Friday, December 01, 2017

The Creation of Advent

An Invitation to the Season

Salvation extends far beyond the human. Although we humans are attracted to the salvation peculiarly offered through that human being Jesus Christ, we realize that salvation is more than just a promise of eternal life for humans. Salvation is bigger: it is all of creation restored, made whole, healed and at peace. And this is in part because we are a part of, and not separate from, creation itself.

As a preacher, I probably make the mistake of too frequently focusing on how the gospel impacts human beings. It’s a natural mistake. It’s easiest for us to think out of our own frame of reference (the human), and harder for us to consider how the gospel connects with the non-human: mountains, angels, stars, forests, creatures of all kinds.

And yet the poet reminds us in Joy to the World that “heaven and nature sing” and “fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains repeat the sounding joy.”

The Scripture we hear during Advent focuses our attention on God’s loving connection to all of creation. Mountains quake at God’s presence. Clay is formed by the potter. Even boiling water and kindling for fire participate in the praise of God (Isaiah 64:1-9). At the great and glorious day, the sun will be darkened, stars will fall, angels will fly out, the winds will gather, fig trees will teach, roosters will preach (Mark 13:24-37). The river Jordan becomes the means of forgiveness and atonement, leather and camel hair amplify the baptist’s message, the wilderness itself becomes the pulpit (Mark 1:1-8). Valleys will be lifted up, mountains will be made low, uneven ground will become level, grasses and sheep become the communities over which God’s Word hovers and cares (Isaiah 40:1-11). 

And those are just the creation references for the first two Sundays of Advent. Clearly, all of creation is part of the gospel message, and it is all of creation that sings the Advent song.

There are many references to creation in the liturgy also… and even more than the creation we can directly experience. Even as we discover more and more stars, galaxies, universes, planets, quarks, and elemental particles, I am reminded that every Sunday in the liturgy the pastor names the cherubim and seraphim as members of the great choir together with whom we sing around the throne of God. Although most of us have not directly experienced cherubim or seraphim (or dragons or unicorns for that matter), naming them in the liturgy becomes a way to live in the space between what we can see and know, and what we cannot see and yet can name and trust.

God’s creation is always far larger than we know. The maps used to read “here be dragons” along all the regions as yet unexplored. Advent is an excellent season to set sail into the lesser known regions and meet, God-willing, the better angels of our fantasy, and all creation with them. Perhaps in this way, mindful of salvation as the healing of all of creation, we might better participate in such healing, experience such healing ourselves, created as we are, beloved creatures God is currently healing.

Here are the ways you can experience Advent at Good Shepherd:

On December 3rd, 10th, and 17th, we host Advent worship services at 9 and 11 a.m. In these liturgies, we sing the great songs of the seasons, light the Advent wreath, and reflect on texts from the gospel of Mark and Isaiah that accentuate all of creation’s participation in Christ’s healing work. On December 10th, during the 10 a.m. education hour, our Sunday school program hosts a Puerto Rican Christmas Pageant and Disaster Relief Fundraiser. On the 17th, our choirs and ensembles host their annual Christmas Concert at the 11 a.m. service.

On December 6th and 13th, we host Advent soup suppers. These simply suppers are a fund-raiser for the high school youth traveling to Houston next summer for the ELCA National Youth Gathering. Bring a soup to share if you wish, supper is at 6 p.m., Holden Evening Prayer at 6:30 p.m. 

On the 20th of December, we host a Longest Night service. While Advent is a season of hope and Christmas is a season of joy, not everyone feels hopeful. Grief, illness, aging, depression, loneliness, unemployment, and loss are magnified. In the Northern Hemisphere, December 21 is the longest night, the winter solstice. It marks the shortest day of the year, the official start of winter. Tradition says that nature and all her creatures stop and hold their breath to see if the sun will turn back from its wanderings, if the days will lengthen and the earth will once again feel the sun’s warmth. On this darkest day of the year, we come with our honest yearnings seeking the return of light and hope.

We conclude the Advent season with the great celebration of Christmas Eve, with a contemporary service at 9 a.m. Sunday morning December 24th, and two candlelight services at 4:30 and 7 p.m. The following Sunday, December 31st, we host a special 9 a.m. service of Lessons and Carols.

Throughout all of it, we will remain mindful of the depth and breadth of God’s saving work, who in and through Christ is working the healing of the whole cosmos.

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