Great Expectations

The Rev. Lisa Fry
St. Mark’s, Little Rock
Nov. 27, 2011
Year B, Advent 1

The church is an odd place. Have you noticed that? Just when the secular world is ramping up for a spectacular end to the year—beginning with Halloween, cruising through Thanksgiving and culminating with Christmas—the Church year has ended.

Episcopalians begin each year with Advent. These four weeks of Advent begin the church calendar year. The church seems to be telling us: our year does not begin with an arbitrary date. We are followers of Christ. Our year begins with the preparation for Christ’s coming.

But, Advent isn’t only about preparing for Christmas. It’s about preparing for the coming of Christ. In a few weeks Advent will shift to the coming of Christ in a manger in Bethlehem, but Advent always begins with preparing and waiting for Christ to come again.

“Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come.” This command of Jesus isn’t to keep awake and look busy. No, it seems to be to keep awake, and to wait. And anticipate. And expect him.

Full disclosure: waiting is not something I do very well. I don’t like waiting in lines, I don’t like waiting in doctor’s offices, I don’t like waiting for service people to come during their three hour “window”. I am not a patient person. I have things to do. People to see. Places to go.

But no: we are told to be alert! Watch! Expect me.

But time is money and waiting is costly. Our whole economy, our very lifestyles are built under the assumption that we need to eliminate waiting—for our food, for our clothing, for anything. Unless it’s Black Friday. Or the opening of “Twilight: Breaking Dawn.”

It is amazing how many of us will wait for what we feel is important. We totally “get” anticipating something we are looking forward to, something we really want to see: like a movie. We understand the need to be alert to opportunities to get some item we think we really need.

Do we anticipate Christ? We are told to be like gatekeepers who watch for the master to return. We are not told to guard the house, we are not told to arm ourselves, we are not told to protect the propert. No, we are told to watch for the master so we can LET HIM IN. It’s not about warning off burglars, it’s about welcoming the master home. Unlocking our personal doors to let God in. Expect him.

When we’re alert, we see things, we notice things. If we live expecting Christ to come, it will heighten our awareness and make us more apt to notice him when he comes in the door. When he feeds us in the Eucharist. When he shuffles by us on the street. When he is with us in the chaos.

When I was a child, we would put up Christmas lights, decorate the tree—get our annual talk about not eating tinsel—and we would put a single electric Christmas light in each window. Most houses used white lights in their windows. Later, I saw green ones, orange ones, even red ones. My family, from the earliest time I can remember, used blue lights. We turned off the tree lights and the other outdoor lights when we went to bed, but it was the custom to leave the lights burning in the windows all night long.

This was traditional in Maine. I was taught that these single candles represented the ancient tradition of putting out a welcome light for travellers who might be lost, for fisherman in the fog, or for loved ones who needed a light to guide them home after travelling. I would lie in my bed, loving the blue light, loving the fact that it meant Christmas was coming. I wasn’t anxious, I wasn’t impatient—I loved the blue anticipation.

This year we have windows in the front of our house for the first time in many years. This year I will put a single blue candle in each window. This year I will try and slow down enough to really enjoy preparing for Christ at Christmas, and for Christ’s return. This year I will put the candle out to welcome the traveller, and to guide the lost. This year I will watch for the master to LET HIM IN.

Advent, like my candles, is a season bathed in blue. Blue is reputed to be a calming color. I hope so. Because I’m not good at waiting. But this advent, I’m going to pause for a minute at the side of our bed, or while putting on my slippers or my robe, and light an inner candle. For the wandering me. For the me that sometimes feels lost. Because we never know when the master will come and how he will show himself. But we want to be prepared to throw open the door, and welcome him home.

Expect him.