Happy Advent! The worship service is ready to go live on Sunday, November 29th at 10am! You might have gathered that this is another recorded service, but we are getting better and better with every passing week, and maybe ready to actually go live (like live streaming) by January.
Here is the worship bulletin for this service. Please note that we’re switching over to the Tree of Life communion setting, and so the page numbers are a bit messed up. The page numbers (p.) correspond to the Tree of Life booklet, but the hymn numbers (#) still correspond with the hymns in the ELW. If you’d like a Tree of Life booklet, just let me know and we can arrange something.
If you want a fuller worship experience, please have some food and drink ready for communion, a lit candle for the whole service, and if you want, a bowl of water. We aren’t doing the Thanksgiving for Baptism at this worship service, but there will be a quick marking our foreheads with the sign of the cross, should you want to participate (in which case, you’ll need that bowl of water). But please, do what works best for you and your situation.
Gracious God, we know that your Word shall never pass away but shall stand forever. May we be attentive to it, so that by the power of your Spirit we might remember your teaching and do what is right, meeting you wherever and whenever you appear, through Jesus Christ. Amen.
Sure is getting dark out there, isn’t it? I mean literally dark, not figuratively. Literally, it’s dark by around 4pm. The kids are home from school, cleaned up, and fed, and I’m just sitting down at my desk to start my work day, and it’s already dark. I have to turn the light on in my office so I could clearly see the backlit monitors of my computer. It’s just crazy how early it gets dark.
But that’s winter for you, right? Well, winter as you move further away from the equator, that is. The days get shorter, and the nights get longer, and sometimes on those really rainy days, it even feels like it is just perpetual darkness from morning to night. Cold, wet, perpetual darkness.
And it sucks.
But now that I think about it, it sure is getting figuratively dark out there too, isn’t it? Like we know it is literally dark, but it is figuratively dark as well. Figuratively, it seems like the world is now capable of more evil, people aren’t good like they were in the good ol’ days, and it is harder and harder to watch the news because let’s be honest, we’re pretty fed up with this pandemic, the political state of our country and especially of our southern neighbours, and the angry and potentially violent crazies that so often get caught on camera.
But that’s the world for you, right? Well, the world nowadays, that is. People are less moral, more evil, and sometimes it just feels like on those really bad days, it is just perpetual darkness. Evil, hopeless, perpetual darkness.
And it sucks.
We wonder if this is even it, is this how the world ends? I mean we have this plague of the coronavirus, we have nations against nations in some way or another, and the global climate is on the fritz. It’s like all the boxes for the signs that point to the end of the world are being checked off. Or at least, all the signs that we read about in the apocalyptic literature we get in our bibles.
I mean, look at the gospel text we get for today, Jesus himself says, “the sun will be darkened (check), and the moon will not give its light (check), and the stars will be falling from heaven (sort of check, depending on how you define “stars”), and the powers in the heavens will be shaken (also check, depending on how you define the powers that be).” That is sort of 4 out of 4, right there.
And let’s face it, somehow the world has this infatuation with its own end. People like hearing about the end-of-world predictions, watching end-of-world movies, and consuming all the documentaries and other media that talk about the world ending. Because like what we talked about last week, we just want to know. We want to be ready. We want to have a handle on it all so we can come out on top. Well, could this be it?
The thing is that we aren’t the first ones to ask this question. We aren’t the first to check off those boxes and cross off the items on the list and calculate just how dangerously close we are to meeting all the requirements. We aren’t the first generation to think at the end is coming during our life time. In fact, every generation since Jesus said these words thought that, because he literally said “this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place.”
So what does all this mean? Is this it? Is the world doomed? Is it all ending?
To be blunt, yes. Yes, this is it. Yes, the world is doomed. Yes, it is all ending.
But at the same time, this isn’t the first time that this was it. This isn’t the first time when the world was doomed. This isn’t the first time that everything came crashing down and it pointed to the end.
See, we get this kind of apocalyptic reading every 1st Sunday of Advent, regardless of what year it is. We get Jesus talking about the end in some shape or form. And somehow every year I’m still surprised and wondering how any of this has to do with Advent, with the upcoming Christmas season that Advent leads to, and especially the start of a new church year.
This year though, I noticed something that I never noticed before in this text for various reasons that I don’t really want to get into. But this part that caught my eye is at the end, where Jesus says to keep awake because we don’t know when the master will come. And then he gives options as to when that might be: in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn.
You mean in the evening… like when he sat with his friends for a meal?
At midnight… like when he went to the garden to pray?
At cockcrow… like when he was denied 3 times?
Or at dawn… like when he was put on trial, mocked, and led out to be executed?
See, the world has ended already, when we killed the Son of God. The world ended already, when it seemed like all hope was lost. The world ended already, when the skies got dark, the angels mourned, and evil won.
The world didn’t stay ended. The world didn’t stay dead. The world didn’t stay dark. Nor has it ever throughout history, with every generation having their world end in some way. And nor will it, this time around.
Why not? Because our faith isn’t in death, but in resurrection. Our faith isn’t in the darkness, but in the light. Our faith isn’t in hopelessness, but in the hope of a newborn babe come to us on Christmas Day.
A few weeks ago, renowned physicist Neil deGrasse Tyson posted a video that blew my mind. He simply said that he doesn’t know why people look forward to summer citing that’s when the “days get longer” because that simply isn’t true. And how people alternatively don’t look forward to the winter because that’s when the “days get shorter”, as that isn’t true either. Rather, if the first day of summer is the longest day of the year, and the first day of winter is the shortest, then that means the days actually get shorter throughout summer until we reach the winter solstice, and then throughout the winter season the days slowly get longer.
Right? *Mind blown*
Yeah it takes months, but it gets there. It isn’t overnight, it feels really slow, and the whole Daylight Savings thing doesn’t really help like it’s supposed to, but it gets there. Now as we approach the darkest of days, we can look forward to the light that comes after it.
And that is the reason for Advent being when it is. That is why we remember the birth of Christ on the arbitrary date of December 25th, mere days after the winter solstice. That is why we start every church year with this kind of apocalyptic text, because things just get brighter as we progress in our learning about God with us in Jesus through the power of the Spirit. Things get better as we see God more in the world. Things get better when we recognise Christ working in and through us, guiding us by the Spirit, pointing us to the truth of God’s grace and salvation, and filling us with the hope that surpasses understanding.
So as dark as the days can be, as dark as the world can seem, as dark as this looming pandemic can cast a shadow, we can cling onto the hope that God has never left us, that we are still connected to each other through the Spirit, and that Christ remains the shining light in our lives that the darkness cannot overcome.
Jesus meant it when he said we won’t know the day or hour, because we won’t. But we can be aware that it isn’t just one day or one hour, but many. Constant. Perpetual, even. That Christ enters into our lives again and again, when we hit rock bottom, when we are at the ends of our ropes, when we are engulfed in darkness. Christ appears full of grace, salvation, and light, freeing us from oppression and whatever might be holding us down. He just asks us to be alert enough to recognise him.
So in this season of Advent and this new church year, may we constantly be aware of God’s presence in our lives, that we might lean on the strength, love, and hope of Christ, fuelling our faith and community for the sake of the world. Thanks be to God. Amen.