Homily preached by the Reverend Adam Yates
St. Paul’s on the Green, Norwalk, CT
The Second Sunday of Advent – December 5, 2010
I love Advent because it changes every time we approach and engage it.
Sometimes Advent afflicts us with the promise of judgment. This is the case in today’s gospel reading, where John the Baptist proclaims to all who hear that Jesus comes to clear the threshing floor and burn the chaff in unquenchable fire! This is quite the image that John paints for us, and every time I read it, I cannot help but remember sitting in the congregation at the Basilica of Mary. The inside of the main basilica was a beautiful, if terrifying, mosaic of an angry Christ. Seated with his legs crossed, this massive depiction of Jesus gazed back at the congregation with flames shooting out of his eyes and mouth.
Perhaps this is not the type of art we would choose here at St. Paul’s, nor is it the focus that we might choose for Advent in our worship. In fact, we would not be alone in this sentiment—liberal, Protestant Christianity generally shies away from speaking of God’s judgment. As one of my seminary professors would admonish us, “don’t be afraid of judgment, there are those things that are evil in this world—war, torture, genocide, racism, domestic violence, etc…–for which speaking of judgment is necessary.” So, sometimes it is appropriate to approach Advent and ponder our judgment.
Other times Advent comforts us with joyful anticipation. We wait with bated breath alongside the expectant mother Mary, and celebrate the birth of her child and our savior. I think that this is the most popular way of approaching Advent nowadays. At least it is the most visible. This is the Advent of nativity scenes, Advent calendars, Advent wreaths, and strings of lights to penetrate the growing darkness.
And this is a perfectly appropriate way to approach Advent, and occasionally necessary. There are times when we need to be comforted, when we need to anticipate the new life that is coming, whether it is because of a recent death of a loved one, a year of struggling to find work, or other strife in our lives.
Sometimes Advent comes to us as hope. More specifically, as hope in the awareness of failure, to use the eloquent words of one of our Tuesday morning participants. This is how I most often find myself encountering Advent. I find that Advent resonates with the dark places in my soul, those places where I am aware of how far and often I fall short of where God calls me, those places where I ponder the suffering, destruction, and despair in the world around me.
But this is what I treasure about Advent: in the midst of failure, I am led not into the despair of judgment, but into hope for new creation. Here it is important to emphasize that by hope, I do not mean wish. We wish for those things that we have no reason to expect will actually happen, such as winning the lottery. Hope is the expectant waiting for that, which was and will be again. In the midst of failure, I hope for the new creation because I first saw it revealed in Jesus Christ.
So however you encounter Advent this year, may it be a rich and blessed season for each of you.