The other night I left church after an evening meeting, and there was what I call an Advent sky. Even though it wasn’t quite Advent, I knew we were close. It was cold outside and crisp with lack of humidity. The sky is the deepest of blue, and yet there is a hint of light in it that makes you think you could almost see to the end of the galaxy if you squinted and looked hard enough. The moon was beautifully bright like a beacon in the sky. There has to be something about the atmospheric pressure or conditions that make it so bright. Was it like this, I wonder, on the night Christ was born?
Bethlehem is nestled in big rolling hills. When we were there, we stood on one of the hills near a little shepherd’s hut built into the side of it. It was an ancient structure – a place for the shepherds to sleep and have shelter. Their fire for cooking and warmth was just outside. The place was still in use and had probably been there when Jesus was born. As I stood on the hillside overlooking Bethlehem, I could really imagine one of the bright winter skies with a big bright star hanging low in the sky – beckoning to the shepherds that were there that night. I thought about poor, poverty-stricken Bethlehem, walled off from Israel by a huge concrete wall that confines them and keeps them out. It was covered with graffiti – mostly poetry. It was the saddest poetry I ever read. In fact, the sadness of the world hangs heavy there. It has been a few years since I was there, but last year pictures of Armenian and Orthodox clergy beating each other over the heads with brooms in some kind of territorial fight. Jesus wept, I feel sure.
0Back to the shepherds standing on their hillside on the night the Jesus was born – suddenly there angels everywhere – heavenly hosts – singing and telling those shepherds to stop being so afraid. It would have scared me half to death to have them suddenly appear. Mary was surely so terrified to see the Angel Gabriel when he visited her to tell her that she would bear a holy son.
Advent calls us to a sweet and silent waiting with a little ripple of fear built in – much like Mary’s waiting for her little Christ to arrive. We gather warm clothes around us to protect us from the evening chill, and we wait and prepare ourselves for the welcoming of Mary’s Christ Child into our own hearts. There is a certain promise with his coming even when we are Advent veterans. Every Advent is different. There are no repeats if we truly enter into the process or participate in expectation. And we should expect a miracle! My heat skips a beat when I anticipate renewal. What will it mean for all of us this year – for me and for you and for our life together? I have enormous excitement about our envisioning work and about where we are going as a parish. I am so grateful for all of you!
“He is coming again! He is coming again!” Look sharp so you won’t miss the coming of the Kingdom again this year. See this babe with new eyes. Be open to new vistas of faith within you. Let the Christ lead you deeper into his Kingdom. Prepare your heart in the early dark and quiet of Advent nights for he is coming again very soon.