Today we find ourselves on the opening day of Advent. Let's take a look at the patterns of life that this season offers us. In the name of God: Father. Son, and Holy Spirit.
Looking around the church, we may well see the traditional signs of Advent: blue vestments and hangings, dried flowers on the altar, the Advent wreath. What does it mean when we light another candle each Sunday, first one, then two, then three, then four; when we see dried flowers on the altar and the blue hangings and vestments of this time of year? Just what do these observances suggest? They are rituals of waiting and wonder.
The church year does not start with something that has happened, such as Christ's birth or resurrection -- something from the past that becomes present once again. The church year starts, instead, with a strange emptiness, a strange sense of expectation. The church year starts with waiting and wonder.
We wait and wonder. Unless we do this, we will find no real reason for celebration. Waiting and wondering are signs of a heart that lives, a heart that remains open to God. Yet waiting and wondering are not much spoken about. They are not honored among us.
Who are the people in this world who wait? They are powerless people. They have no choice but to wait. The possibility of becoming one of these people makes us uncomfortable. Who are the people in this world who wonder? They are small children. Their eyes widen with wonder. The prospect of behaving in this way makes us uncomfortable, too.
To have it made in today's society means not waiting, not wondering. Making it means you are too busy to wait, too important. Making it means you are too smart to wonder, too adult. We want it all now. We find it impossible to wait for anyone or anything. And surprises make us uncomfortable. We avoid experiences of wonder. It's easy to screen them out.
But what makes us afraid? What keeps our pace fast, our vision narrow? Why do we avoid waiting and wondering as though they were a turn down a one-way street marked DO NOT ENTER? It is because waiting and wondering open us to the possibility that current arrangements are not here to stay. It is because waiting and wondering make us realize that solid structures (for which we have worked so diligently) come apart and might give way to something unexpected.
So waiting and wonder provide the church year with a powerful start. We are disoriented, as though we were spinning in a circle. We experience both dread and delight. To wait and to wonder do not prepare us for the blank spaces on a new calendar. They do not train us to keep a schedule. Instead, waiting and wonder prepare us for a life where God acts, where the unexpected future is unfolded as if it were a mysterious treasure map -- which, of course, it is.
When we accept the Advent's invitation to wait and wonder, we find ourselves in good company, with others who have tasted dread and delight. There are many such people here in Advent. This week Jesus tells his disciples he will return at an unexpected time. He will arrive like a burglar breaking into a house. The disciples are left to wait and wonder.
Next week, John the Baptist announces that someone is coming whose shoes, John says, he is not worthy to shine, somebody who is going to set things straight -- big time! Those listening to John can only wait and wonder. On the Third Sunday of Advent, John, locked in a prison cell, agonizes over the identity of Jesus. Is Jesus the promised one or not? John waits and he wonders.
Then, on this season's final Sunday, Joseph hears in a dream that Mary's scandalous pregnancy will somehow fulfill God's purpose. Joseph arises to wait and wonder.
Will you and I wait? Will we wonder? Not only now, in Advent, but during all the days to come? What opportunities will we have? For some of us, there comes that winter night when newly fallen snow makes the world small and quiet, and crisp, cold greets us in the face. We will leave boot prints behind us in the snow. The black sky hosts only a few small silver stars. It's easy then to wait and wonder.
Another opportunity comes once the services have been celebrated, the gifts opened, the dinner eaten, and in the living room the decorated tree is left to stand guard. Tired and at peace, we may choose to go to bed for a Christmas nap. And when we lie down, we are not only people in our prime, but the old men and women we may become, and the children we once were. About to drift off into black velvet slumber, we may wait and wonder for a moment about the Christ who was, and is, and ever shall be -- the beginning and end of all our dreams.
The candles of Advent, the dried flowers on the altar, the blue hangings and vestments -- all of them invite us to wait, to wonder, to look for Christ. He was born in an obscure barn in Bethlehem. He will come with great glory when this world folds up forever. Now he is hidden where he can be found only by those who wonder and wait.
I have spoken these words to you in the name of the One who is at the bottom of all our waiting and wonder: the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.