Monday, November 26, 2007

Advent 1A

We started Advent a little early at Saint Andrew's Upper and Middle Schools this year... The acolytes and readers helped with the sermon by blowing on noise makers when the sermon began...

Isaiah 2:1-5; Psalm 122; Romans 13:8-14; Matthew 24:37-44

Happy New Year!!

That reading from Romans did say Now is the moment for you to wake from sleep – so I’m just checking on you!!

Happy New Year!!

It’s actually a little hard to know how to mark a year in the life of our school. August to May, of course, is the way we do it for grades and grade levels and graduation. But then there is January, when the calendar announces that a new year has arrived and we’ll spend the next month trying to remember to put ’08 instead of ’07 on everything. And here at Saint Andrew’s, because we are by name an Episcopal school, we have yet another new year’s day to mark – today. Happy New Year!!

Today we are marking the beginning of the season of Advent, the four weeks during which Christians prepare for the coming of Emmanuel, which means God-with-us. Advent is the start of a new year for us, because we go back to the beginning of the story of our faith, long before there were shepherds abiding in the field, long before a stable was filled with light, long before an angel announced that Mary would have a baby boy. We go back to a time when the world was for very many people a dark place, and God’s people prayed that God would come and with great power make things right again. We recall the words of the prophets, like Isaiah, who spoke of a new day when there would be peace between nations and justice for all people. Finally, near the end of the season, we will tell the familiar story of angels and dreams and announcements and songs, such as the one Mary sang about the child she would bear, about the new thing God was doing: God has cast down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up the lowly. God has filled the hungry with good things, and has sent the rich away empty. God has come to the help of the faithful, for God has always promised to show mercy.

The start of a new school year, the start of a new calendar year, and the season of Advent, the start of a new church year, are all filled with hope and expectation and preparation – we want it to be a good year, right? We want to be ready for what the new year will bring.

I spent several New Year’s Eves (the December 31st ones) at an Episcopal youth retreat in the mountains of North Carolina. We always started the night in the chapel, warm from the glow of candles and the excitement of the evening. We filled that place to the rafters with our worship and especially our music, singing and clapping and dancing, and then we danced our way through the icy cold air to the hall where the big party was waiting, and we danced some more and counted down the hours then the minutes then the seconds to the new year. The night was full of noise and celebration. Some time after midnight, we walked back toward our cabins, and I remember noticing how silent and dark and still it was underneath the trees. Through the bare branches, I could see the stars like silver lights in the blackest sky, making that darkness dazzle with joy and hope as the new year was just beginning.

Many years later, when I was in seminary, I spent several New Year’s Eves in New York City, surrounded by mountains not of trees but of concrete and steel. There, the stillness was inside our warm little apartment and the noise and celebration were outside in the cold, where just a few blocks away thousands of people were dancing and clapping in Times Square. But then, most nights were something like that in New York City. It didn’t have to be New Year’s Eve. There was always noise – the hum of traffic, the rumbling of the subway, the whine of car alarms, the wail of fire engines, the roar of airplanes flying low over the Hudson, the voices of people talking, arguing, laughing, singing, or yelling in the streets…

Advent, like any new year, like any day of our lives throughout the year, is full of contrasts – there is hope and fear, stillness and noise, light and dark, expectation and anxiety, preparation and feeling unprepared. And even as Christians are preparing especially for that silent night, that midnight clear, when Emmanuel, God-with-us, must have been anything but silent as he tested out his newborn lungs, we can all prepare for the unique ways in which God comes into our lives each and every day. Because this, too, is what Advent marks – God with us now, God with us here. How can we make ourselves ready for God to be God-with-us, on mountaintops and on city streets, in stables and on stage, in congregations and in classrooms and in community, in joy and in grief, in rare silences and constant sound?

In this place, at this school, through our studies and our teamwork, through our friendships and our service to others and through all that we do here, we are preparing ourselves to live as light in dark places, as peacefulness in noisy places, as hope in fearful places. God is with us. Happy new year!

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