Welcome to Advent.

Welcome to the waiting.

Welcome to the struggle of faith against fear.

Welcome to the struggle of light against darkness.

Welcome to the call of God to live into a hidden reality based on God’s promises.

Welcome to the waiting. Advent is a season of waiting. And so, right from jump, we have to acknowledge that this is a countercultural season. Our culture is not at all about waiting. We are a people who want what we want when we want it. Instant credit. Instant foods. Instant gratification. We can’t even wait for Thanksgiving to be done before we begin our Christmas shopping. Black Friday is quickly becoming no longer “a thing” as more and more stores are opening on Thanksgiving evening, or even late afternoon. Our computers, tablets, smart phones and other devices, all connected to the internet, give us instant access to worlds of information. Our television and radio stations begin playing Christmas programming way before Thanksgiving in many cases. Waiting for something is no longer considered a value. The old saying, “Good things come to them that wait” is quickly being replaced by the idea that, “Good things come to them that go out and get ‘em!”

But here we gather in an instant gratification world and we wait.

Welcome to the struggle of faith against fear.

On this first week in Advent in Year B, a year we spend mostly in Mark’s Gospel, we read Mark’s so-called “little apocalypse” from chapter 13, a text full of fearful images – a darkened sun, stars falling from the heavens, the heavens being shaken – and all of this coming unexpectedly on those who are not staying awake and aware!

I can’t read this without thinking about the many ways the world has changed over the past 13 years, how we’re constantly bombarded with messages reminding us that we’re in danger, we need to watch out, report anything suspicious, don’t trust strangers, and for that matter, watch out for your neighbors, too, because the new threat is homegrown terrorism, to say nothing of cyberterrorism – the possibility that our financial institutions, our utilities, even our nuclear and military facilities are at risk of being hacked by enemies foreign and domestic. And then there’s the risk of our identities being compromised by hackers who gain access to our personal information, including credit cards and banking information through hacking the computer systems of stores like we’ve seen with Home Depot and Target.

And the thing is, these are all real threats, and we shouldn’t minimize them. There are plenty of other dangers in the world. But as God’s people, we are never to be a people of fear! As God’s people, we are called to be a people of faith! For, you see, faith dispels fear, especially faith properly understood as trust in God. Like Luther says in the Small Catechism, the 1st Commandment, “you shall have no other God’s besides me” means: “we are to fear, love and trust God above all things.” And as part of that trust, we acknowledge that it is God who provides all that we need as daily bread. And Luther explains what daily bread means in this way:

“Everything included in the necessities and nourishment for our bodies, such as food, drink, clothing, shoes, house, farm, fields, livestock, money, property, an upright spouse, upright children, upright members of the household, upright and faithful rulers, good government, good weather, peace, health, decency, honor, good friends, faithful neighbors, and the like.”

This is our faithful answer to those who engage in fearmongering.

And so here we gather in a fearful, fear-filled world, and we wait, and we proclaim faith, trusting in God above all else.

Welcome to the struggle of light against darkness.

The fear of the dark is nearly universal for children. Most adults grow out of it, though some continue to struggle with it. But, of course, physical darkness is only one form of darkness, and, quite frankly, it’s probably the easiest form of darkness to address. Flip a light switch. Strike a match. Light a candle. Turn on the flashlight app on your smartphone, and the darkness goes away – the hidden recesses of your surroundings are illuminated.

But what about the other forms of darkness we face? What about the darkness of depression? Loneliness? Mourning?

What about the darkness of the world? The fact that well over a decade after the start of the Iraq war, we’re increasing our involvement and our troop numbers there yet again?

What about the houses being bulldozed in East Jerusalem – the houses of Palestinians living there, some of whom are our sisters and brothers in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land who continue to face injustice, and violence, and oppression?

What about those who die each day from hunger and preventable diseases – about 21,000 people a day according to the UN and Oxfam?

What about the 51.2 million forcibly displaced people in the world – the highest number of refugees in world history?

What about people who get caught in the middle of things they neither caused nor contributed to, like the citizens of Ferguson, MO?

What about families whose lives will never be the same because of gun violence, racism gang and drug activity?

What about people born into systems that ensnare all but a lucky few into generational poverty and hunger, deprivation and need?

What about those struggling with uncertainty from unemployment, to chronic illness, to the suffering of loved ones?

We gather in these days of darkness, even as the natural world gets darker, and we wait, and we proclaim faith, trusting in God above all else, and we light candles – one more each week. It might not look like much, but it’s what we have, and so we do it as a symbol of our defiant trust in the promises of God!

Welcome to the call of God to live into a hidden reality based on God’s promises.

To a people dwelling in the deep darknesses of life, and of our world, we offer what we have:

  • a desperate cry in the midst of lament, “O that you, you who are our Father, our potter, our forgiving Lord who will not remember our iniquities forever, O that you, who are that God, O that you would tear open the heavens and come down!
  • And the defiantly trust-filled act of lighting candles on a wreath, even as the days hasten toward the darkness of the winter solstice, the shortest and darkest day of the year.
  • And the promises of the God in whom we place our trust, the One we fear, love and trust above all others, promises listed by Paul in our reading from 1 Corinthians: You have been enriched in Christ. You are not lacking in any spiritual gift. God in Christ will strengthen you to the end. God is faithful. You were called into the fellowship of God’s Son. We have these promises, and we stand on them, no matter how dark the darkness grows, trusting that, even when the promises of God, and, for that matter, even when God’s own self, seems so hidden that we’re tempted to join Isaiah in his lament of accusation against God: “You have hidden your face from us, and have delivered us into the hand of our iniquity!” we are called by God to live, more and more deeply into the reality of God’s hidden promises.Welcome to the waiting.

Welcome to the struggle of faith against fear.

Welcome to the struggle of light against darkness.

Welcome to the call of God to live into a hidden reality based on God’s promises.

Welcome to Advent. Amen.