Throughout the renovation process of our family home over the past year and a half, there have been a number of treasures I have sought to guard from demolition and sheet rock dust. Of particular attentiveness are the letters that my parents exchanged while my father was overseas in WWII. They have been stored for all these many years in tattered boxes tied with faded ribbon.
On Friday, I removed the letters from the boxes and placed them in safekeeping for the years to come. And, as I lifted the bundles of beribboned envelopes I was impressed by their consistency. The envelopes in the stacks were all the same, all addressed in the same way with the same handwriting – my mother’s upright neat script, my father’s more flowing loopy scrawl. From the outside, every letter looks the very same as the next one, but inside, without doubt, the written words brought joy and comfort to a soldier far away and his anxious young wife waiting back at home. I stood for a moment, imagining this ever-flowing stream of letters – so grateful that tragedy or complacency did not bring an abrupt end to the flow.
One letter was lumpy; I investigated to find a very dry branch of heather from the English countryside. My father knew how much my young mother would treasure heather from England. I’ve read some of the letters; mostly they tell of ordinary day to day events – visits with relatives, the weather, mundane experiences.
As I pondered them on Friday, I was struck by the constancy that the letters represent – the ebb and flow of daily life within a deep and undying desire to be linked, determined that oceans and continents and wars could not separate one from the other – this is the providence of love.
This determination to remain linked – counteracting the fear of separation – is a theme that runs through our lessons for this first Sunday of Advent. The prophet Isaiah is speaking to the people of God who have been allowed finally to return to their homeland after decades of exile; their faith has been challenged; they have been overwhelmed by the fear of being separated from God; they have struggled to remain faithful in a foreign land where they were persecuted for worshipping the one God of the their fathers. Now, they have returned to the ruins of their homeland, faced with the overwhelming reality of arduous rebuilding. But, throughout it all, God has remained constant; God’s providence has gathered them and brought them home again. God has been with them throughout their horrendous ordeal. God never separates from us.
Our Psalmist writes, “Restore us, O God of hosts; show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved.” Our only fear is separation from God; as long as we look toward the light of God we are saved.
These treasured days of the season of Advent are set aside as a time to re-acknowledge the light of God. God’s light is constant; God’s light shines upon us day and night – in the mundane of our daily lives, at the times of significant rites of passage, at times of great joy and great tragedy. We are never separated from God.
But, we need this season of Advent to sit quietly in the silent darkness, to imagine what life separated from God would mean. We need this season of Advent to sit quietly in the silent darkness of these long cold nights and discern what it is to be alert and prepared for the light that is to come.
God’s light is constant – the handwriting is always the same.
In today’s lesson from the Gospel of Mark, Jesus is speaking of the end times. This thirteenth chapter of Mark is known as the “Little Apocalypse.” This time of which Jesus speaks is not necessarily some far off time; Jesus is speaking to us of the here and now. Jesus is speaking of our need to be patient, to endure the persecutions of this world, to remain faithful that the light will come.
Consistently, day-by-day in the mundane and the sensational events of our lives, we remain constant in our awareness of God’s presence – constant in our understanding that our only fear is separation from God, and God is never separate from us. In God’s time and on God’s terms, God will send his angels to gather his people “from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.”
Jesus’ message is that it is more important to spend our time being prepared to recognize and follow “the Son of Man coming in clouds of great glory” than to devote our time and energy fretting and speculating over the day and the hour that the end times will come.
In Advent, we might say that we wait in an empty room – there are many windows in our room, but nevertheless, it is a very dark empty room. There, in the empty quiet darkness, we await the coming of the morning light, faithfully and prayerfully preparing our hearts and minds to receive the long-awaited Messiah. We remain there awake and alert to his coming.
The Messiah comes, we celebrate the Incarnation and the Epiphany of our understanding that this is the One for whom we have be waiting.
The Apostle Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians, assures us that our Lord Jesus Christ will strengthen us to the end, so that we may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. Hear the words of our Lord, “What I say to you, I say to all, ‘Keep awake.’”
May your Advent be blessed with the reality of God’s constant providence of love freely given in our salvation through Jesus Christ our Lord.