I found the three purple candles and one rose candle in a box of old Sunday School supplies. I unwrapped them, pulling them from clinging cellophane and gently pushed their bases into a circular holder. I next stepped outside into an icy breeze and snipped greens from a fir we planted twenty years ago. I wove the bits of greenery around the candles and set my Advent wreathe in the middle of our dining table.
Today is the First Sunday in Advent, the first of four Sundays that prepare us for the first advent of Christ Jesus in Bethlehem. On these four Sundays it is traditional to consider the four last events of man: Death, Judgment, Heaven, and Hell. In this way we prepare for the second advent of Christ Jesus upon this Earth, when a New Heaven and New Earth ushers in the Kingdom of God. In this way we prepare for our own death, face our own mortality.
It is a serious time, with serious themes, and particularly appropriate to our world today, our world of pandemic, unrest, division, and unbelief. It is a time for prayer, and Americans are lifting their voices, praying for our country, praying for protection from the violence in our streets, the violence on our campuses, the violence in our hearts. We pray for peace. We pray for freedom.
And so, today our preacher considered Death, the first theme.
It is a subject we hide from, as can be seen in the modern American rituals of death, the whisking away of the corpse to be cremated and no longer considered, the memorial service replacing the Christian funeral rites. Yet death comes to all of us, often with little warning. We do not know the hour or the day or the year we will journey into another world.
As our preacher mentioned this morning, all we know about where we are going when we die is what we have been told by the one who has been there and returned: Jesus of Nazareth, who died and came back to life. Witnesses testify that this itinerant preacher, onetime carpenter, performed miracles of healing and resurrection from the dead. This Jesus, as recorded in the Gospels by contemporaries, informs us that Heaven has many mansions – rooms – prepared for us. He tells us to be not afraid, for He is with us always, even unto the end of the Earth.
Advent is a cosmic, cold and wintry time, a time of watching for the coming of Christ not only in Bethlehem, not only in the last days, but in our hearts. We are told that the Son of God wants to abide in us: we in Him, He in us. He loves us. He desires to be with and within His creation.
This year the Advent Season is also a time of great fear in our land, fear of the unknown, fear of this virus that robs our breath and clings to our cells in unknown ways, fear of death following close on our heels. Some have said after months of battling the fear of the pandemic, and the pandemic itself, through questionable lockdowns, masks, and distancing, our fears have become a virus as well, worse than the Chinese Flu. Fear has shuttered shops and eateries and inns, theaters and sports and gyms. Fear has denied workers work, worshipers worship, and the worst of all, denied the dying their family and friends.
Also this year, the Advent Season in America is a time of cleaning up our elections, as though seeing that dirty windows needed washing. We are proving to the world that we have legal systems that help us clean up dirty elections, dirty voting. We are proud of our democracy, our electoral system, and will not allow excess dirt to bury it. We will not succumb to bullying and extortion. But we are also a loving, trusting people, so we often allow the systems to clog with grime before we decide enough is enough, and we decide to clean our house. This is that time. This is that year of wintry cleaning in Advent.
And so the Christian world pauses for a brief moment in the midst of battle to reflect on where we are today, where we have come from, and where we are going. We pause to clean out our own hearts as well, our own houses with our own dirty windows. We confess. We repent. We accept forgiveness. We invite the Lord of Lords into our hearts as we consider the mansions He has promised for those who repent, for those who choose Him, choose Love, choose Truth, choose Life, choose the only Way through the cross.
Advent prepares us for these great events, these four last things that we all will face. Alongside, in our prayers and our words and our testimonies, we will suffer with the nation as the nation suffers, we will uphold her freedom to worship and assemble peacefully, and we will shine a light on the great sin of our time, the ongoing genocide of the unborn, every minute of every day. We will walk the Way, with the Truth, and the Life, into the Light.
For we are told, again and again, that Jesus is the Way, that no one sees the Father unless through Christ himself.
Christians are unafraid of fear, for we have faced the ultimate fear, our own death. We have embraced the antidote to the virus of fear, Christ and his promise of eternity.
And so we walk the Way to Christmas, to Christ’s first advent in Bethlehem. As we light that first candle tonight, we pray, Come Lord Jesus, Come.