In the name of God: who was, and who is, and who is to come. Amen.
The times, they are a changing…
That’s a subject that often makes us a bit nervous - change. But it’s been said that the only constant in life is change, so we’d better find a way to make our peace with it.
But change doesn’t have to be scary if we ready ourselves for it. And that’s what Advent is all about - readying ourselves for the change that’s in store.
This Advent may feel a little bit different to you. There are different schools of thought about the role of Advent in the life of the church, and how it should be observed. Some liturgists think of Advent as like a “little Lent” - drawing on the similarities between Advent and Lent, in that they are both seasons of preparation for understanding new realities about God.
But some other scholars of liturgy would argue that there’s a different tone in the sense of preparation between the two seasons. Where Lent is a season of penitence as we prepare for the death of Jesus; Advent is a season of expectation, wherein we prepare for his birth. While both seasons hold elements of surprise for the people of God, the surprise of resurrection is a little more jarring than the surprise of birth - even this birth. Lent is meant to mirror the season of preparation that Jesus experienced when we spent 40 days in the wilderness steeling himself for ministry. Advent, on the other hand, is more like the season of preparation that new parents go through when they’re expecting the birth of a child. Advent is a season that is pregnant with hope and expectation that keeps growing until it can no longer be contained: it must be birthed into the world.
So, you can see - there are certainly some similarities between Advent and Lent, but there are also some differences. I expect that I’ll be highlighting the differences a little more than you may be used to.
And though change may sometimes seem unsettling, it’s important to remember that it is a hallmark of our faith. If there were any doubt of that, we would only have to look at the lessons appointed for today - on this, the first Sunday of Advent - to see how much the church is driving us toward embracing change.
The prophecy of Isaiah is crying out to God to intercede on the suffering of God’s people. It embraces the role of God as the agent of holy change: “we are the clay, and you are our potter”. Change us, the prophet prays.
Jesus speaks of change on a more cosmic scale: “Heaven and earth will pass away,” he says, “but my words will not pass away.”
Wrap your minds around that for just a moment. Even if we can imagine the earth passing away - how sure must Christ’s words be, if they are more stable even than heaven? “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not…”
We often meet change with anxiety. But not only is it inevitable, it’s often for the best.
Earlier this week, I stumbled across a lovely (and sort of challenging) prayer written by Sir Francis Drake as he was preparing to embark on a voyage to circumnavigate the earth. We may not be able to really imagine what a feat that was - to sail around the world - but remember that it had only been done successfully one time before. It had been less than a century since Columbus had crossed the Atlantic. The world, for those travelers was vast and untamed. Anything could happen on such a voyage. It would be perilous, at best.
In those days of preparation for what might have easily been the last days of Drake’s life, these were his words:
Disturb us, Lord, when
We are too pleased with ourselves,
When our dreams have come true
Because we dreamed too little,
When we arrived safely
Because we sailed too close to the shore.
Disturb us, Lord, when
with the abundance of things we possess
We have lost our thirst
For the waters of life;
Having fallen in love with life,
We have ceased to dream of eternity
And in our efforts to build a new earth,
We have allowed our vision
Of the new Heaven to dim.
Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly,
To venture on wilder seas
Where storms will show Your mastery;
Where losing sight of land,
We shall find the stars.
We ask you to push back
The horizons of our hopes;
And to push back the future
In strength, courage, hope, and love.
This we ask in the name of our Captain,
Who is Jesus Christ.
It is a daring and brave thing to pray for God’s disturbance. We are the people of a God who is a masterful disturber. And while it may be an intimidating thing to pray for that disturbing, the truth of the matter is, God is going to disturb us. God is going to disrupt us. When we are complacent with the comforts of the world; when we are complicit with the injustices of the world; when we are conspirators with the false powers of the world: we need to be disturbed. And God will do that for us, whether we want it or not - whether we expect it or not. Whether we are ready or not. God is a disturbing God.
If you think about it, is that really such a bad thing?
In a world gripped by violence and fear, we could stand to have the status quo disturbed. In a world defined by income inequality that leaves a few people of privilege with vast, unfathomable resources, while the rest of the world struggles, often futilely, merely to survive, we need change, no matter how much we fear it. In a world of racism, and xenophobia, and all of the other products that come from the marriage of fear and greed, we need Christ. We need God to intercede.
The hope of Advent is that Christ will disturb us where we most need it. The promise of Christmas is that by knowing God more intimately, we will be changed. Even though it’s probably a little bit scary, we need to be changed. We might as well get ready.
The times, they are a changing. Amen.