Advent begins in the dark. Not only are our days shorter, but our liturgical season grows dim, rather than light. And so we begin in the dark, which is weird given that it's a new year. Advent marks the beginning of a new season and liturgical year for us, so you’d be well placed if you thought such a start should be on a brighter note. But here we are, on the doorstep of a new beginning, hearing about how horrible everything actually is. Seems strange, doesn't it? Advent begins in the darkness of the world, of ourselves, of our festive season, which sees increasing isolation, poverty, and mental health challenges, all to celebrate the most wonderful time of the year. And in many ways it is a wonderful time of the year, because in advent we are shown our true purpose as a church, as a movement, as the baptized, a purpose which is to wait, in the dark.
Mark's Gospel paints a pretty dark picture of the world, a world we need to pay attention too. This passage, often referred to as the “mini apocalypse” comes just before the crucifixion of Christ. In it we hear of just how messed up the world has become, how broken it really is, and how destitute we are in the midst of it all. Seems backwards really to be reading scripture around the crucifiction in the season of Advent but there is a purpose to it. We hear this now as a reminder of just how far God will go to be with us, and that nothing of what we do is actually possible without God. While we do act in the name of God in the ministry we do- there are still many times when we rely too much on our own security rather than the security of God in our lives. Think about those places where we’ve explored going outside our comfort zone, of following God into a new relationship, a new job, a new idea for our lives. It was scary, so scary that we revert back to safety, by saying no to God, ignoring God, or augmenting God’s desire for our lives, rather than taking a leap into God’s possibilities. This is the darkness we sit in today, a realization that what we’ve been doing has not worked, there is still poverty, there is still war, there is still inequality, despite our best efforts, this world is still dark. But in this darkness is also hope, which is not false hope, but a real lived hope- a hope that takes us to the intersection of this time and the time yet to come.
You see, the church exists to live in this intersection we call Advent. Advent is understood as both today and the tomorrow yet to come, which brings to mind the images of Darkness lined by light. The darkness is here, but there is a faint whisper of light at the edges calling us into tomorrow- a tomorrow we are preparing for today. We prepare for the coming of Christ in the manger, but that's not just about the historical remembrance of something that's happened, but a holding onto hope that the tomorrow we yearn for that brings equality and justice for all under the reign of God in his second coming, will come soon. Hearers of Mark would well understand this hope, a hope they spoke of intimately, just like you and I say “see you tomorrow” to each other, Marken hearers would say the same about the kingdom. They knew in their guts that this hoped for second coming was imminent, and so they kept waiting, and waiting, and waiting, and waiting, and slowly questions started to be raised because the hoped for second coming, wasn't coming, and things around us were only getting worse- not better. The world was getting worse, our power to fix it diminishing, and believers were questioning if this was really worth waiting for at all. So while the christian community wrote a new gospel, matthew, to try and explain why we were still waiting, the church grew ever more into its Advent identity, and identity which is still forming us today.
Advent then is this mystical season of darkness which brings us back to the times of old where people yearn for a different kind of world through the manifestation of God in Christ at Christmas, and forward into the unrealized hope that Christ will come again. Both yearnings are formed in hope, a hope for something different, a hope for a change, which if we are honest, our hope is really about saving ourselves, rather than the world. You see we create industries, ideas, mentalites, apps, and income off the idea that you and I can save ourselves. With the right cream we can save ourselves from aging. With the right guru we can loose weight, gain influence, conquer our careers, and obtain perfect happiness. Yet, despite all this and more, we still die, we still age, we still gain weight, fail and try again. The only thing we can know is that God is among us, and because God is here we are enough. But despite our best efforts, we still fall asleep at night wondering if we are enough, in a world that tells us we aren't without some kinda success driven program. The darkness of our world is this very challenge, that we can’t do this life alone, we are dependent on God for everything we have, which contrary to social opinion- dependence on God is a strength, not a weakness. And Advent shows us just how dependent we are on God to live, love, and be in this world, a world thirsty for some hope right now. And we’ve been practicing this hope all though pentecost, for 24 weeks, we’ve been practicing how to live, love, and be hopeful in this world in the name of God. But Advent shows us the stark truth, that despite everything we’ve done we are still not redeemed, the story is not finished. This world is still not fixed. So Isaiah is right, life without God is unbearable. Yet there is still hope, yearning once more for God in our midst.
Advent hope is about embracing the fresh beginnings that are all around us, and seeing the connecting thread between what we have been doing and what's left to do as we wait for Christ’s second coming. Starting a new year means we will often try and forget what has happened to move closer to what we want to be in the next year. But Advent doesn't work like that. In Advent we are shown just how dark this world is as a reminder of just how important it is for us to keep on doing the work we’ve been doing- to not give up. That's the crucifixion moment of advent church, that we expose our soft underbelly of personal salvation, a salvation that makes us live beyond our means, live beyond earth's means, live as if we are immortal and everything is here for our pleasure, and that God is something we can curate into an image of pastoral safety rather than a person who must "rend the heavens open," as Isaiah says, in order to come to save us. Advent shows us the hope of a God who desires to be so close to us that he took our flesh and died as one of us, to save us forever from the power of sin and death. It is in this that we hope, that we hope again for God’s second coming today, in a time of his knowing. Today, we are called to wait in the dark, as we listen and watch for the second coming, a second coming which sets us free and permanently transforms our world into the image of God's justice once again. But first we wait, we watch, and we work, for tomorrow he comes!