Dear friends in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
It isn’t easy being a child in the days before Christmas and being told to wait. Just place a decorated tree with wrapped presents before a child, and witness their frustration. I can understand the struggle. When our sons were small, and there was no Sunday School to attend, they were forced to listen to me preach every Sunday. A friend had suggested that my wife give them a pad of paper and pencil at the beginning of the sermon and to tell them to mark down every time they heard the word “and.” The suggestion worked for a while. Eventually, however, our younger son got bored. Noting his agitation, someone whispered to him, “Would you like to listen for a different word?” He looked up, “Yes” he said. “’Amen.”
Advent calendars were created to help families mark the days of waiting from December 1st to Christmas. Originally, they were chalk markings on the door post. In 1851, the first printed Advent calendar was sold in Germany. Chocolate calendars were soon to follow. In the years when our boys were young, we had several calendars around our house. The chocolate calendars and their surprises, in particular, allowed them to experience a little wonder each day along the way.
Over the years, I have discovered that impatient waiting isn’t limited to children. I have met adults who are longing for something as well- myself included. It is not the visit of Santa Claus or a new present under the tree, that they are waiting for. No, it is something new to come into their lives. It is something new to fill a void created by a deep loss. It is something new to give meaning to a life that has been shaken to its core. It is something new to give hope and strength in the face of a great trial.
In a reverie drawn from the poetry of a dear friend and former parishioner Betty Westrom Skold, I would like to share with you what I believe we experience here at Lake of the Isles during the Advent season, as we wait and open the doors to Christ’s coming anew.
Betty Skold writes in a poem titled; “I’m Lonely.”
Everybody gets lonely, God, and today, I’m feeling that way.
When Adam was lonely in his paradise, he turned to you with his problem. I’m turning to you too.
For Adam, Eve was the answer. You created a new person.
But there are people all around me- good people. It isn’t a new person I need. Or is it?
Create a new person, Lord-me. And this time, leave the self-pity out.
Show me a new battle plan for each day’s loneliness.
What’s today’s answer, Lord? Do I work it off?
Do I find a matching loneliness down the street and put on my coffeepot?
Do I use my solitude for reading, or thinking or praying?
When I have only myself for company, God, help me to be good company. Make me a new person.
Advent, my friends, is about more than counting the days and weeks, and opening the doors of a calendar, and seeing what the next day will bring. Advent is about discovering the possibility of change that Christ can bring to your life. Yes, Christ is entering in so that you can be changed. In the most profound sense, Christ has come with his forgiveness and grace so that you can have a second chance with your friends, with your spouse and family, and with yourself. Christ has come to give you a new perspective on your neighbor.
Advent is also a time when we hear Christ’s promise of hope. Children and adults alike come to the church as strangers. They may not even know what they are searching for, but they believe that perhaps something, life giving can be found behind the doors of the church. I still remember when a member of a phone ministry in former congregation of mine called a man whose wife was dying from pancreatic cancer. The polite and gentle church member spent a half an hour on the phone with the man. Finally, the man said appreciatively to the woman, “How can you be so helpful to me and my wife. We are complete stranger to your church?” The caller responded honestly, “There are no strangers in our church- only friends we haven’t met yet.”
Betty Skold writes in a poem, My Friend Has Died:
My friend has died, Lord and neither my tear nor my rage can budge the heavy dose that has slammed shut between us.
Mourning is necessary for me. I grope for a way to deal with my pain.
I turn to a commonplace pattern I used to scorn, and I discover wisdom in it.
I discover that it is important, moving through the ritual of grief.
It becomes important to stop in the mortuary, to hug someone silently, to sign the list, to bake a pie for the family.
I go to church. I bow my head and remind myself that it’s true. God help me, it’s true! I fumble in my purse for a tissue.
I turn to your book, Lord, to cleanse my sorrow with the laments to brace my spirits with the promises.
For her you’ve promised joy, and I do believe that.
For me, you’ve promised healing, and that will come, but not quite yet.
This life is gone away, this separated friend, was something unique, something irreplaceable.
For now there is no way I can just get on with life without this ritual, this ritual of grief.
My friends, we open the doors to strangers and to ourselves, because we believe that in this place, in these patterns of worship and fellowship, Christ will come with his hope and healing and comfort. It is found in the sharing and living out of our faith. It is found in s gentle embrace over coffee, in the answers whispered through Bible study, it is in the majesty of Christ entering in.
Finally, we open the doors of Advent because we believe it is here that we can experience God’s holiness. In a poem entitled, “I Believe in the Communion of Saints,” Betty Skold writes:
The service is over, Lord. Again I have spoken the words, once again I have experienced the words, “I believe in the communion of saints.”
I have exchanged smiles in the narthex, I have stopped to press the hand of an old friend back home from Arizona.
Bill’s hand and mine have held the same book. We have sung together. We have joined voices with John Wesley, with Martin Luther, with St. Bernard of Clairvaux.
Kneeling at the rail, a thin wafer melting on my tongue, again I have found the communion of saints. I have sensed a bond with those who have died in your love- my mother, my father, my college friend, my grandson.
Praying the prayers of the church, I have been linked with familiar names on the hospital list, the bereavement list.
Finally the benediction- I have bowed and remembered each of my children by name. My thoughts have spanned the miles, laying a hand on each head. “The Lord bless them and keep them.”
Thank you, Lord, for this love, for this linkage, for this communion of saints.
Why is all this so important? Because it is in this Savior Jesus Chris, whose story flows through scripture, and whose presence is embodied in our worship, that you and I have been given our greatest hope- that when we enter the dark valleys of life, we have the confidence there is One who understands. And who not only understands but who will sustain and walk with us through these valleys of the shadow- for he has walked there before. Yes, he will be there, but more importantly, he will bring you new life. That is what we discover in our Advent waiting.
So my friends, be patient. The King is coming. Jesus Christ is coming again. So prepare his way, and open the doors to your heart, and let him in. Amen.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.