by The Rev. Laura Thornton
Today is the third Sunday of Advent, that season if waiting and watching. The way we talk about Advent with children in Godly Play is about getting ready to enter the mystery of Christmas. It is such a big mystery of God becoming human that we need time to prepare, to get ourselves ready.
So traditionally, for the church, these four weeks are reminding us to slow down, to pay attention, to wait. This year, however, it feels like we’ve been waiting for the last 10 months!
Many people I’ve talked to are feeling worn out waiting to see family and friends, waiting for test results, waiting to be able to travel again, waiting for businesses to open, waiting for a vaccine, waiting for election results.
And before we even finished eating our Halloween candy, there was a desire to hang up some Christmas lights! Not everyone is doing that, and there is no judgement here about either way. Some of us need time to rest and be still in the dark right now. And other of us need to go ahead and decorate to get some of that jolly holiday spirit going. Wherever you are in Advent, there is good news today. The candle we light today is for JOY. Those other three candles are purple or blue, royal colors to represent the royalty of Jesus as well as the solemn time of Advent. In Godly Play we say, it is a serious time, because something serious is about happen, a King is coming, but not like the king they expected. He was not a king with a huge army. Think of every movie you’ve seen of the king dressed in full armor with the biggest helmet, feathers and flags flying, leading his people into battle.
That was not Jesus. In fact, Jesus came as the very opposite of that image. A baby, born in a barn with some animals around, his mother and father, and a few shepherds who show up. I image those first few days were spent in a cozy heap together, trying to stay safe and warm, holding the baby, feeding the baby, sleeping when they could. And even if there were glances of fear shared between Mary and Joseph, there was also, I image, deep JOY. If you have had a baby enter your life in any way, you know that it is mesmerizing to look into their little faces, to count their little fingers and toes, to watch them sleep, to see them smile. On this third Sunday of Advent, instead of the serious purple candles, we have a rose colored candle. The candle of Joy. It is here to remind us that Advent is not all serious and dark and quiet. There is joy, celebration, excitement in the midst of our waiting.
Several years ago, I walked into church and headed to the vesting room where where we put on our robes/albs and stoles for worship. As I past through the room where our acolytes were getting ready, one of the mom’s greeted me. Good morning, good morning! How are you? I love your necklace, the colors are beautiful!, I said to her. At which point she took off the necklace and handed it to me. It was long with various sizes of oval shapes in beautiful blues and greens.
“It’s yours”, she said. “It was given to me by another teacher and now I’m passing it on to you.”
I tried to say no, but she persisted, she told me that she had admired the necklace on her friend and the friend had given it to her. So I put on this fabulous necklace and wore it many times over the following weeks. Each day that I wore it I was waiting for someone to admire it in just the way I had admired it. I was expecting to give it away, just as it had been given to me.
And then one day, in the midst of Advent, I ran a quick errand to The Container Store. I did not feel rushed, I had time to shop, time to wait in line, to pay for my items. Then as I was taking my receipt, the cashier looked at me and said those words. “I love your necklace, the colors are beautiful.” I took off the necklace, told her the story of how it had been given to me, and gave it to her. She was grateful and surprised. As I walked out the door, her coworkers were gathering around to find out what had just happened. There was excitement in the air and I felt blessed and thankful for the opportunity to share something with a stranger.
I tell this story because it embodies the waiting and excitement that is Advent.
We are holding both of those things right now- the waiting and the excitement. And I would argue that it’s not about finding balance between them. It’s about paying attention inside ourselves to know when we need the quiet waiting and when we need the joy and excitement.
In our readings for today, we hear about John baptizing people in the Jordan River. They must be excited, they are coming out in great numbers to be baptized by John. And when he is asked by the religious leaders, Who are you?? His answer is about all about Advent, I am preparing the way for the one who is coming, he is so much greater that I am not worthy to untie his sandal. John was in the midst of the waiting and the excitement. And Paul, in his letter to Thessalonians, says, Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances. Doing all of those things at the same time, rejoicing, praying, giving thanks.
There is the beauty and the difficulty of Advent, especially in this pandemic year. It can not be all about waiting and praying and the darkness. There is also excitement and rejoicing. It can not be all about celebration and joy. There is also reflection and rest and sadness and fear. And we don’t go back and forth so cleanly—-it is a mess of feelings especially this year. Theologian Henri Nouwen writes, “Joy is the experience of knowing that you are unconditionally loved and that nothing — sickness, failure, emotional distress, oppression, war, or even death — can take that love away.”
In this season of Advent, there can be joy in the waiting. There can be joy in the midst of sorrow and fear. I hope and pray that we will all find some moments of joy this week. It is all part of understanding that great mystery of Christmas.