Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness …
These are the opening lines of the Collect for the First Sunday of Advent.
In a world already festooned with garlands and ringing with familiar Christmas carols, these words may seem strange.
Indeed, the call to Advent — the New Year for liturgically oriented Christians — would seem to be a whisper barely heard by most of us, even those of us who would try to listen.
Advent was not an accidental season in our spiritual seasonal tool box. It arrives as we settle into the post-harvest season, amid days of decreasing sunlight.
In another time, it was a period to ease up on the intensive labors of an agrarian world. It was a time to come inside, to repair the broken harness, knit the wool from sheep shorn back in the spring. It was a time to wait. It was a time to hope one had harvested enough to make it through the rigors of winter.
It was a time to pray. It was a time to anticipate what would come when the darkest times passed and spring would come again.
We have lost Advent. We can blame “commercialization,” “Hallmark,” “secularization,” and a move away from organized religion.
Perhaps it is simply better if we turn the mirror of blame upon ourselves and blame … Impatience.
Waiting is hard. Waiting for barely articulated promises is even more difficult.
Advent is a bit like getting into a car to go on a trip. The child in the back seat keeps asking, “Are we there, yet?”
We have four Sundays before we are “almost there.”
Advent was intended to be a time of quiet reflection, internal preparation and cleansing – getting our spiritual stables cleaned out for the arrival of the greatest gift of all. And it may be time to start asking ourselves, “What happens to us when we don’t do this interior cleaning?”
Simply put: We arrive and we aren’t ready. There may be no room for the “gift” to reside.
In one of the quirks of our Roman calendar and the Jewish Lunar calendar, last Sunday, December 2, was not only the first Sunday of Advent, it was the first day of Hanukah.
Advent calls us to reflect in anticipation. Hanukah is a call to rededicate ourselves to works of light and love.
Both have deep roots in the conflict of pushing back against the darkness of bigotry and hate. Both call us to be points of light in our own time and place.
The late President George H. W. Bush extolled our tiny communities as a Thousand Points of Light.
God, in Christ would take us further. We are “called” to be millions, indeed billions of points of light.
Dear God, let it be so, starting with each one of us.
By grace, cleanse our hearts and lives and cast away the works of darkness…
Rev. Elaine Silverstrim is a retired Episcopal priest, a member of the Wilmington Area Ministerial Association, and a resident of Wilmington.