First Sunday in Advent
Rev. Kit Billings
November 28, 2004
When his time of service was completed, he returned home. After this his wife Elizabeth became pregnant and for five months remained in seclusion. "The Lord has done this for me," she said. "In these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people." Luke 1:23-25
I hope and pray that your Thanksgiving celebrations with friends or family were joyous and meaningful—I can share with you that they were for me indeed. To be honest with you, I am in awe of how thankful I feel inside this year for both how the Lord is working with me and helping me as your pastor (in part because of the great spirit and love I feel in our congregation), but also for the great gift of my wife, Penny, and for our precious little baby girl (who seems to be having a splendid time in her mommy's womb these days!). Indeed, Thanksgiving is a gladsome time, and I pray (as did my friend Robert the other day) that we each may turn to God often to share our thankfulness to Him for the ways we find ourselves blessed and growing in His goodness and wisdom.
According to our worldly calendars we have not yet started the New Year; that happens on January 1st. But with the start of the Advent Season, the religious calendars of Christianity start anew! Everything in Christendom revolves around the promise of the Advent of God's birth into our world as the promised Savior, and then the birth of the baby Jesus who made darkness into light. Now we enter a time of waiting and expectation, of making preparations for celebrating the good news of Christ born into our world, the Savior of all people.
Being able to wait with hope and faith is quite basic to enjoying a spiritual path in life. In a society that specializes in almost everything being provided by “on demand” service, it can seem rather counter-culture to now advocate the spiritual growth we gain by honoring our need to sometimes wait on God, in faith that He will come. This morning I'd like to talk with you for a little while about what is born, in part, as we wait patiently on God to help His children in the timing He sees is right. For indeed, waiting and birthing are interwoven cycles of life.
For those whose spiritual eyes recognize the spiritual Light shining into the world through the writings of Emanuel Swedenborg, writings that open up God's Word and reveal its inner meaning like finding treasure hidden in a field, there is a Second Advent of Christ that is celebrated as well every year. That is, the Lord's Second (albeit cosmic) Coming, which fulfilled the Lord's Last Judgment, and has stabilized all life everywhere for a final time as we are taught. Those who take the time to investigate how vital and awesome it is to not only engage the literal aspect of the Holy Bible (which tells of such wondrous things as the promised birth of the Savior to a humble couple named Joseph and Mary) but also to delve deeply into the inner meaning of God's Word (which deals with our own minds as spiritual lands in need of God's personal ministry, power and healing going to work on us in a similar way as Jesus went to work in Palestine some 2004 years ago), understand that any major Advent of God into life is something to ponder and celebrate.
Indeed, it is true that each year we come to encounter the great story of God-Messiah being born into our world we open ourselves to something special and enriching.
The Bible describes dramatically, in both its literal and inner levels of meaning, that there has been the need in the long history of humanity on earth for God to Advent more than once. But only once did it happen that God came to our aid by being born into our world as a little baby, and that baby was Christ, the Light of the world. Four different times have things gotten so dark and troubled, when spiritual love and truth here on earth came extremely close to being wiped out altogether, that our Creator needed to step into life in a profound way and lift our lives from the grave, you might say. Long, long ago, after the first human beings had chosen over time to love selfishness and their own irrational thinking over and above God's unselfish love and sound, spiritual thinking, there arose a “flood” of falseness and evil. Humanity flooded itself with cruelty and evil, which nearly wiped our ancient ancestors off the face of this planet. And the flood was so great and so terrible, the great mythical story of Noah and the Ark was born to describe how God intervened and started anew in a new era of hope and faith.
“And God said, `This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life. Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.'” (Gen. 9:12,13)
That was how the Lord intervened in the very ancient days of human life on earth, when spiritual love and light were being drowned out by sin and cruelty. God came to humanity when things were at their worst. And there is something else similar to the Great Flood and the Advent stories in Christmas, and that is how with each great intervention on God's part into human life and history we read about long periods of waiting in anticipation of some wonderful coming anew. In the story of Noah we read how Noah, his family, and all the pairs of animals on their ark had to ride out the great rain storm for forty days. And then it was another fourteen days before they were able to step foot again upon dry ground, after the raven and the dove did their helpful work.
We all need waiting and expectation in our lives in order to more deeply enjoy the fulfillment that comes later, once God has helped us to learn and grow in various ways. We see the theme of useful and important waiting in many places in life. We see it so well in the nine months of waiting that expectant mothers and fathers endure, as they wait to gaze upon their new baby for the very first time. We see it in the long days of winter, in the slumber of Mother Nature, who needs time to prepare for the new burst of glorious life that comes with the onset of Spring. We see intentional waiting in the Old Testament story of Abraham and Sarah who waited long into their elderly years before God granted their prayers for their son, Isaac. We see also in the Old Testament the hundreds of years of waiting and waiting by the Hebrews enslaved in Egypt before the Lord sent them their liberator Moses to rescue them from hardship. One kind of gets the hint here that the Lord is often on a different timetable than we humans are willing to embrace.
