The Rev. Tom Baker
St. Andrew’s, Mountain Home, Ark
Nov. 27, 2011
First Sunday in Advent, Year B
From generation to generation Israel experienced exile and occupation. The Egyptians, worshipers of Baal, the Romans all made the Jewish people feel as if they were in a long, cold, dark winter. They waited for the Messiah like one waits for spring and summer. For over sixty years at every Passover celebration Simeon would hear, “Wait until next year; things will be better next year.” All through his life he yearned; yearned for the promise that he would see the Messiah. That he and his people would finally be out from under Roman repression; would be able to worship God freely, have their own country. He waited with anticipation that God would not leave him alone; that the promise of God would become flesh and blood. With acing feet and back, worn down by life, he hobbled to the temple wondering if he ever, with his own eyes, see the Messiah. A hole was in his heart; and he questioned if it ever would be healed?
A young girl named Mary she wondered when her life would finally begin. Like so many girls in backwater Galilee she yearned to sit with the married women in the synagogue instead of always being treated like a little girl. Mary is excited and scared all at once. She is excited for the day when her parents will introduce her to her husband. She is afraid life for her will always be filled Roman soldiers caring spears as they walk past her home. Every day she yearned; she yearned to see if a good husband, a home of her own, and a child to care for would fill the hole in her heart. She yearned for her future to finally begin.
In the Gospel we met the disciples of Jesus, feeling dwarfed by the walls and pillars of the great temple, as they listened to the master’s words that soon the glory of God would explode into their lives. Jesus extols them to stay awake; to keep their eyes open. The presence of God that has always been felt in the majesty of the temple can also be experienced, Jesus says, in a tender branch sprouting forth a tiny green leaf. The Disciples had dreamt of this moment. After all their walking; all the wrestling matches with the Pharisees, and all their questioning they finally reached Jerusalem. The reign of God, that they all had yearned for so long, could be beginning. It was too good to believe; could the hole that was within their hearts – the hole that first drove them to drop their fishing nets and follow Jesus – be filled by the one standing there in front of them?
These well-known stories from Scripture about Simeon, Mary, and the disciples have been told over and over. We’ve heard them many times before. But these stories are about events that took place in a far away land and in a far away time. They are stories about people far removed from our everyday life and experiences. After all the aging Simeon never had to deal with Medicare; Mary’s underage and questionable pregnancy never landed her on Dr. Phil; and the disciples never dreamt that a sale on flat screen TV’s would cause more riots than the Romans. Do these stories, so far removed from us, have anything to say to us?
An elderly man goes to his doctor who send him to a specialist, who then admits him in the hospital, from there he is taken to the nursing home “For rehabilitation,” they say. Finally at home again he can’t eat because of the medications he is on and grows weak, he goes back to the doctor, and the whole vicious circle begins again. During his seventh visit to our hospital in the past year I visit him and he tells me about trying to cope with losing his independence, losing his savings, losing his wife. Like Simeon he feels lost, alone, scared. He yearns not to be alone, he yearns for healing, and he yearns for a normal life. Like Simeon, he is a man of deep faith who finds God even within all his yearnings. In the darkness of his yearnings he is able to see the Light of the world.
The Labor and Delivery unit calls me; a patient had asked to see the chaplain. Entering her room I’m shocked to see an extremely young girl holding her newborn son. Filled with excitement and, I can see a little dread, she says we needed to talk. After talking for a while she shares that her pregnancy had severed the ties between her and her parents. She also tells me that her boyfriend wasn’t there to witness the birth of their son or to give her support because he was deer hunting. She began to yearn for reconciliation with her parents. She yearned that her boyfriend would be a good father. She yearned for a family that would love and support her. Like Mary, she was filled with excitement and worry and within all her yearnings she felt the presence of God. She allowed her yearnings to draw her closer to a God who would always love her.
Advent has always been my favorite season. In our church’s calendar it marks the beginning of the liturgical year – the beginning of our life as the church. I realize Advent can be a confusing. After all, I’m wearing purple vestments and, here at St. Andrews, we didn’t sing the Gloria; both practices our church follows in Lent. Many can understand Advent as a sort of mini Lent, a time for repentance and examination. Even today’s Gospel reading filled with images of the end of the world would make anyone get their affairs in order. Did you notice that Jesus wasn’t telling us when the world would end; that’s only for God to know. Jesus asks the disciples, asks us, to open our eyes and see the presence of God that is all around us. To see God in waiting for the budding of leaves of summer; a symbol for the yearnings of our hearts.
I love Advent because it is a season filled with yearning; and everyone knows about yearning. Simeon knew what it was to have to wait for the Savior just as the elderly man I met in the hospital knew what it was to yearn for better health and a return to independence. Mary, and the girl I visited in Labor and Delivery, both yearned for a fuller life filled with all its dangers and promises. Like all of us the disciples yearned for things to be different, things to be better.
We all yearn: be it for a piece of our favorite pie, even after Thanksgiving, for that beautiful dress, that new suit, or that new luxury car. We yearn for good health, for a visit from far away family. Many today yearn for a job, ways to make their money stretch further, a slow pace of life. We yearn to heal old wounds that have cut us off from one another. To be human is to yearn. During the Christmas season we are bombarded with the message that our yearnings for meaning, purpose, to love and be loved can only be filled by buying the newest electronic gadget, powerful new smart computer, glowing diamonds, or latest toy. It seems even Madison Avenue advertisers know everyone yearns.
Allow all the yearnings you have, especially in this season, to lead you to God. My prayer is that the age old message of Advent: the glowing candles of the wreath, the yearnings of Simeon and Mary, and the scared words of scripture to “Prepare the way of the Lord” remind us that within our own yearnings we can see and experience the presence of God. For underneath every one of our yearnings, be they simple or great, is our yearning for God. Jesus asks us to stay awake and find the glory of God even in those moments of our yearnings. We all yearn; our hearts have a hole that only God can fill – and that is the message of Advent. Amen