It is another grey and cold morning as the third Sunday of Advent arrives.
Outside my window the barren branches of the dogwood tree are scratching against my dining room window. It is a sorrowful and lonesome sound, and I am reminded again of my sorrows and the struggles of those around me.
Sorrow is a place of loneliness, a place of struggle, whether you are actually alone or surronded by a host of others. Yet, we are made to feel during this most wonderful time of the year we must be happy and content no matter what. Joyful always. This leaves those of us who are struggling feeling outcast and even more lonely. However, if we buy into this message that we need to make ourselves happy simply for the sake of the season, then we are again missing the message of Advent.
Advent tells us it is okay to be feeling sorrow.
It is okay to be feeling lost.
It is okay to be feeling alone.
In fact, Advent encourages us to embrace all of this, and in our solitude and quiet to bring these sorrows and troubles to our loving Heavenly Father. He is filled with compassion for each of us, and wants to be our comforter if we will only seek him out. He is faithful, even when we have not been. His love is the front porch light that has been left on to welcome us back home.
While reading today’s lectionary readings, I was amazed to see the sorrow and suffering come full circle and turn to rejoicing. This is a story of choosing the Lord and being his willing child and seeing the promises of God come to fruition in the advent of his Son. Maybe this isn’t how the lectionary was meant to be read when these verses were put together, but it is what I discovered as I read.
The readings are a journey in God’s story from despair to promise to the promise fulfillment to each of us and instructions for us as we wait. After all, Advent is the time of waiting and reflecting.
We begin our journey today in Psalm 146:5-10 which begins with the verse:
Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord their God, (NRSV)
We are reminded of the ancient people of Israel, who despite God’s best intentions, just couldn’t keep their covenant promises with Him. As a result, they are no longer a free and chosen people, but an exhiled people wondering if the God of Abraham has abandoned them from good.
THe next stop on our journey this morning is in the book of Isaiah, chapter 35 verses 1-10 where we find a promise from God in verse 4:
“Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God. He will come with vengeance, with terrible recompense. He will come and save you.” (NRSV)
God has seen and heard the cries from his people and seen their sorrows during their exhile, and is making them a promise of deliverance. He will once again rescue his people, sending a Messiah to restore them to the promise.
Continuing on our journey we find our way to Matthew 11:2-11 where Jesus says starting in verse 4:
“Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. (NRSV)
Many, many years have passed since the promise of a Messiah had been given. The Jewish people have been freed from exhile and allowed to return to the promised land. However, they are not a free people. They are now under the oppression of the Roman empire and subject to much persecution. When will the Messiah arrive? Jesus, in response to John the Baptist’s question, is saying he is in fact the promised Messiah that was fore told by Isaiah.
At this point in our journey we must take a detour and backtrack in the story just a little. We find ourselves now in Luke 1:46-55, the magnificant, Mary’s humn of praise:
And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.” (NRSV)
Mary is filled with so much joy at being the handmaiden of the Lord that she can’t contain it! She is exclaiming of his faithfulness and her amazement of the great purpose she has been given by God that she is willingly able to do through his strength. The sorrows and oppression are still all around her, but she is seeing God and placing all of her hopes on Him by being a willing participant in his plan.
The final destination on our journey today through God’s promises to us is James 5:7-10 which begins with:
Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. You also must be patient. (NRSV)
Just as the farmer must wait out the different seasons we also wait on seasons. Each season brings us something. We have seasons of great happiness and also seasons of great sorrow. Through all of the seasons, be patient.
Patient with God’s timing.
Patient with the circumstances, good or bad.
Patient with ourselves.
As I have been writing this morning, the grey has slowly faded away and the day has taken on a brighter, if not sunny, appearance. Another example of patience – if we but wait out the grey the light will always return.
Life, too, is a journey. Advent is just another tool we have in our toolboxes – an atlas to help us find our way on the different roads and paths we find ourselves on.
Perhaps this season you are finding yourself at peace right now and feeling all of the happiness and joy that the season of giving brings. And that is okay. Or perhaps you, like me, are finding yourself more in a place of sorrow or struggle. And that is okay too.
The one constant in all of these seasons is the hand of mercy and compassion of God willing to lead us and guide us as we lean on him. Whether we are struggling or joyful we can go out, and like the brightening of the grey morning, show those around us that there is still light. If we just keep turning our faces towards it we will eventually find the bright abundance of it shining on us.
In Christ Jesus we find a savior who understands all of our ups and downs and he offers to each of us a place of belonging.
Advent reminds us that we no longer need to seek belonging because we already belong to God. Each of us is called and chosen already. No dues necessary, no application process.
Whether in a season of great joy or a season of great sorrow, we are all thirsty. We all are seeking compassion and understanding. We are seeking to be patient.
During Advent we remember we are all waiting to rejoice as Mary did, joyful in our blessings and patient in our sorrows, longing to find compassion and acceptance.
All of which we find in the reason for the season. The King of glory, the Child of the poor.
Click here to listen to What Child Is This, Child of the Poor, one of my favorite hymns at this time of year that came to mind this morning as I was writing.