And so we read in Psalm 37:7 in connection with this theme: “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him.…” The inner light of truth from all of these biblical stories dawns as we begin to realize that all of these great stories about God answering prayers for new babies or for deliverance from evil signifies that every one of us owes the Lord our thanks for the new births of spiritual love and understanding that come our way, just as both heaven and earth owe our gratitude to God that Jesus Christ was born and placed humbly into a manger to be the Light of the world on Christmas day.
In Luke's Gospel this morning we read about another person who was blessed to be waiting on God's miracles, and her name was Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist. We read in verse 24 that “Elizabeth conceived and for five months she kept to herself, saying, `The Lord has done this for me.'”
We are wise to keep in mind that part of the normal, healthy spiritual journey is to accept and try to enjoy times of “pregnant waiting.” We should have patience for both our own and other's spiritual growth and development, while being realistic that movement and change should ultimately come. We need to develop much patience for the timing that God chooses to use. And when we can open ourselves to this timeless reminder given in the Advent story of waiting and anticipation we make room for something else in our hearts that God cares very deeply for—and that, of course, is a real feeling and sense of HOPE inside. When we try hard to push God around and force the Lord into our particular timing and method of accomplishing, we create dissention and chaos in our minds. A spirit of hope comes when we trust that God has our world and our personal lives in His hands, and we can expect the Lord to bring new births to bear in both the natural and spiritual degrees of our lives.
God knows that every one of us has a lot of work and responsibility and effort to bring to the Lord's campaign of spreading His good will everywhere on earth. The only way for humanity to enjoy a greatly expanding power and presence of God's Kingdom on earth is for us to cooperate with God and for God to cooperate and work with us. Both parties are needed for things to go extremely well here in the natural world. But let us not become idolaters of always feeling that action only is the way to go. The Advent story, as well as many others in God's Holy Word, reminds us that waiting and birthing are intertwined in life. Waiting patiently on God, once prayer and our share of the work is complete, is a skill we are being pruned to find. Advent waiting helps the joy of celebrating Christ's birth grow into something beyond our scope of imagination.
I can't think of any more crucial time in life to make use of
spiritual waiting and patience than within the spiritual wars and
battles we run into within the inner journeys we tread. As you know
so well I'm sure, when we feel desperate inside for help and
support, perhaps when an addiction of some kind is fiercely
wielding its ugly head, it is easy to want the Lord to swoop in
like superman flying through the air and end our struggle right
now! But sometimes the Lord may have important growth in mind
for us by means of the gradual struggles we endure. And we read in
Psalm 40:1-2, “I waited patiently for the LORD; he
turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a
firm place to stand.”
And so, as you wait patiently and with hope for celebrating Christ's birth into our world, what kinds of spiritual, worldly or mental forms of waiting are you seeing going on in your own inner world these days? Are you waiting to find new work perhaps, a new form of employment? Are you waiting for a new depth or power of spiritual discernment or love to come to life, which you desperately need? Have you or someone that you know recently been deeply hurt or wounded in some way, and so waiting for inward healing to happen ways heavy on your heart today.
Whatever the kind of waiting you find yourself dealing with, you can take heart in the example that both Elizabeth and Mary bring in the greatest story ever told. The good news of God was coming to them and their people to save the world from enslavement to sin. God Himself, who had entered spiritual life in major ways two prior times in history (revealed through the great myths of the Lord intervening in the story of Adam and Eve being expelled from the Garden of Eden and through God's intervention in the Flood in the story of Noah and the Ark) came again through the wonderful true story of God conceiving His Son in the womb of a simple peasant teenager, named Mary. And with this awesome story the Lord God of the universe entered mysteriously in a new way into our finite degree of life. Is there not a great and powerful infusion of Divine love, peace and goodness you find by personally engaging the miracle we call Christmas? A power and presence of the Divine (a new gift of Divine Love) that reaches us through the story of the infant Jesus being born in Bethlehem.
We are wise to trust in God. We are wise to have faith in His timing. And we can rejoice one day when that new birth, in whatever form it will take, enters our consciousness in deep fulfillment and grace. New births, both natural ones and spiritual ones, are born with waiting. And God is the master architect of it all.
May your journey into Advent this season be filled with wonderment, hope and anticipation, while you wait faithfully on God to come. Amen.