Sermon preached First Sunday in Advent December 1, 2013
Texts: Romans 13:11-14; Matthew 26:36-44
We have entered new seasons. In the church we are beginning the season of Advent, the four Sundays before Christmas. In the wider culture we are in what we generically call the holiday season. One reflection: Once again we find ourselves enmeshed in the Holiday Season, that very special time of year when we join with our loved ones in sharing centuries-old traditions such as trying to find a parking space at the mall. We traditionally do this in my family by driving around the parking lot until we see a shopper emerge from the mall, then we follow her, in very much the same spirit as the Three Wise Men, who 2,000 years ago followed a star, week after week, until it led them to a parking space. (Dave Barry, humor columnist)
Thursday night following dinner our family sat down together to watch a little television. We had already seen most of two football games, so we were looking for something else. I thought I had stumbled across a new episode of “The Twilight Zone” on ME-tv, until I realized that Lady Gaga and the Muppets really did have a “holiday special.”
Friday morning on the Weather Channel, they were interviewing shoppers who were out early on “Black Friday.” One woman interviewed said, “I live for this day.”
That is a powerful statement, “I live for this day.” This expectancy shapes her life. She takes the day off from work each year and probably has certain things she does to prepare herself for black Friday.
Advent is a season of expectancy in the church. It is intended to be a season of watchfulness and self-reflection. It is a good season for asking what we live for. It is a good season to ask about how we want to live our lives. What we expect shapes how we live.
One way we in the church have talked about what we expect at Advent is to use the image of light. Jesus coming into the world was described this way in the Gospel of John: What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people…. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. In Advent we proclaim that light entered the world in a unique way in Jesus, and that this Jesus light will shine even more brightly at some time to come. “The night is far gone, the day is near,” in the words of Romans.
In expectancy, we are invited to live differently. “Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.” Later we will sing “I want to walk as a child of the light, I want to follow Jesus.” That’s a wonderful Advent song, and our theme for Advent this year. What might it mean to walk as a child of the light, to walk lightly? Today I am going to suggest some aspects of that for our personal lives. December 15 I am going to suggest some aspects of that for our social lives, for our world.
Walking lightly then.
Walking lightly has to do with watchfulness, attentiveness, mindfulness. One of the things light helps us do is see better. I had to hold a can nearer the light the other day to discover that the chicken broth I was going to open was dated 2008. Thankfully I caught that before it became part of our stuffing. Walking lightly, following Jesus who we call the light of the world, means to pay attention, to be watchful. “Keep awake”, the writer of Matthew’s gospel enjoins us.
Walking lightly means we are attentive to the full spectrum of the world. We take time to appreciate beauty and goodness. We make time for wonder and awe. We keep our eyes open, as well, to the tragedy and hurt and pain and suffering in the world. Beauty and goodness remind us that God’s grace remains powerful in our world, breaking in often. Seeing the suffering in the world attunes us to the voice of the Spirit which invites us to work with God in response to suffering, to walk lightly with God in healing the world.
In one of his writings, the Greek philosopher Parmenides, has a goddess call out, “It is necessary, however, for you to experience everything” (Heidegger, Four Seminars, 96) I think this is a call to us as we seek to walk lightly, a call to openness, attentiveness, wakefulness.
Walking lightly has to do with developing character. Character attends to the whole person. It asks what sorts of people we are becoming through our actions and relations with others…. Our actions and relations become habits that gradually shape the stable personal core we call “character.” (William Spohn, Go and Do Likewise, 13) Walking lightly has to do with working with God to shape our lives so that the light of Jesus shines in them and through them more brightly.
There is a wonderful story that comes from Native American traditions. One evening an elder shared this story with his grandson. “My son, in each person there are two wolves that struggle with each other. One wolf is the wolf of anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego. The other wolf is the wolf of joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith.” The grandson pondered the story for a while then asked, “Which wolf wins? The grandfather replied, “The one that you feed.”
Walking lightly means feeding the right wolf through things like worship, prayer, meditation, acts of kindness, generosity and beauty. “Let us live honorably as in the day.”
Walking lightly has something to do with growing. Two quick quotes. Faith is a dynamic process, close to the center of the self, that continually works to enable us to deal with the challenges and changes life presents us (James Fowler, Faithful Change, 67) It’s our purpose to grow as human beings, to look within ourselves, to find and build upon that source of peace and understanding and strength that is our individual self (Elizabeth Kubler-Ross quoted in Leo Buscaglia, Living, Loving, and Learning, 217).
If we are paying attention to all that is going on in the world and in our own lives, if we are seeking to shape our character in tune with God’s Spirit, then how can walking lightly be anything other than a constant process of growing? Walking lightly means growing for the whole of our lives, learning, shaping, being shaped. Faith isn’t primarily about learning certain creedal statements which we can recite back at a moment’s notice. Faith is about weaving and reweaving our Christian tradition into the whole of our lives as we meet new challenges in our living.
Walking lightly is about love. Just before the verses we read in Romans, we find these words: Owe no one anything except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law…. Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law. (Romans 13:8, 10). When we see beauty, goodness, tenderness there is love. When we see hurt and pain and suffering, there is often an absence of love. The character we are seeking to form in our souls is a character rooted in love. Our growth as followers of Jesus is meant to be growth in love.
Walking lightly is about attentiveness. It is about character. It is about growth. It is about love. If all this sounds kind of complicated, it is. Too simple an idea of what it means to be a follower of Jesus does not do justice to the world we live in. It does not do justice to the richness of our experience or the richness of our sacred texts.
One final image. I like the play on words in this phrase, “walking lightly.” I also like that is suggests the Christian life is moving and dynamic. Walking lightly suggests dance, and I am reminded for Eugene Peterson’s rendering of Matthew 11:28f. There Jesus offers this invitation: Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life…. Walk with me. Work with me – watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.
This Advent, let’s walk lightly to those unforced rhythms of grace. Let’s dance lightly to those unforced rhythms of grace. Amen.