Saturday, November 28, 2009

First Sunday of Advent

Romans 13:11-14 / Luke 21:25-33

There is an odd time, well past midnight, but not nearly bright enough to see without the lights on. Shall we call the hour early, or is it very late? It depends, of course, on what we have been doing, what we are doing, what we hope to do. The night is far advanced; the day is near at hand. For the student, up all night finishing work he ought to have begun days, weeks, even months ago, the waning of the night, the coming of the dawn, is no source of comfort. He has slept not a wink, and can hope for no rest until well past the coming of morning; when all else has come alive, when the earth beckons with the promise and hope of a fresh new day full of possibility --- then it is he wants to close his eyes, refuse the light, and fall into the numbing comfort of sleep. For the carouser, the reveler, the passing of the night means seeking out another venture after the last call for drinks, for thrills, for worse. It means trying to keep the night alive, to find one more place that shields her from whatever pain she hopes to numb, exchanging the healing if all-too-revealing and honest light of the sun for the garish tones of neon seen through the gray hues of one too many cigarettes in a poorly ventilated room. For the mother in the hospital waiting room, her daughter taken to the hospital for what was supposed to be a routine check up, only to have spent the night in agony, splitting herself and her heart between the critical care units for her own child and her newly, prematurely born and dangerously fragile grandson, the passing of the night is hardly any more welcome. What news it brings, for good or ill, offers no hope that she can see.

There are many reasons we do not want to hear that the sun is rising, many places we find ourselves where the light of dawn is unwelcome. Yet, come it will, whether we want it to do so or not. To see in the faint but unmistakable lightening of the darkness in the east a sign of hope and cheer takes many things, but most of all what matters is how we have spent the night. Have we gone to bed at a sound hour, grateful for the day that has passed and wanting to face the challenges of a new day, even or perhaps especially ones we expect to be difficult, with freshness and energy? Have we been up all night in joyful expectation to see one we love, even if she is doing less than well, but still happy to be with her? Do we, in the end, let our nighttime endeavors dictate to us how we respond to the dawn, or do we choose how to spend our nights so that the brightness of the rising sun is welcome, long expected, a cause for delight?

Advent invites us to consider again how we are spending our nights, not the nights when the sun cannot be seen (although that may be as good a place to start as any!), but the nighttime of our lives. There is much that has been dark, is dark, and looks to be dark in our lives. We may well find our souls drawn to anxiety, or desperate distractions, or heartbreak and despair, and so curse the dawn or ignore it altogether. Or, we can choose to live in hope. We can choose to see in this darkness not the final word, but the last gasp of a passing rebellion, and live in confidence of a world of new possibilities, of new joys, of new realities far exceeding even the most extravagant of our nighttime dreaming.

It is now the hour for us to rise from sleep, because now our salvation is nearer than when we came to believe.

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