1. A few years back when travel was not a fraught experience filled with fear of infection and quarantine I travelled to North Carolina to visit my brother.
2. HE told me that that they were expecting.
3. not with his wife – they were in their 60s!
4. NO - His thoroughbred Golden Retriever, named Summer, was expecting her first litter of puppies.
5. I did not so much hear about this coming birth - as I experienced it
6. Not satisfied with just any golden retriever as a father to his puppies
7. My brother searched for weeks to find a proper mate for his Summer
8. Not satisfied with a cardboard box for summer and her litter of puppies
9. He built something he called a “whelping box” – a massive structure that displaced the tables and chairs in the dining room.
10. Not satisfied with simply raising and selling the puppies
11. Even before summer was expecting he had spreadsheets designed and contracts drawn up, so that he could sell these valuable puppies to the right people at the right time.
12. The entire fall (and a good part of late summer) was filled with waiting for Summer to give birth. Which she did to Nine healthy puppies. It was all very exciting, I could not wait to see them.
13. Waiting is not something we normally like doing.
14. But waiting for Summer’s puppies to be born was different –
15. it was filled with an excitement not unlike the one I used to feel as a child, waiting for Christmas –
16. waiting for the gifts and the carols and the candle lit church services.
17. And that is because there are really two kinds of waiting
18. The kind of waiting which is filled with expectation for something to begin.
0. And the kind of waiting empty of everything except wanting it all to end.
0. Psychologists tell us that the “holiday season”
1. is that second type of waiting for many,
a. and that the cause of many people’s depression at this time of year
1. is because they so wait to experience the glorious Christmases of the past.;
2. That the present seems empty and meaningless.
2. In short, the present seems exactly like it did
3. to the people of Judah in today’s first reading.
a. For decades they had been exiled in Babylon, cut off from their land, their temple in Jerusalem, and many would argue, from their God.
b. But then in the 6th Century BC Babylon was conquered, and their new king, Cyrus of Persia, permitted them to return home.
. All during their return journey they heard promises of what awaited them;
a. A fruitful land, a beautiful temple in a restored Jerusalem,
1. Filled with the presence of God.
b. But when they arrived, what did they find?
1. A barren land, a destroyed temple in a ruined city.
2. Empty of everything, even it would seem, the presence of God.
4. This was also how the first Christians felt, especially in those days around the year 70 AD, when the Jewish people revolted against the Romans and lost.
a. The Romans conquered Israel again,
b. destroyed Jerusalem, and burned the temple.
5. The first Christians had been
a. waiting for the return of Jesus,
b. the resurrection of the dead,
c. and the restoration of God’s kingdom.
1. But now everything was in ruins, Their community scattered,
1. their lives empty of everything
a. even, it would seem, the presence of God.
6. It was in the midst of his people’s emptiness
a. that the prophet spoke the words we hear in today’s first reading.
a. He pleads with God to tear open the sky and show some sign of his presence
1. Like they had waited for God to do for so long
b. He pleads with God to come and see them trying to do right
1. Like God had waited for them to do for so long.
c. He pleads with God to forgive his people who had given up
1. on the God they had believed in for so long.
d. And yet for the prophet things are not hopeless
e. For sees in their emptiness something they rest of them don’t see; He sees GOD.
1. He sees God USING their emptiness to shape them into a new people,
1. just as a potter carefully and shapes and molds clay.
7. And it was in the midst of HIS people’s emptiness
. that the gospel writer Mark wrote the words we hear in today’s Gospel;
a. In them we hear Jesus speak about servants,
b. who must wait a long time for their master to return,
1. So long in fact that they grow tired of waiting;
2. So tired that they give up and fall asleep, having decided evidently that the waiting was hopeless
c. And yet for Jesus waiting is not hopeless;
d. for he sees in the act of waiting something that the first Christians did not see.
e. Jesus sees GOD.
a. He sees God using their emptiness,
b. using their waiting to make them into a people always ready to meet God,
c. not just where they expect God to be,
d. but wherever and whenever God chooses to be.
8. Because for both the prophet and for Jesus, our emptiness and our longing are not signs of God’s absence; they are signs of God’s presence and action in our lives.
0. This Advent will be unlike any other Advent in our lives.
1. Gone are the crowded streets, the crowded subways, the crowded city filled with tourists and visitors filled with the expectation of Christmas Joy.
2. Our Advent will be quieter this year, smaller, and so will our Christmas.
3. As children our Christmases might have been filled with expectation;
a. Like my brother waiting for summers puppies – excited about something new.
4. But as adults this season might cause us to wonder if that presence of God that we felt when we were young
0. was nothing more than a childhood fantasy.
1. And yet, Is the presence of God nothing more than a childhood fantasy?
a. Yes, as long as we leave it in the glory of past memories.
1. but today the prophet, Jesus and the church offer us another way;
1. The prophet says that God is present even in the emptiness,
a. using it to shape us into a vessel that God can fill.
2. Jesus says that God is present even as we wait,
a. teaching us to watch for God not just in childhood memories, but even in the midst of these challenging times.
2. And the Church says that God is present
1. by naming these four weeks not the “Christmas Season”
2. OR “the Holiday Season” but the ADVENT season.
3. Advent is a Latin word that sometimes is translated as “Coming”
1. But REALLY the word has more of the sense of ARRIVAL.
2. In other words it is the season we celebrate all the ways that God in Jesus is already here,
3. using even our emptiness
4. even our waiting to
a. allow Christ to come to us this Christmas;
b. maybe not in all the glitter and glitz of seasons past, but
c. in words and in water, in bread and in wine, in the faces and the lives of the people we meet live with and love.
d. All of it is used by God to reveal God’s presence to us;
e. all we have to do is allow God
1. to fill the vessel God has been shaping,
2. to reward our watching with his appearing,
f. Because when that happens, we are the watchful servants Christ would have us be and we discover that every day is Christmas.