Jesus said, “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

Today we begin another church year; We enter again into the familiar cycle that begins again as it does each year… if you are new to this tradition, just listen, watch, and wait… it will become clearer…

Or, maybe it won’t. Santa Clause has come to town; lights are up, Cyber Monday comes on the heels of Black Friday… For some, the cycle that has begun is one of anxiety, spending beyond our means, and disappointment that this wasn’t the year that everything would be perfect, or that happiness didn’t come from a red stocking. That is NOT the cycle that I wish upon any of us, and yet I know for some, that is exactly what will happen.

Advent, these weeks before Christmas, are a time of in-between… a time when the story of Scripture, our story goes backwards for a bit; we begin at the end of Jesus’ ministry and we work our way back to the beginning, where we end the season on our knees at the manger, staring in wonder at the gift the feeding trough contains… but not so fast beloved; there is work to be done… if we have been around a while we know that we are in a dark but holy time where we are reminded that we also wait for Jesus to come again… in our gospel we hear that there will be signs that will help us to see that the time is drawing near, but also… that we do not quite know when, or how.

The world has tried to wrestle this time away from us by trying to cover up the world we would rather not see. Even some of our traditions have been taken over by consumerism and false promises. Did you know that this year you can purchase an Advent Calendar that features various products by Coco Chanel? Yes, for a mere $825.00 you can have 24 little boxes featuring Chanel no.5 fragrance and make up. Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I LOVE CHANEL No. 5. I have a bottle of it at home that I received 2 Christmases ago. At the rate I am using it, I shouldn’t need another bottle for about 10 years. But… as wonderful as that fragrance is, it does nothing to help me to watch, wait, and prepare. Love is not found in it’s beautiful bottle; hope is not spread throughout the world as we inhale it’s fragrant notes; an 825 dollar advent calendar is a mockery of everything this season is about. It’s not about feeding our emptiness with gadgets and things… maybe instead we should think about giving more and emptying ourselves even more so that there will be room for him… room for the one we wait for both in his second coming in glory and in his humble birth on a dark night in Nazareth.

We need to empty ourselves of so many things, don’t you think? Jesus is larger than life, and so the more room we make in our hearts, minds, and souls… the more we will be in relationship with him. I know I need to work through resentments and feelings of inadequacy. I need to remember that my continued sobriety depends on me being able to clean my spiritual house on a regular basis… and so in this time of almost…. Already… not yet… as we enter the darkness of this season, we light holy candles to remind us that the light has come into the world, and we make space within us to let his eternal light banish the darkness within.

Our reading from the gospel sounds a bit harsh doesn’t it? Signs of fear, foreboding, the earth trembling… Does that sound familiar? I think so. These last months that seem to go on and on have shown us the worst the world has to offer. We have watched as all of the things of nightmares have become reality. More illness, more death, divisions between friends and family; we have watched as people we trust have tried to put out false information causing more death and division; we have watches as innocent men, women, and children have been gunned down just because of the color of their skin; children are killing; businesses are closing; I could go on, you know what the headlines are. It seems like the signs are here. I know I have said on more than one occasion over the last while, “Hey boss, I don’t know what you’re waiting for, but now would be good.”

But here’s the thing; we are followers of Jesus who was raised from the dead on the third day just when his friends thought all was lost. We are an Easter people. That doesn’t mean that we do not see the world for what it sometimes is; it doesn’t mean that we deny the pain and suffering around us or even in our own lives. BUT… it DOES mean that as an Easter people, we are people of HOPE. As followers of Jesus, it means that we can hold our suffering and the suffering of others in one hand while we cling with everything we have to the hope of Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, and very much alive, because even in the midst of darkness, God’s light shines, and God promises that our redemption is near, because in Jesus GOD IS NEAR. Emmanuel means GOD WITH US; God with us in all that we do, all that we are, even in the darkest of times, there is always hope, there is always light, there is always, always, Jesus, who is Emmanuel, God with us.

Beloved, I know that this time of year can be very difficult for so many of us. There are unfulfilled wishes, lost relationships; our commercialist culture has us believing that all will be well with one more thing, or an 825 dollar advent calendar that smells really good. Please know that if you just need to reach out and talk, if you need space to grieve or to be angry, that I will be ready to give you that space and be with you in it. I don’t have answers… all I have is me, and the hope of a God who loves us enough to be in that space as well.

Come, O Come, Emmanuel.