The First Sunday of Advent – God’s Path of Peace
Sunday 27th November 2016 (Year A)
By Rev. Andrew Mintern
The Season of Advent begins – a season of preparation; a season of wakefulness. “Keep awake” Jesus says to his disciples “you do not know on what day your Lord is coming”; and, “the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour”. What are we to make of this sense of wakefulness that we must have as disciples? Are we expected to live constantly on tenter-hooks? What sort of living is that? Or is it and invitation to another way of being?
People hear what they are listening for.
I’m reminded of a story told by the wonderful Trappist monk and writer, Henri Nouwen. He tells of an experience of going to meet a Native American friend of his who had come from a reservation to the city for meeting and they were meeting in a busy city square. They were to meet at lunchtime on a work day so the square was crowded with office workers on their lunch hour. It took Henri a while to spot his friend and then he did see him sitting quietly and still amongst the hustle and bustle of the lunchtime crowds, he was gazing upwards thoughtfully. Henri went over and greeted his friend and asked: “what are you doing?”
“Oh I was just listening to that bird up there.” Came the reply.
Henri looked up and eventually saw a small bird perched on a ledge several stories up and exclaimed in wonder: “how on earth can you hear that bird over all this busyness down here?”
His friend wordlessly took out a few small coins out of his pocket and tossed them on the ground. They made a barely audible clink as they hit the pavement but immediately some street-kids swooped on them and disappeared again into the crowd.
“People hear what they are listening for.” His friend responded quietly.
Stop and listen for God
That story is a wonderful illustration that always stays with me. People hear what they are listening for. I think that story also says a great deal about the waiting of Advent. Advent offers us a chance in the hustle and bustle of this season to tune our ears (and our hearts) to listen and wait for God. We will never experience God if we have no expectation that we will. For me the experience of going on Retreat or a quiet day highlights this for me. When I stop and listen for it, I never fail to have a felt experience of God’s presence. And I may wonder: “why can’t God be like that all the time?” Well the truth is that God is like that all the time, but I’m not. God is like the bird on the high window ledge and most of the time I am like the lunchtime workers rushing about my business. It takes some intentionality on my part to actually look and listen for God and then find that God is always there.
Meanings of Advent
Advent is from the Latin word Adventus meaning coming. The Coming of Christ is a term that captures both a sense of the coming of Christ, as in the second coming, but also the coming of Christ in Jesus’ birth. The readings for this season also convey that double sense, with the readings at the start of Advent, being future-looking with a sense of God’s final coming. Then as we get closer to Christmas the Sunday readings convey a sense of God’s coming in the birth of Jesus at Bethlehem.
But Advent has another connotation in more everyday use. The word most commonly means – something new. We would often use the word “The advent of something…” to suggest a new thing is taking place. I like that sense to this season too. If you are tempted to think, as we approach Christmas, “here we go again.. same old, same old..” then perhaps stop and think again. Maybe there could be something new here for us. I never fail to get something new from the celebration of Christ’s incarnation at Christmas. Perhaps to help us we need a conscious will to hear the bird singing amidst all the hub-bub going on around us.
An invitation this week
So as we consider today’s theme of God’s path for Peace, and as the blurb on the theme highlights “we seek to understand and live into God’s deep vision of peace this Advent” we can be guided to allow some time for peace in the midst of our busy-ness. We can allow ourselves to be the still point in the midst of that crowded city square as people rush by. We might think, “I haven’t got time for that.” But really, the truth is – we do.
I am not speaking of hours a day, but rather minutes. Intentional quietness and peace for just a few minutes here and there scattered through the week, can make an enormous difference.
The prayer for the day says it more beautifully that I can. “Help us to be present during this Advent season of waiting. Remind us to give thanks for simple, everyday things that we may take for granted. Travel with us on this inward journey of attentiveness that our hearts may know your peace, and your peace will flow through our words and actions.”
I invite you to make that your Advent prayer. Don’t fall for the old furphy that this commercialized season is all froth and bubble and can hold nothing new. Advent is all about something new. God is present for us. Christ does come to us. Will we stop and listen? Will we make room for peace in our lives so that the prince of peace will be born among us?
As Psalm 122 beautifully says.
Peace be within your walls:
And prosperity in your palaces.
For the sake of my kindred and companions:
I will pray that peace be with you.
Advent begins. Let’s walk God’s path of peace.