The Rev. Charles Pedersen
An Advent Prayer…Almighty God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which thy 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 liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
The season of Advent is a strange time. The words in the four collects for the season are both ominous and hopeful, full of darkness and light. There was a time when it was traditional to preach on the themes of Death, Judgment, Heaven, and Hell. There are still echoes of these themes in our Advent collects. But the Advent season, now waning, has counseled us to seek “quiet time” to reflect on our lives, asking ourselves those basic down-to-earth questions that govern our lives: Who am I? What is my life for? What are my hopes for the future? For disciples of Jesus these questions set us again on our journey, our quest for the meaning of our lives. We begin by living through that annual cycle of Jesus’ birth, his ministry and teaching, his passion, death and resurrection, his ascension with the promise that through the creative Holy Spirit of God, he would be with us to the end of time and beyond.
But Advent is also a time of darkness and shadows. Nature itself bears witness to it with daylight progressively diminishing each day in the face of increasing darkness. But in this time of darkness, there are shadows that beckon us to quietly, thoughtfully, prayerfully, ask ourselves still another question: As disciples of Jesus, his followers, what have we gotten ourselves into? There is good news and bad news! The bad news is that on this journey we have to do our own exploring of our own “inner space” in real time. We have to explore in the midst of the present Christmas frenzy, commonly called “the holidays”. It is a time in which we are both victims and perpetrators! The English poet, W.H. Auden, in his Christmas Oratorio: For the Time Being, captures our time, writing that “craving the sensation, but ignoring the cause, we look around for something, no matter what, to inhibit our self-reflection…:
So what is the good news here? The dilemma of our time now provides us all the opportunity to dig deep into our lives to discover the God-given potential gifted us at birth. The bad news”? It’s risky business! It’s like mining for diamonds. The treasure is to be found midst a lot of trash of no value. All this means that there is so much about ourselves of which we are not aware - potential for good , potential for evil, for hatred and great harm, for peace, love, joy, reconciliation.
Here is a poem that perhaps starkly uses the Advent-Christmas arena to make a point:
The useful child is born again, manipulated
By childless men.
The battered babe is tightly bound,
With festive ropes and bell-numbed sound.
His nascent joy is the parcel of all,
In neoned mangers storied tall.
What kind of people use a child
in this manner?
The same that secured him with nails and a
Why would anyone do this to Jesus? I believe his mother Mary, the woman who opened herself to the creative Spirit of God, will give us an answer. She bursts forth with joy: “My soul magnifies the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Savior!”…and as she continues her praise of God, she is given an inner vision of the very nature of God, and in this discovery describes who her son will be. He will be the human presence of God, the flesh and blood, earthly reality of God Himself. He, the beloved one, will bring within himself the gift of newness of life and transformation for all who would follow him on that new path of self- sacrificing love.
Then Mary’s exultation gives way to what the power of his self-emptying love will bring to human kind and what will be the cost. She proclaims:
“He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud and haughty in the imagination and plans of their hearts.
He has pulled down the mighty from their seats, and has exalted and dignified the humble and meek.
He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent empty away.”
What do we have here? I believe we have a revolution with Jesus confronting all of our values. A new paradigm for living- a newness in our moral life, our social life, our economic life. Jesus comes as the new life-bringer, the life-changer powered by self-sacrificing love, a kind of love that would triumph over the powers that sought to destroy him forever.
God, then, through Mary’s life, has given us a picture of Jesus, as well as the reason for his rejection. It seems simple. Jesus became an inconvenience, a disruption to most people’s daily lives and routines, relationships. A threat to their way of life. These forces, more or less, still operate among us. They shadow our lives. And we all are restless, because God’s love keeps us restless, because he gifted each of us with a soul, that deep and mysterious presence within which resides a new heart filled with new life waiting to be discovered. And it keeps us restless. Don’t deny it. Don’t seek to avoid it. It will not go away. God’s outpouring creative love will not be taken back. It is yours forever.
Let me close with an image and a “mantra” I’d like to share with you. Perhaps it might have meaning for you. It is another way of knowing. Imagine that your soul and within in it that new heart is like a manger waiting to be filled with the presence of the Lord Jesus. Then, when you can be still, try saying these words over and over again: “Come into my heart, Lord Jesus, there is room in my heart for thee.” Now, will you say it together with me? (said) Please, say it one more time with me.
4th Sunday in Advent - St. Michael’s & All Angel’s Church, Albuquerque, New Mexico
The Rev. Charles Pedersen