On 27 November we celebrated the First Sunday of Advent. Helene Milena preached the following sermon in the Anglican Cathedral on Epiphany Island in Second Life. The readings were Psalm 122, Isaiah 2:1-5, Romans 13:11-14, Matthew 24:36-44.
I suppose I could say ‘Happy New Year!’ today. Advent Sunday is the beginning of the Church’s year.
Advent has gathered various traditions, some of which we are celebrating within our service today. From Mexico we have Posada. Young people dressed as Mary and Joseph and went from house to house telling of the coming of Jesus. On Christmas Eve they performed a nativity play and placed figures of Mary and Joseph in a stable scene. Although this probably began as a novena, a nine day cycle of prayer, it now takes place throughout Advent. Today our Posada will begin as Mary and Joseph set off to travel around SL before returning here on Christmas Eve.
The Moravian custom of Christingle is now celebrated in many churches, forming the basis of a children’s carol service and the retelling of the Christmas story. Often churches are full for such events. As they involve each child having a lighted candle this can be quite an exciting, and somewhat dangerous, service!
The Advent Wreath began in northern Europe and had reached eastern Europe by the sixteenth century. In early German celebrations families lit a new candle each day in December. Some placed 24 candles on an Advent clock. The first public Advent wreath was used in Hamburg in 1839. The tradition reached Britain in the 19th century.
The Advent calendar had its origins with German Lutherans who marked the days of December with chalk marks, candles as I have already noted, or by hanging small religious pictures up. Handmade Advent calendars are known from 1851 onwards. Printed ones were made from the beginning of the 20th Century. It’s said that Gerhard Lang, who printed many of the early calendars, had been given a calendar by his mother when he was a child, which had small sweets stuck on to it. Time is tricky and the passage of it is hard for small children to imagine. Parents resort to telling them ‘how many sleeps’ until their birthday, holiday, trip to the seaside, or whatever they are looking forward to. For a child looking forward to Christmas, a calendar with sweets to eat or doors to open is an excellent visual aid to help them note the time passing.
For us too, Advent is associated with waiting. Advent means ‘the coming’ and since the Middle Ages Christians have marked Advent as a time to look forward to Christ’s second coming. It is also a time to anticipate Christmas, the remembrance of Christ’s first coming.
Looking forward is apparent in our readings today. Isaiah was writing in about 700 B.C. as he looked towards a time when people would flock to Jerusalem to learn of God’s ways, when there would be peace and justice in the world. He had no way to know when that vision would come about. Jesus’ first coming was a milestone on the journey of course. Had Isaiah had a calendar to count down the days to that, he would have needed 255,670 doors on it!
When Paul wrote to the Romans he assured them that “salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers”. Perhaps he thought that Jesus would return fairly soon. We know that some of the early Christians stopped working as they were convinced Jesus’ return was imminent. However, we are still in the time between Jesus’ first and second comings.
Jesus had not given a date or even an indication of a rough time scale for his return. He simply said that no one knows when it will be, which is not very helpful for anyone who is impatient to see him return!
We should probably be impatient, longing for Jesus to come back. Like the child on a long journey, perhaps our refrain should be: ‘Are we nearly there yet?’ Or as the child waiting for Christmas: ‘How many sleeps until Father Christmas comes?’
Jesus, Isaiah and Paul have a better idea than that: Prepare! That is what Advent has been used for over the centuries, a time of preparation and spiritual reflection rather like Lent in many ways. If we cannot know when Jesus will return, we need to live in a state of constant readiness. Jesus makes a fair point when he notes that a burglar would have no chance to break in if he announced his arrival in advance. The householder would have been alert and ready to repel him at that time. Jesus’ advice to us is: “You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”
Isaiah no doubt saw anything but peace in the world as he wrote his vision down. He might well have despaired of anything better happening. However, notice what he urged the people to do – walk in the light of the Lord. Despite the darkness of the surrounding world, they were to walk in the light.
Paul likewise urges us to turn aside from darkness and put on armour of light, living honourably rather than indulging in behaviour which belongs in the darkness. Though peace did not exist in Paul’s day, with Christians often attacked and treated badly, he encouraged them to ‘put on the Lord Jesus Christ’, who is of course the Light of the World.
Time is a funny thing, sometimes it flies and sometimes it crawls by at a snail’s pace. For God, time is different altogether as far as we can work out. We are told that a day is like a thousand years and a thousand years a day. That could mean that while God only opens one door on his Advent calendar, we have to open 365,242 to get to the same point!
We don’t know how long we have until Jesus returns. We do know that one day there will be a new heaven and a new earth and that peace, in Jerusalem and elsewhere, will be a reality. All we can do is live as well as possible in every moment we have while looking forward and praying ‘Come, Lord Jesus.’
Helene Milena – Lay Pastor