Most people are not fond of change. In fact, a rule of thumb for churches is that if you do something twice, it is suddenly an irreversible tradition that has “always been done” and so must always be done. We humans like stability. Change is unsettling, anxiety producing, nerve-wracking. I am one of those perverse individuals that take joy in change. At least, that’s what I tell myself. Joe and I have been married for four years. In our first year of marriage, we moved four times. Our second year of marriage, I started seminary and we had our first child. In four short years, I find myself the mother of two, a graduate of seminary, and a minister of a wonderful church. Since I started dating Joe, in fact, it feels like our foot slipped and the gas pedal has been pinned to the floor. The dust is finally beginning to settle as we adjust to a more permanent lifestyle than we’ve been able to have. Our life together so far has been one transition after another. As soon as I get used to one kind of normal, something shifts and I have to adjust once more. If there is one thing that I have learned from all this transitioning is that life is too short to put happiness on hold. With all the change and upheaval that seems to be just a regular part of life, there are constants to cling to and there are promises that are trustworthy. You can see them every day in God’s actions in the world.
Once again, our texts for this morning foretell of destruction and upheaval. It seems an odd choice for the first Sunday in Advent. Why such a dark focus? I’d like to suggest, however, that the focus is appropriately dark. In our consumer-driven society, we are an instant-gratification kind of people. So the idea of waiting is quite foreign to our experiences. The idea of ‘waiting’ makes me think of the long boring lines at amusement parks that wind round and round.
Watch for the Lord. Pray. (Patience is not for wimps.)
The kind of waiting that we do in Advent is not this boring kind of waiting. It is not passive or idle. The waiting of Advent is closer to the idea of watching, being alert, ready to spring into action. Perhaps this is why the angels came to the shepherds in the fields first … the shepherds were already practicing this kind of waiting. They were on the alert, guarding their sheep and so ready to notice any change in their environment.
A modern example of this active, athletic kind of patience is the quarterback of a football team. Picture him poised at the line of scrimmage, preparing for the snap. He is alert, aware of his surroundings, taking stock of who is where … his whole body is involved in this waiting. How can we be more like this quarterback during Advent? Are we poised and ready for what Christ has in store for us?
“Repentant preparation” (Turn, Turn, Turn)
Advent is sometimes called the “mini-Lent.” It is a season in the church when we mark our beginnings in Christ, and we acknowledge just how much the world needs the message of Christ’s life. Authors Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan identify Advent as a “’season of repentant preparation,’ but in a somewhat different sense than our ‘postbiblical Christian understanding’ of repentance as contrition, sorrow for our sins, confession, and doing penance. Borg and Crossan claim that repentance in the Bible ‘emphasizes change,’ which means that when we repent we ‘turn to God.’” Turning is a big theme in the Hebrew Bible. Most sin is a result of turning from God … It’s a very physical concept. A better translation for us would be attention. We physically stop facing God and paying attention to God. A lot of the sins committed in our world are not done purposely, but are done because people were not paying attention. Advent is an opportunity for us to wake up! A time for us to return our attention to God and to remember the darkness we feel in our lives, when Christ’s light is absent. How have you turned from God? And what darkness in your life desperately needs the light of Christ?
Preparing for Christ, like an athlete.
I am not sure who said it, but there’s a phrase that says if you pray for patience, God does not give you patience. Instead God gives you opportunities to develop patience. Along with waiting and being patient, we are told to pray. Praying also gets stuck into the category of those inactive, passive things we do that don’t really matter. But praying does matter. In fact, there is physiological evidence that prayer changes your mind and how it operates. Prayer is not just for the people and things that you pray for, pray works on the person praying. In prayer, we open ourselves up to our Higher Power and we seek something beyond ourselves. That openness and intentionally seeking out of God helps us to better listen for and pay attention to God. It is a way to become more attuned with God. In this way, we may better follow God’s directions for our lives.
There is one thing that patience requires – trust in the Lord. We must believe and actively anticipate that our Lord cares for us, will walk with us, and provide us with the way forward.
Watching and praying patiently for Christ is something that makes us alive, whole, and ready to embrace the future.
Advent has begun! We wait for the Lord, patiently, actively!
Come Lord Jesus! Wake us up! Shake us up!
Turn us toward you so that we may pay attention to you and see your face all around.
 Kate Huey, Weekly Seeds.
 NPR, Barbara Bradley Hagerty, “Prayer May Reshape Your Brain … And Your Reality.” http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=104310443