The Season of Advent is perhaps the most confusing and most inspiring of our church seasons. In it, we anticipate both the coming of the Christ child at the first Christmas and the second coming of Jesus at the end of the world. It is a season in which the readings focus on the paradox between the sometimes harsh reality of the earthly world and the hopeful dreams of the heavenly realm to come. In Isaiah, the image of the wilderness as transformed by Godâs hand is described quite vividly:
âThe wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom â¦. For waters shall break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert; the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground; springs of water.â
It may be difficult for those in an urban and modern perspective, to fully appreciate how threatening the desert was to people in the time of Isaiah, and John the Baptist, but the desert wildernesses in the Middle East were places of danger and death, places to be feared and avoided.
The concept of the wilderness is not restricted to physical places. We can find ourselves in physical, emotional, financial, social, or spiritual wildernesses. Those of us who have been in one of those places know just how terrifying such a wilderness can be. Now perhaps your world is that lush valley overflowing with the proverbial milk and honey. Maybe your life is so wonderful that you cannot relate to the metaphor of the wilderness. But as we observe the world, we meet people living in the wilderness. And when you, or someone you know, is in a wilderness, you know it intensely and profoundly. It assails your spirit and challenges your faith.
Dreams: that is what Advent is about; that is what being a Christian is about. The Isaiah and Matthew passages today called the people of those times to dream of escaping the wilderness. They challenged those people â and us today â to be messengers, to be prophets, to be dreamers of a better world. The question that is timeless and universal is, how do we keep our faith, our hope and our dreams when we fall into a wilderness?
We live in a world which worships success, power, wealth and beauty. We live in a world of expectations that are sometimes difficult, if not impossible to meet. As Christians, we must realize that many of these standards and expectations are not consistent with Jesusâ life and ministry; they do not promote love, justice, and compassion, but rather lead us into the wilderness of greed, deception, and selfishness.
How do we keep our faith, our hope, and our dreams in the midst of a secular world that is a wilderness of greed, lust, injustice, and hate?
The answer is simple: prayer, study, worship, community and service.
If a parish church is at its best, if it is faithful to Christ's call, it will provide the environment to bring its members out from the wilderness. It will provide fellowship with other pilgrims and dreamers. It will nourish members by the Sacrament, the liturgy, and the preaching of the Word. Educational programs help members know Jesus more deeply so that they can follow Him more intentionally. Opportunities for service to the community are provided so that members can be the hands and feet of Christ in this world. This is why regular attendance at worship and participation in the programs of the Church are so important. This is how Christ's people are fed and strengthened for the journey through the wilderness.
What are your dreams this Advent season? What is your image of the realm of God? What are you doing to make those dreams become reality?
Today, many of the maladies of which Isaiah and John spoke have been conquered by modern medicine, science, and technology. Medicine may not have fully conquered blindness, deafness or many other diseases, but physically, we are certainly healthier than our ancestors. We still do not raise the dead, as that power is reserved for God alone, but many lives are extended by scientific discoveries. Because of advances in transportation, we are no longer in danger of being stranded in the desert wilderness, and the technology of modern irrigation systems has made barren places fruitful.
As members of a parish community, of a diocese, of a national church, as followers of Christ, all are called to work and pray to bring about a world that fulfills the ministry of Jesus Christ. What does this world look like?
It is a world described by three words: love, justice, and compassion.
In the context of todayâs society, this is a big dream. But those who share this dream are in good company. Throughout the ages, there are prophets and messengers who have held onto this dream and have given their lives to bring love, justice, and compassion to a world that rejected those values. From the monastic orders of the Middle Ages, the martyrs of the Reformation, the heroes of the Social Gospel movement, to those who struggled for civil rights, there have been people in the Church who have devoted their work and lives to proclaiming love, justice, and compassion in the name of Jesus.
This Sunday is also known as Rose Sunday as rose-colored vestments are allowed, but colloquially in the Anglican tradition, it is known as âStir Upâ Sunday from the first words of the Collect:
âStir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us; and, because we are sorely hindered by our sins, let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us.â
If we are honest with ourselves, we must admit that we all need some âstirring upâ as we find ourselves in the wilderness of contemporary society. Advent is the time to renew our dreams and to resolve to work to make those dreams become real. Does this parish have a vision, a dream, and a mission which calls its members to work to bring the love, justice, and compassion of Christ to this community and to the world beyond? Advent is the time for us to renew your commitment to this vision and this mission. If we are to accept the challenge of being followers of Christ, we must be dreamers, and we must be doers as well. Being a Christian means that we are vitally engaged in ministries that will bring the love, justice, and compassion of Jesus to the wilderness of this world. We must be prophets, messengers and ministers of the Good News of Jesus.
Our dreams are precious. In good times and bad, our vision of a better world, a world in which we experience Godâs justice and mercy, is what gives us hope and confirms our faith. Advent is the time that calls us to dream of the future coming of Christ, because we know that Jesus came to us once before. We know that the God incarnate came into a world that was sitting in darkness, a world lost in the wilderness, in the form of a vulnerable child; a child so poor that, like so many of todayâs children, he had no place to lay his head.
Let us be messengers and ministers of Godâs love, justice, and compassion in all that we say and do.
Let this be our Advent dream and hope!