Second Advent

Reflection for December 6, 2020 (Second Advent) – Chanthip Phongkhamsavath

Isaiah 40: 1-5, 2 Peter 3:8-15, Mark 1:1-8

Happy Second Sunday of Advent!

I am reminded every year during Advent about the symbolism of each of the candles on the wreath, because truthfully, I forget. I may forget what each candle represents, yet they are all mixed together for me during this season – hope, love, joy, and peace.

This is also that point in the year when the church calendar is beginning again and there is a renewed sense of hope and anticipation.  Yet at the same time it is the end of the calendar year and for us the shortening of daylight hours until the Winter Solstice and Christmas shortly after.  It can seem like a bleak time with the longer nights, yet those longer nights do allow for one of my favorite things, which is lighting the Christmas tree and watching the reflections and bouncing light.  When I was younger it felt like Christmas couldn’t come soon enough and now it feels like Christmas comes too quickly.  Regardless, the anticipation is still there, knowing that Christmas morning is coming and with that the celebration of our Lord’s birth.  And the hope that we will be in the Lord’s presence again.

Peter tells us, “that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day.” Time is a tricky thing. It is constant, yet our experiences of it differs.  There are the same number of days in December when I was ten as there are now, yet somehow the days, minutes, and seconds feel different.  And I don’t know if you have had those moments where it really felt like time was standing still – when everything seems to move in slow motion like in a movie – yet it is not a movie but rather a rare moment that makes an imprint into our memories.  For me it can be that split second before a fall or that moment of pure joy.  It is believable based on those memories that time could be different in the presence of the Lord. That time though has not yet come.

In the meantime, it feels like the perpetual wait. In any given year there is always room for good news during Advent, this year in particular – when the days and months seem to bleed together into one long moment of waiting to exhale – I think we all need good news just a little bit more.  As we brace ourselves for a winter that may seem particularly lonesome – with our public health officials tightening their restrictions and fatigue mounting – we are asked to be even more patient, to wait and anticipate good news.

Although not in the same way, I do this every year.  One of the reasons I love Advent and this season is that anticipation, those moments to stop and hope that the good news of the season will last a little longer.  It is the time of the year when the emphasis on kindness and giving is a little more present.  It is a little reprieve from seeking bad news and there is a renewed focus on good news.  The things from helping to feed our neighbors to ensuring children everywhere have a gift on Christmas morning takes more of a forefront.  And for this season, I am encouraged by the goodwill and I look forward to it every year. And each year I hope the good news of Christ’s birth is felt more, even as its message seems to diminish in the broader social context.

Despite the longer nights and what seems like darker times, we know the good news of the season is coming.  The reading from Mark leads off right away with, “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” And John the Baptist was an active messenger, not only proclaiming the good news however leading the way with “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sin.”  John knew that Christ would baptize with the Holy Spirit and laid a foundation with the baptism of repentance for something more.  For until we are able to repent, are we able to be forgiven? John knew the good news was coming and actively waited and acted all at the same time.  I wonder if he knew that it would happen in his lifetime or if it even mattered, because it did not stop him.

And although we wait to be in the presence of the Lord again, the reading from Peter asks, “what sort of persons ought you to be in leading lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God…”

For the past nine months we have waited for a solution for COVID-19 and we hope we are close to the good news that we have been waiting for.  In the meantime, I have tried, although I have also failed, to do everything I can to help slow the spread – I have tried to limit my interactions yet I know my bubble is bigger than it should be.  That does not mean that I give up, it just means it takes that extra reminder of why I should slow down, why it is important to keep trying.  For COVID we have the public health departments all over trying to be messengers of goodwill, telling us the things we ought to do even though they know that not everyone will listen – yet they continue with their messages knowing that eventually they will be able to give us good news, even though they may not know when. So in the meantime, I try my best to heed the reminders and try to do my part as we wait for that good news.

The messengers of God’s good news have done the same, they have stories and teachings to remind us, despite knowing not everyone will listen all the time, that there is good news and it begins with Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  We have calendars and cycles that remind us each advent that good news is coming.  Advent is one point in the liturgical calendar however it definitely does not mean it is the only time that we look for hope, love, joy and peace. It is not the only time we are waiting – we have always been waiting – yet that waiting does not mean we are inactive – it is anything but that.

So, this Advent season, as I look at my tree and realize it will be the second year that I will miss Christmas Eve service in St. Alban’s sanctuary, I continue to hope that the good news of Christ’s birth will be heard.  And I will continue to strive to be a messenger of that good news as well.  To live a life of compassion and be an example of goodwill, to take advantage of the time, however slow or quickly it moves that I have.  And I know that despite not seeing everyone in person you are active as well, in your prayers for our friends, in collecting socks and other items for the shower program, in all the sandwiches that were made as we adapted to our current situation.

During Advent, this season of anticipation, we continue to live our lives in active goodwill.  And although we do not know when we will be in the Lord’s presence again, we will continue to strive to do the best we can as we repent and are forgiven, because that is the good news we already know.  So let us be reminded again as often as we need to be, whether during Advent, or throughout the year, that the beginning of the good news starts with God and Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  Let us also share that good news, because although Christ was born and died for us, there is still more to come.