Advent 1C, 2015
Text found here
There is a photo, my mother and I seated in the open hatchback of our car. Yellow grasses bend around us with the wind. Her arm is slung about my shoulder. I am twelve and we have driven up the mountain side to witness the total eclipse of the sun. We are perched on what looks to be the edge of the world.
I am smiling. I do not know that in 5 years my dad will die near that very place. I do not know that after his death my mother will careen into disaster--her fragile mental health upended by tragedy and alcohol.
I do not know. Nor, does she. And, so we wait, ready with our homemade eye protection to witness an event detailed in any number of narratives foretelling the end of days--the sun, obliterated, and the end upon us.
And, we smile, we know better. This is not the end. But, in retrospect, perhaps it was. It was the end of some things and the beginning of others.
We lived that day. Secure in love. I was newly twelve and we did not know.
Jesus said, “There will be signs in the sun and the moon and the stars...”
And, the gravity of the veiled sun spins us round. And, we drive up the mountain and perch on the edge of the world. To bear witness. But, we are not there to witness the end of the world.
We are there to survive it. And, then to tell of it.
Author Annie Dillard, describes a total eclipse of the sun which occurred in 1979,
“You have seen photographs of the sun taken during a total eclipse. The corona fills the print. All of those photographs were taken through telescopes. The lenses of telescopes and cameras can no more cover the breadth and scale of the visual array than language can cover the breadth and simultaneity of internal experience. Lenses enlarge the sight, omit its context, and make of it a pretty and sensible picture, like something on a Christmas card. I assure you, if you send any shepherds a Christmas card on which is printed a three-by-three photograph of the angel of the Lord, the glory of the Lord, and a multitude of the heavenly host, they will not be sore afraid. More fearsome things can come in envelopes. More moving photographs than those of the sun’s corona can appear in magazines. But I pray you will never see anything more awful in the sky.”
The photo does not do the awful justice. And, so photo in my mind’s eye, I was twelve. My world was going to end. A new world would begin. I would choose to step into that new world. And in that choosing, I would choose to believe in hope.
To live, to become, to hope.
And, this is the theme of the first Sunday of Advent.
Hope that we can avert disaster. Hope that promises will be kept. Hope that the veiled sun will emerge intact. Hope.
Can we understand the power of hope?
Hope. It is what the prophet Jeremiah proclaims in the portion of text given to us today--chapters 30-33 of Jeremiah are referred to as the little book of Comfort.
And, after the first 29 chapters of Jeremiah, there is a need for comfort...
In Jeremiah’s charge as a prophet he is instructed to pluck up and tear down and then build and plant anew (Jeremiah 1:10). So in the first 29 chapters he describes the failings of Israel and the devastation that has been wrought by those failings--he castigates the exiled people and angrily mourns the devastation in their midst. Jeremiah addresses a community devastated by the Babylonian invasion of 587 BCE, a community living in exile and longing for return.
Exile akin to eclipse--Jeremiah writes to a shadowed world. But, his charge being two-fold, he cannot neglect to tell of the God who builds and plants. And, so out of the shadows emerges the comfort of God’s promise.
The prophet offers hope, and the Lord says, “I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety.”
And, the sun emerges from behind the unseen moon, “Thus says the Lord: If any of you could break my covenant with the day and my covenant with the night, so that day and night would not come at their appointed time, only then could my covenant with my servant David be broken” (Jeremiah 33:20-21)
God’s covenant with us cannot be broken--it is as consistent as the rising and the setting of the sun. Nor is God’s commitment to us dependent upon our own abilities--God’s covenant manifests itself in grace. Such grace, as the collect for today tells us, that our possession of this grace will allow us to cast away the works of darkness.
Grace into our upturned hands, grace freely given. And, with grace, we become not an apocalyptic people, but anti-apocalyptic.
Anti-apocalyptic? Apocalyptic foreshadowing becomes a warning we can heed. The edge of apocalypse offer us an opportunity to transform ourselves while there is still time. Apocalypse stands at the edge of the world and then walks away from that edge--there be dragons the maps proclaim and the ships take heed.
Out of the apocalyptic imagination we are given insight into what might be and the opportunity to choose a different way.
And, so we choose. And, on this first day of Advent we are invited to choose hope.
To trust hope. To stare into that veiled sun and know that the shadow will pass. To occupy hope, even from that place of exile.
19th century author Frederick Charles Woodhouse writes, “The season of Advent gives us a new motto of life, “Occupy till I come.”...our bodies our faculties, our talents, our influence, our natural gifts, all belong to God; we are but tenants-at-will, we occupy till God comes” (“A manual for Advent” by Frederick Charles Woodhouse, 1883).
Occupy, till I come. Occupy until the covenant is fulfilled. Occupy until the baby is born. Occupy until justice comes. Occupy until love wins. Occupy until all are liberated.
Occupy Advent, occupy hope!
We began with an eclipse and so we will end with one,
During the colonial period in American History there was an eclipse of the sun. It caught members of the New England state legislature off guard. In the midst of panic, a member made a motion to adjourn but one legislator stood, “Mr Speaker, if it is not the end of the world and we adjourn, we shall appear to be fools. If it is the end of the world, I choose to be found doing my duty. I move you, sir, let candles be brought”- (The Christian Century, November 17,2009)
And, so the sun eclipsed and they stayed the course. And, so today, as we light the first candle called hope, we proclaim our duty--to light the candles and proclaim that when this truth passes away a greater truth will come into being.
We will occupy hope, we will occupy Advent.