Is 40:1-5, 9-11

Ps 85:9-10, 11-12, 13-14

2 Pt 3:8-14

Mk 1:1-8


For those of us who live in the northern hemisphere, advent comes at one of the darkest times of the year.  Today, here in New York, the sun set before 4:30 PM, and the days will continue to grow shorter and shorter for almost three more weeks.  In conditions like these, it is difficult to remain hopeful.  And yet, in this season of darkness advent is primarily a time for cultivating hope.

Advent is a season for noticing the darkness in ourselves and in our world.  It is a time to be conscious of how deeply we long for God to banish that darkness.  I think that many of us have been conscious of darkness recently as events have unfolded in Ferguson, Missouri and more recently in a Staten Island grand jury room .  We have watched and been filled with disappointment or dismay or anger or despair at the realization of how deeply the social sin of racism remains embedded in our society and in ourselves.  We are sickened and saddened at the ongoing violence and brutality in the Middle East or by any number of other ways that the universal dignity of all human life is disregarded on a regular basis.  On some days, it may seem that everywhere we turn we see injustice, or misery, or violence, or human failure.

As we encounter all of this darkness, it is appropriate to experience a kind of mourning.  Reflecting on Matthew 5:4 in his book Lament for a Son, the philosopher and theologian Nicholas Wolterstorff wrote:

Blessed are those who mourn… Who then are the mourners? The mourners are those who have caught a glimpse of God’s new day, who ache with all their being for that new day’s coming, and break out into tears when confronted with its absence. They are the ones who realize that in God’s realm of peace there is no one blind and who ache whenever they see someone unseeing. They are the ones who realize that in God’s realm there is no one hungry and ache whenever they see someone starving. They are the ones who realize that the in God’s realm there is no one falsely accused and who ache whenever they see someone imprisoned unjustly… They are the ones who realize that in God’s realm of peace there is neither death nor tears and who ache whenever they see someone crying tears over death.

To mourn is to encounter the depths of the darkness of this world, but also to know that death and despair will not have the final word.  Advent is the season for this kind of mournful anticipation.

This Sunday’s readings make it quite clear that the Christian hope is grounded ultimately in God.  We do not hope because we think that some day we will build up a perfect society of our own making.  We do not hope because we think that eventually education will wipe away every prejudice and injustice.  We hope because we believe that ultimately God will make things right.  “…The heavens will be dissolved in flames and the elements melted by fire.  But according to his promise we await new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:12-13).  This is not to say that we are not called to do everything we can to make our world more like God’s kingdom.  We are called to do that – “conducting [ourselves] in holiness and devotion.”  But let us be thankful that our own salvation and the redemption of the world do not depend primarily upon our own goodness and abilities, but upon God.  “Here comes with power the Lord God, who rules by his strong arm; here is his reward with him, his recompense before him.  Like a shepherd he feeds his flock; in his arms he gathers the lambs, carrying them in his bosom, and leading the ewes with care.”  In these dark days, let us remain hopeful as we wait for that embrace.