November 29, 2015 – The Rev. James Richardson

Every Sunday morning, I am on the road to church before dawn.

This morning, the sky was a deep, indigo blue. A bright morning star shimmered just above Orion’s belt.

I had to stop and look for a time at the spectacle of God’s creation just above my head in the time before the dawn.

Today begins the season of Advent, the time before an even more amazing dawn, the time of expectancy awaiting the light coming into the world: The birth of the Christ child.

I like to think of the deep indigo sky before dawn as the color of Advent. To me, it symbolizes the hope of Advent – the time of waiting for the birth of Christ’s promise of hope and healing into our world.

Even in the darkness, we can see glimmers of light in the deep indigo sky, if only we stop and look.

Advent is a time of stopping and looking outward for the God around us. It is not the same as Lent, a penitential time of looking inward.

Advent is not a mini-Lent or Lent-light – rather it is its own season, a season to stop, look up and be alert.

The two perspectives are not mutually exclusive – we should always look inward for the God within us, and always outward for the God around us. Consider this season of Advent more a degree of emphasis on the outward.

And as you do, look for the dawn of Christ’s light in all whom you meet, and everywhere you go. What you seek is right in front of you – stop and look.

The name “Emmanuel” means God dwelling with us – God who comes to us, living with us as a human being, Jesus, to show us that death has no power over us.

Yet, we also know that sometimes God is hard to see, hard to feel, and maybe that is especially true now in a time of uncertainty, a time of fear, violence, terror and war.

God can feel very distant in so many places right now. Our world lives in a time before the dawn.

Jesus has an answer for us: Stop looking at your feet. Look up: “Be alert!” Open your eyes and ears! God is dwelling with us – cracking open our hearts and minds so that we will see the grace around us and in us.

A light will soon shine, dawn will breaks open upon us, and Jesus comes into this world to show us a way to live without fear that will bring hope and healing to the world.

This is a time to redouble our commitment to be followers of the Christ who is already in our world.

That is why this morning we will renew the pledges of our baptismal covenant. Hear again these promises to be faithful in the prayers; to share in the breaking of the bread; to “respect the dignity of every human being;” and to “love our neighbors as ourselves.”

The privilege of our baptism is the privilege of our promises.

Where others practice the world’s gospel of greed and selfishness, we are called to practice Jesus’s gospel of servanthood and generosity.

Where others cower in fear and pessimism, we are called to live with courage and hope.

Where others preach violence and vengenance, we are called to preach peace and forgiveness.

Where others spread hate, we are called to surround hate with love and force it to surrender.

In short, we are called to be disciples of Jesus, not just consumers of religion.

We don’t have to do everything, but we can do something, and we can do it in our daily lives and work.

We can start here with each other: This is a season of stress for many people, and holiday cheer can be in short supply.

Let’s be good to each other, slow to anger, patient and kind in our words and actions.

And let’s give ourselves a break when we fall short, as surely we will. Let the little stuff go.

And let’s listen for Jesus in each other and in ourselves. To truly be followers of Christ means to do just that.

When we recite the baptismal covenant in a short while, I’d like you to notice something else. It begins with the Apostle’s Creed, which is subtly different from the Nicene Creed which we usually recite on Sundays.

The Nicene Creed is quite abstract, written to settle Christological arguments in the Fourth Century.

But the Apostle’s Creed is written as a story.

The story begins with creation, and we hear of how the Holy Spirit brings forth the life of Christ and his death of the Cross.

From here we hear the story of the Holy Spirit living through the “Communion of saints” – and that would be us.

This is an open-ended story – and we continue to write this story by how, in the face of our challenges, we fulfill our baptismal promises.

The challenges we confront are really not new. The earliest Christians lived in a world where life was short and cheap. St. Paul had a few things to say about how to live that resonate into our own time.

This morning we hear Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians. Scholars consider this letter the oldest document in the New Testament, and the first of Paul’s letters to be preserved.

As always, Paul wrapped everything in prayer. Hear again his prayer for us and consider holding this close to you this Advent:

“May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you.

“And may he so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.”

Today is Advent, the time before the dawn, the time of the deep blue sky. Be alert! Put on the Armor of Light! The Lord is truly near! Abound in love for another and for all! AMEN.