the Season of Advent from the Gospel of Mark this morning, as once again we begin a new year in the life & liturgy of the church. It sounds rather ominous doesn’t it? and so it is. Advent is a season of expectation & preparation as we prepare to celebrate the incarnation of Christ & also look ahead to his final coming & judgement at the end of time. Advent is also a reality of life. It is something that happens in all sorts of ways, coming at various points in our lives, not just in the four weeks leading up to Christmas. “But in those days … 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.” Stark words from Jesus to his disciples.
The disciples had been admiring the temple and the large stones used in its construction. One of the disciples, clearly impressed and influenced by the temple, remarked, “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!” Jesus was not so impressed, and replied “Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down” (Mk. 13:1-2). Their beloved temple would crumble & fall down, and their lives would change forever. If you have ever experienced significant change in your life, whether desired or dreaded, you will know about “ those days.” You will know about Advent. You will know what it is like to enter the darkness of change.
All change, whether welcome or unwanted, brings some kind of loss. It may be the loss of a relationship, the loss of a loved one, the loss of a job, even the effect of the covid pandemic has for many people caused the loss of what is comfortable, familiar,& safe. Regardless of the cause, maybe the world as you once knew it has ended. The Advents of our lives pose important questions for us. How will we find our way forward when the lights that usually illuminate our path no longer shine? What do we do when it feels as if our world is falling apart? Where do we go when it seems as if darkness is our only companion and God is no where to be seen?
These dark times of life are threshold moments, and there is always the temptation to do something, to respond in some way to fix it, do something to ease the pain, to escape the uncertainly, and to get back to how life used to be. But the God of Advent does not allow that to happen. We can never go back to the way it was before the lights went out. God does not undo our life – God redeems our life. Advent is not so much about endings or losses as it is about the hope and coming of what will be. That hope and coming is the Son of Man, Jesus Christ. The presence of Christ is the ultimate answer to every prayer, to every light extinguishing loss, to every Advent of our life.
Every time we tell the Advent story of our life we echo the prophet Isaiah’s cry from the 1st verse of our Old Testament reading this morning, “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down….” & God does come down, God is faithful, God strengthens us to the end. In the midst of our losses we lack nothing as we await the revealing of Lord Jesus Christ.(1Cor:1:7-9).
The Advent times of our lives are transitional periods of preparation & waiting. In Advent we live in between what was and what will be. We are neither here nor there. We are betwixt and between. They are hard and difficult times when sometimes it can even seem impossible, to see the way forward. But If we allow them to, these dark threshold places of life can draw us deeper into the divine mystery, as they remind us that we do not know everything. We do not see all the possibilities, we can neither predict nor control everything. So Advent challenges us to give up our usual sources of illumination, to let go of our habitual ways of knowing, and to question our typical ways of seeing, inviting us to receive the God who comes to us in the darkness of life. Jesus & the disciples had just left the temple. In those days the temple was at the centre of Jewish life, it was where the disciples found meaning and direction, it was their place of peace, safety & sanctuary, a place where they found God. They were devastated when Jesus told them that the temple would crumble & fall. He was telling them that the story of their life and identity was changing and would be replaced with another different life. They would need to let go of their old life, their old view of the world, how they saw themselves, & even how they saw God.
But it is very important that we understand that this was an ending, not the end. This was their advent story, a transitional moment that made way for a new life. They would have to let go of their former life, and so sometimes must we. Maybe there’s more to our lives and our world than a single beginning point and a single end point separated and defined by time. Maybe our beginnings and endings are two perspectives of the same event, moments of growth and transformation in Christ which deepen our inner lives. In Christ, our beginnings and endings are joined and united, so that every beginning finds its fullness in an ending and every ending is the setting for a new beginning.
We all come to this day with many stories and experiences of life that have defined us, shaped who we are, given meaning and direction to our lives, and have been the motives and drivers for what we do, how we think & relate. They are powerful stories that have been foundational & given structure & identity to our lives, shaping our view of the world, ourselves, others, and of God. So certainly tell your Advent story, be it a story of change, loss, or darkness, of course it is important to do that. But then take your dark ending in one hand, your new beginning in the other, & join your hands together.
Then be still …be quiet …listen… wait…watch. These are the practices of Advent. Why? Because God “acts on behalf of those who wait for him” (Is. 64:4).