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The 3rd Sunday of Advent; Isaiah 61:1–4, 8–11

I have quoted Frederick Buechner, the Presbyterian pastor, author, and in my opinion modern mystic, before. Let me share another of his poetic insights,

[Advent] is like the hush in a theatre just before the curtain rises. It is like the hazy ring around the winter moon that means the coming of snow which will turn the night into silver. “Advent” means “coming” of course, and the promise of Advent is that what is coming is an unimaginable invasion. The mythology of our age has to do with flying saucers and invasions from outer space, and that is unimaginable enough. But what is upon us now is even more so – a close encounter not of the third kind but of a different kind all together. An invasion of holiness. That is what Advent is about.

We have grown accustomed to invasions. Within most of our lifetimes there was Normandy over sixty years ago. Then Korea, Vietnam, the Bay of Pigs in Cuba. In recent times we have been spectators to an invasion of the Falkland Islands, of Panama, of Kuwait by Iraq, and in reply an invasion of Iraq by the U.S. We were almost daily participants at a so-called humanitarian invasion of Somalia, and then an invasion of Haiti. Lately, we’ve been bystanders to and then participants in an invasion of Afghanistan, and then yet another invasion of Iraq. And, I’ve certainly missed one or two or more in that catalogue!

Less militaristically, right now we have other invasions to content with. The advertising flyers of Christmas keep marching through our door or into our mailbox. By every imaginable manoeuvre the marketers bombard us with messages to get us into the malls and into their version of the holiday spirit. On-line, the forces of Amazon, and lesser web retailers, surround us and follow us no matter where we go. And then there is the charitable cause invasion – the innumerable requests for year-end donations that pile up on our desks or in our voice-mail and e-mail like invading troops on a beach.

I wonder just where and how “the hush in the theatre before the curtain rises” finds a place in our lives long enough for us to listen for the invasion of holiness. Where and how does Advent, in this sense of a hushed waiting, happen for us? How and where do we detach from the mythology of our age? How do we disengage from the invasions of our time, our space, our screens, our life, our home, our world, (even our bank account!), long enough to see “the hazy ring around the winter moon that means the coming of snow which will turn the night into silver”?

The Lutheran pastor and martyr during the German 3rd Reich, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, wrote a letter from prison shortly before Christmas 1943, in which he said,

Life in a prison cell reminds me a great deal of Advent. One waits and hopes and putters around. But in the end, what we do is of little consequence. The door is shut, and it can only be opened from the outside.

The message of Advent is that the door is indeed shut, and can only be opened from the outside – and God is doing something about it – something ultimate and decisive for all creation. The rescue operation is underway. The invasion is about to happen. The curtain is rising. The silvery snow is falling, and if we hush our lives long enough and be still enough, we will experience the invasion of holiness which is our hope and salvation.

Goodness is brought to the oppressed; liberty is proclaimed to captives and release to prisoners; the garland is prepared for those who mourn; and the oil of gladness is ready for the anointing of the world. The garment of salvation and the robe of righteousness are waiting to be put upon us. The Lord is coming to the help of his servant Israel; the Lord has remembered his promise of mercy; the promise made to our ancestors is coming true! Stay awake! Be present! Move to the edge of your seat! The hidden is about to be made visible! The ultimate invasion is coming!

Henri Nouwen the Roman Catholic priest, author, mystic, and strong influence within the L’Arche communities movement wrote,

All action ends in passion because the response to our action is out of our hands. That is the mystery of work, the mystery of love, the mystery of friendship, the mystery of community – they always involve waiting. And that is the mystery of Jesus’ love. God is revealed in Jesus as the one who waits for our response. Precisely in that waiting the intensity of God’s love is revealed to us. If God forced us to love, we would not really be lovers.

The difference in God’s invasion – the invasion of holiness – from the invasions of military might and the invasions of the world into our lives is that God reveres our freedom, respects our dignity. Advent proclaims the coming of God in Christ, but it is a coming to set creation free from sin and death – not to overpower or subjugate. God is not an invader by force, not a conqueror! Therein lies the risk of love, the risk of Advent, the risk of salvation.

Will God come to us in the power of holiness and find us unheeding? Will he find us acting as if our salvation lies at the mall, or in the catalogues, on-line, or in the frantic pace of the holiday spirit? Or will God come among us and find us actively waiting, open and present to the Mystery of all mysteries? Will God find us “making straight the way of the Lord,” or heading straight down the road to the next sale? Are we paying attention to the Light that is coming into the world, or to a hundred other lesser lights (and yes, screens!) that dim the reality of that coming Light?
In other words, when the Lord comes, will we be ready? Ready, not by doing, but by waiting! Annie Dillard, the American poet wrote,

I cannot cause light; the most I can do is try to put myself in the path of its beam.

That is our Advent preparation, our Advent waiting, that when the Light comes, it will shine on us!

Amen! Come, Lord Jesus. Amen!

Copyright ©2017 by Gerry Mueller.