The Sanctuary of the Season
The Rev. Jennifer Adams – November 27, 2016
Advent 1, Year A: Matthew 24:36-44
This morning is the start of a New Year in the Church, the First Sunday of Advent. So, this morning is a beginning for us. You can see we are decked out in blue (thank you Altar Guild.) And thank you Grace for these still new vestments. The color of the season surrounds us reminding us of this new day. We’ve also shifted from the gospel of Luke into the Gospel of Matthew which will be read on most Sundays this year. The Advent wreath has been hung and the first candle lit as we begin our movement toward the celebration of Christ’s birth and look forward to His coming again.
Now this approach to the breaking in of a New Year is a little different than how we do it out there on January 1st. No confetti here. No dropping a big ball. No popping champagne. No parades. No big, loud shouts of Happy New Year here. In fact it’s almost the opposite. In here, there’s an invitation into the darkness of this season. We make space here together for quiet and a sort of holy reverence as our anticipation is invited to take the form of prayer. We light candles and we do it one at a time as we pray for and allow for hope to ease its way back into our souls.
Which is different than out there. Because out there there are lists to be made and presents to be bought (none of which is bad, by the way, just different than what we are about in here.) Out there there are lines and parties, exam weeks (sorry guys,) travels and lots and lots of lights as things amp up on a daily and sometimes hourly basis. But in here we adopt another approach as our anticipation and our preparation take the form of prayer. We’re making room, creating space in ourselves and in our lives. We’re lighting candles, and we’re doing it slowly, one at a time as we pray for and allow for hope to ease its way back into our souls.
As much as any other time of the year, during Advent we’re reminded that this space is sanctuary, a space set apart for a prayerful, hopeful, reverent approach to life and faith. Maybe because we’re as counter-cultural as ever during this season it’s more obvious, maybe because we need it this season as much as any other time of the year – whatever the reason, during Advent something very obviously different happens in here and we should claim it with all that we’ve got! During Advent we re-sanctuary ourselves.
In here we’re invited into the darkness of this season, and while there’s a sermon to be preached on darkness as evil to be avoided or fought against, that’s not my take this morning. Darkness can mean rest; we need darkness to have real and deep, healing sleep. We need genuine rest in order to be awake, to be the kind of alert that our gospel calls us to. Recent studies show that we actually need more darkness than we get these days. Given the expansion of artificial light, almost 70% of Europe and North America never experience true darkness at all. Most seeds actually need darkness in order to grow; and so do people. Darkness can mean quiet and while we talk about “the dark” as something to fear, there can be a safety, a peacefulness in darkness too. Darkness itself can be a form of sanctuary.
Darkness invites us see differently – to adjust our eyes and our hearts to take in parts of this world and of life that we don’t normally notice. It takes darkness to be able to see the stars, to see worlds beyond our own and to remind ourselves of our place in it. And so we gather in here this season and allow a bit of gentle wonder to take hold of us. We watch and we wait lighting just one candle at a time and allowing hope to ease its way back into our souls.
In here this season we have nothing to do but pray. When we walk through those doors that’s what we ask of each other, that’s what we invite one another into – space in which our only work is prayer. When you walk through these doors, let things go more than you usually do – everything else is on hold for now, for this now. We can be as busy if not busier than as the next guy, almost as if business itself were a competition, but Advent invites us to something else as our anticipation, our preparation takes the form of prayer. We slow down and we light candles in the darkness, one at a time. We become sanctuary and we allow for wonder and hope to ease its way back into our souls.
In here we speak our prayers and we sing our prayers, sometimes we whisper our prayers in utterances that only God can hear. The Passing of the Peace and the offering itself are prayers of thanks as we gather around a table at which all is gift, all are gift, all is grace. The silence that weaves its way into our service is prayer too.
And so, Happy New Year, everyone. And welcome into a holy sort of intentional, grace-filled new beginning for us all. I see you in the darkness and am grateful for you. I will light candles with you one at a time, and with you I will help our space be prayerful and reverent. I look forward to Christ’s coming again, and as my eyes adjust I see that He is here among us already, working through us even now. Be sure to notice the stars this season. Take time to wonder a bit these weeks. Pray your prayers and allow for hope to find its way back into your soul.
May God shape us into the sanctuary we have been called to be as we walk through this season of darkness, aware of the gifts to be had, the many gifts to be shared as we go.