Well, there is nothing to bring on Advent
like waiting for a baby to be born,
and nothing harder than trying to write a sermon
than when your daughter is in labor.
Young Declan Miller-Uueda was born on Thursday morning –
which is my sermon-writing time – a healthy boy
with a happy, healthy mom and dad holding him.
Needless to say, gramma is there now,
and I will be soon.
I want to say, “Thank you!”
for the incredibly thoughtful surprise grandparents shower
you gave us in anticipation of his birth.
My daughter, Anne, and her husband, Dan,
were also touched by the kindness of people
they don’t even know
extending the love of community across the miles.
T.S. Eliot had a thing in his poetry about the unity of time –
it was a theological thing.
Eliot was deeply theological, an Anglican’s Anglican.
In fact, when I was in seminary
I took a semester course just on Eliot’s “Four Quartets.”
The only other semester course devoted to one person,
at least that I can remember, was to Paul.
I don’t think Jesus even had one whole semester
devoted just to him!
Anyway, Eliot had this notion of the unity of time –
that past, present, and future
are or will be one.
He plays with that idea over and over and over again.
It is, what I call, “a thoughtwall.”
Now, just so you know,
that piece from Little Gidding we heard this morning,
Eliot wrote with Pentecost in mind.
But his quivering over TIME speaks of Advent too.
Advent is a thoughtwall,
because both the beginning
and end of TIME
are thoughts that seem impossible
to climb over or to peek over to the other side.
That strain of eschatology that runs through the bible,
some of which we call apocalyptic –
like that passage we read from Luke this morning,
and even the eye-squinting prophecy
from Jeremiah that imagines the future –
finger and fiddle with TIME
like a knot of fishing line.
From way, way back in human history,
we have been mesmerized by TIME
and tried to make sense of the relationship
between past, present, and future.
If we think about it,
even the mythology of heaven and hell and morality
is simply playing different notes on the same keyboard.
We try to make sense of the relationship
between what is happening now,
with what happens after we die,
and how all that hangs together
with the entire communion of saints.
Our ideas and theories
about the Afterlife
are only one of many unsuccessful human efforts
and making peace
with the past, present, and future.
T. S. Eliot was trying to do the same thing
in his poetry,
and I confess,
this sermon is a similar quivering.
But all of our speculations about TIME
are wrapped up with our smallness
as we huddle beneath the vast expanse of interstellar space.
We want toknow,
and we want to understand
and we want to have some sense of influence or control,
but we are just so very small.
My little grandson, Declan,
is cradled beneath a huge, impenetrable cosmos
of powers and forces,
elements and dynamics
before which he is completely powerless.
And truth be told, sixty years into the future
when he will be a full-grown man, God-willing,
that powerlessness before the cosmos will still be true.
That is a truth, a fact of our very existence,
and if it changes at all over time,
it is only infinitesimally.
Did you see the news articles
about the object hurling through space
from another solar system,
and passing by Earth
on its way to yet another solar system?
It was an oblong shape
measured to be 750 feet long
by 115 feet wide, reddish in color,
and made of metal.
In fact, some Harvard scientists
are speculating it is a “light sail” –
literally, a probe sailing on solar power
sent from intelligent sources
from another solar system.
Meanwhile, I look out at the oak tree
at the edge of my yard,
squirrels unselfconsciously poking around in the snow
scratching for nuts without an inkling
of solar probes in the vast reaches of space beyond us.
The difference between those squirrels and us
is not all that great
when we start widening our perspective
outward onto the universe.
Or my dog,
sitting at the window staring at the squirrels
with not one bit of an inkling
that TIME extends beyond that moment,
or that space lengthens
into billions of light years beyond her yard.
You and I, in the grand scheme of intelligence,
are not that much more sophisticated
than my dog or those squirrels,
and not that much more capable
of unpacking what is
and is not
If we can crawl up to that truth,
the hard and scary fact of our smallness,
we can begin to feel authentic humility,
and what it means to be in awe–
or as the ancients called it,
standing in the “fear of the Lord.”
By fear, they did not mean afraid, exactly.
They meant something more like that shaking,
shuttering joy I felt
even hundreds of miles away
from where Declan was born.
What I am trying unsuccessfully to point to,
to help us actually touch,
is a feeling –
or maybe it is more of a moment.
It is that moment of being awakened,
when something opens us, and out rushes…amazement.
Advent is best appreciated
as an embrace with that feeling – or experience –
rather than as an explanation
or some concept.
It is like Eliot’s effort to unify past, present, and future –
we can’t really do it
but trying to wrap our minds around it
brings us, sometimes, if we are lucky,
into that experience.
Maybe, it is more like looking
at a candle flame or the fire-light in the dark.
We can sit there thinking about fire,
and what we know about the physics and chemistry
that makes it possible
for wood or wax or wick to burn.
We can explain it
or we can enter the light –
literally, allow our thoughts to enter the flame
We can encounter the light
within the darkness and experienceit,
or we can miss that encounter and simply
remain in the explanation of it.
That is what I mean about embracing Advent.
This is where the church-thing we do
and spiritual community, is subversive.
We operate on a different level
but we do so in plain sight.
We begin a new year
and we start a new season
while everyone around us is still in ordinary time –
just going about their business
as if nothing had happened.
But we know something has happened,
and it is beyond rationality.
Something has happened,
and it is beyond normal awareness.
We are too small to see it
or hear it
or understand it,
but on some intuitive, maybe even musical level,
we know it is happening.
So we ritualize it –
and then we wait to see if, suddenly,
we will be forced open
and something like a wind will rise up from within us
and blow out in what can only be called amazement.
It sounds whacky and crazy, I know,
but that is what we are doing here
on an ordinary Sunday in this former wine bar
sharing prayers, song, and Eucharist.
So, I invite you into Advent,
not as an idea
or with some twenty-five cent theological explanation.
But as an experience.
Allowing ourselves to become open
to our smallness,
open to awe and joy
and unutterable amazement
before the window on deep space
or in the presence of a new born.
It brings a clog to our throat
and a stinging tear to our eyes
and somewhere inside we call out,
or quietly whisper,
“Thanks be to God.”