Why are you and I offered this wonderful performance on this Advent Sunday? Because although it may be winter in the realm of nature, it is springtime in the realm of the spirit and of our Christian hearts. We are not far from the fields and caves of Bethlehem. But before we come to them, we need to know that every one of these songs was sung in spite of the times. Knowing this, it is salutary to look once again at the extraordinary joy that bubbles forth.
People who introduce themselves as bearing a message from God do not commend themselves to us easily. If we do turn an ear to them out of curiosity, or perhaps out of an amused and sometimes horrified fascination, they tend to wear out their welcome quickly. We have learned only too well that such self-styled messengers of God can carry out deeds of unimaginable ferocity in the name of their particular vision of God.
My gratitude for Advent has deepened over the years. I welcome the shorter days, and love the way the angled light of late November and early December makes everything look different. It seems to transform the world into a more promising place. Details are softer, colors pastel.
The realization that one has enemies, personal or professional, can make one adopt a guarded and self-limiting stance toward life. Yet in Psalm 25, where someone is wrestling with this kind of situation, we see the psalmist reaching out to the one he can trust as not treacherous, to whom he can relate, secure in the knowledge that in God he has a source of steadfast love.
At Christmas even the most Protestant among us can be drawn to the contemplation of Mary. It seems right to recall her humble courage, her receiving and carrying and giving birth, and her joy as she sang of the saving work of God.
Although Mark seems to find it right that Jesus of Nazareth should have been among those who heeded John’s preaching, the three other evangelists appear concerned over the suggestion that Jesus was in some way a disciple of this other preacher.
“The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” Like a starter’s pistol, this brief first verse rings out and Mark’s narrative is off and running. We may take the chain of phrases in this verbless sentence simply as a title, the announcement of what follows—the title and then immediately the headlong story.
“Stir up your power O Lord, and come . . .” This traditional prayer for the First Sunday in Advent begins with urgent entreaty. There is no delay for caressing words of prayerful invocation; rude as a wakening alarm, we call for God to get moving. For now, it appears to be the sluggishness of God’s heart that is in question. It is God’s Spirit that first needs stirring to action.
It is generally not a good idea to refer to one’s children in sermon or print, but I’ve concluded that when it comes to grandchildren, such rules are suspended. Rachel goes to Cardinal Bernardin School in Chicago, and as her mother was putting her to bed one night last year during Advent, she asked Rachel if she had learned any new songs at school recently.