Worship for November 29, 2020
You can join this week’s worship service by visiting here.
This week we will be sharing Holy Communion virtually. You are invited to have bread and juice (or whatever food you have on hand) to participate in the sacrament.
Thank you to Andy and Jenny O’Neill for sharing the gift of music with us.
Below, you’ll find Andy’s reflection for this week.
A Children’s Time video can be found here.
In these exceptional times, please do stay in touch, with us and with each other. The peace of Christ be with you all.
First Sunday of Advent
Scripture: Mark 13: 24-37
Music: “Hope is a Star”, “In the Bleak Mid-Winter”
Not all waiting is equal. The little girl standing on the sidewalk waiting for a bus is tired and fidgety. That same girl, standing on the same street, but now waiting for the Santa Claus parade, is excited and happy, eagerly anticipating the kind of excitement only imagination can conjure.
Our wait for Christmas this year is not like that of every other year. What has always been fairly familiar to us – the gatherings, the dinners, the parties, the decorating – is different this year. We have to wear masks to be in the same place, remain at a distance. We have to observe sanitizing protocols, and family coming home may have to self-isolate before we can see them.
On one hand, we’ve managed; in fact, we’ve done quite well. We’ve been largely fortunate in our region, and safe. And yet, the concern is never far from us, like a shadow one can lose sight of for a moment, but never shake. Of course, we each have personal experiences of the shadow; some of us are experiencing it now: facing the first Christmas without a loved one; the constant pressure to make ends meets; carrying the knowledge of illness through the uncertain and maddeningly long distance between diagnosis and treatment.
The difference this year is that we all, and at the same time, are also having a collective experience of that kind of shadow. In the midst of his own misery, the prophet Isaiah once implored God, “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down!” As if to say, “I’ve had enough!” This is a prayer of lament, a prayer that God can bear, a prayer that bears voicing and repeating.
This is also a prayer for change. Lament is not only a sigh of anguish, it also announces that something is wrong, that something must change. This year brought a new intensity to the Black Lives Matter movement. Our collective captivity opened our eyes and hearts a little more widely to the struggle of racialized peoples, not only in the US, but here in Canada.
Our shared vulnerability exposed cracks in our society from which we’re normally relatively protected, like the fragility of food supply chains and medical preparedness, and the need for a guaranteed basic income. Because of our shared lament, the kind of society we long for has become more clear.
Preparing for Advent, I also realized that it’s been roughly nine months that we’ve shared this experience of lament and longing. Nine months: the length of time a mother waits for new life to be born; the time between the Annunciation to Mary and the arrival of the Christ child. Now, I don’t want to diminish the seriousness of the pandemic we all face, nor of the suffering it has brought so many. And yet, I can’t help wondering this Advent, what is it we’re longing for? What are we waiting for?
Clearly, one thing we’re all waiting for is a cure, and a reliable treatment. My son, Jonathan, and I talked the other day about what we would do, first thing, once we’re not living under the cloud of COVID anymore. He thought he might like to go bowling, I said I miss going to the movies. Then we both agreed – just having dinner, or a BBQ with our friends. In a way, we look forward to life returning to something like normal, where we can see our friends and family without fearing that we might become, or make them, sick.
But we also talked about what we’ve discovered during this time. As a family, we’ve gotten to spend more time together, do more building and reading together, more walking and playing together. It’s been hard, too, but overall we feel stronger as a family. As a minister I’ve learned to be better about asking for help, and to be more honest about how much I can do and more forthright when I can’t do any more. In a personal way, then, I might describe this time as having offered simplicity and honesty.
In the reading for this week, Jesus tells his disciples that the Son of God will come as a surprise, “like a thief in the night.” We will know that it’s happening, though, because there will be signs. “The sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, stars will (fall) from heaven and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.” It all sounds rather dire and, in a way, it’s meant to sound that way, in order to stir not fear, but action.
Because these signs Jesus points to are not once in a millennia, but are always happening. There is always something blotting out sun, moon and stars, from literal eclipses, forest fires, skyscrapers and pollution to corruption, injustice, violence and greed. Yet, there is also and always the coming of the Son of God, the unveiling of truth and the invitation to mercy and love. There is always, and at the same time, the Word of love being spoken into our midst and into our lives. A light still shines, and the shadows cannot overcome it.
And where and when it arrives will surprise us, catch us off guard, disrupt our passive waiting and longing and demand our attention and engagement. It turns our shaking heads at the poor into helping hands to collect food, to build houses, to find clothing. It turns pen and paper into a letter for a political prisoner’s release. It turns our heads to see those waiting on the forgotten edges of life, and our hearts to restore them to the centre of community and love. It turns the humble elements of bread and cup into symbols of our collective transformation.
This is why not all waiting is equal. This is why Jesus implores his disciples not to wait, but to watch, to be alert, to observe, to notice what is happening around us and within us. Not simply the problems – the signs of the times – but of what they lodge (or dislodge) in us. What does your experience teach you, what fire does it spark in you, what are you moved to do?
The 14c. mystic, Meister Eckhart, once wrote, “We are all meant to be mothers of God. What good is it to me if this eternal birth of the divine Son takes place unceasingly but does not take place within myself? And what good is it to me if Mary is full of grace if I am not also full of grace? What good is it to me for the Creator to give birth to his Son if I also do not give birth to him in my time and my culture? This, then, is the fullness of time. When the Son of God is begotten in us.”
Faith, then, is being awake to God within and among us, God with us. At Advent, we pray, O come, O come, Emmanuel; not only then, but now; not only now, but in the days to come. In our lament, in our joy. In our grief and in our discovery. In the stranger, in our friend. At the table of Christ, at our own tables. Under the stars at Bethlehem and under ours.
God is here, the time is now, and all creation is ready to rejoice. Amen.