Read Luke 21:25-36

Moving to a new city means that you spend a lot of time noticing all the things that are different about your new home.  My recent move from California to Cincinnati has provided ample opportunity for me to notice all the differences between these two places, and let me tell you there have been quite a few.  Cincinnati is weird y’all.  This is the first fall I’ve ever experienced in my life so I’ve been just a little bit baffled by the weather pattern: 50 and sunny one day, 20 and snowing the next day.  I’ve been amazed by what happens to trees here in the fall.  The leaves, the colors, amazing is the only word I can use to describe it.  The changing of the leaves has also been a good reminder that even in death there is beauty and wonder to behold, to cherish.

And then after those leaves have changed they fall off of those trees that were once lush, rich and full of life, you have to rake them, and rake them and rake them.  But you get to create these massive piles that 4 year olds love to run and jump in.

But also as the leaves fall you start to look at the woods in a different way.  The other day I was walking through Parker Woods nature preserve in Northside where we live and I was noticing how now I could actually see through the woods to the other side.

The other thing that I have noticed about my new home here in Cincinnati is this: it gets dark here really, really early in the fall.  The other day my family and I were out to dinner after our older daughter’s gymnastics class and it was pitch black as the sun had set hours ago.  I was thinking to myself, we’ve got to get these girls fed because it must be late and we really need to get the girls home and get them in bed.  Then I looked at my watch, it was 7 o’clock, even though it felt like midnight.  But, the hidden joy as the nights growing longer and the days shorter, I regularly see the beauty and wonder of a Cincinnati Sunrise, the first light of a brand new day.

When we move to a new place, a new city, a new environment, the way we see our life, the world and our place in it shifts significantly.  It gives us a brand new perspective.

And let me tell you, that is the heart of the season of Advent, getting a new spiritual perspective.

Today is the first Sunday of Advent, a time of year we set a part in the church to wait for a new revelation, a time we set aside to look for the light of God’s love shining in hearts and our world.  Advent is also the start of a New Year for the church so happy New Year everyone.

We begin the church year with a time for prayer, for silence, for meditation, a time to acknowledge and let go of whatever might be holding us back and holding us down, a time to clear out the cobwebs and to make a little room inside the inn of our hearts, to simply receive, receive love, receive hope, receive joy and receive the peace of our God which surpasses all understanding, surpasses all time and place and circumstance, the peace of God which comes when we finally let go enough to recognize that we can’t save ourselves, we can’t make ourselves whole, only God’s unconditional love can.

And so we have this season of Advent, a season which is contemplative and quiet and a season of contradiction, a time to slow down enough to find the already present indwelling of Emmanuel, God with us and at the same time recognizing that love’s redeeming work is yet to be done.

Advent is a weird time of year as a Christian because the world speeds up at the same time we try to intentionally slows down.  There’s that long check-list of things that need to get done and there seems to be very little time to do it all, especially this year given that Advent starts on the first Sunday of December.

We’ve got to get the house decorated, the tree up, the ornaments out, we’ve got to solidify travel plans, party plans, we’ve got to get all the shopping done, which of course is super easy because of Amazon Prime and yet it still seems to stress us out,

we’ve got to get emotionally prepared for all the various celebrations, the time with family, falling back into old family systems and dynamics which no matter how healthy are slightly dysfunctional, because well it’s family, there’s always a hint of dysfunction.

And in the midst of it all we have the various spiritual obligations we feel which sometimes become just part of the to do list which we feel we desperately need to check off in order to make sure our heart is right, our spirit is prepared, our condition is in just the right order to welcome Christmas with all its blessing.

That’s why we need Advent, in the midst of our wild world, a world filled with pressure for our lives and our families to look picture perfect, to look the way they look on our Facebook,

a world filled with the empty promises like that we need to buy our way into happiness,

a world filled with real human suffering and a weariness as it seems like things never change.

We need Advent to help us cultivate that Jesus perspective, that holy perspective, which tells us to seek the light, to find the light shining in the midst of the darkest dark of night, which by the way is where the smallest of lights shines the brightest.

It’s always a little bit jarring to start off the Advent season with a text like the one we have today, a text where Jesus gives a vision of the end.  And yet visions of the end are never really about the future but about the here and now and this text is no different. Let me say that again, in the bible whenever there is a passage that talks about the end times, it is never really about the end times, it is about how we live here and now.

See Jesus gets us as human beings and he knows that we are future oriented people.  He knows that we would prefer to live in the future, in the yet to be realized, in the anxiety of uncertainty rather than right here and right now.  So in this reading he lays it out this way:

in the end, no matter how dark it may be, no matter how much suffering may exist in this world, no matter what you or we may go through, in the end God is always with us, redeeming all things and bringing about a new creation.  The kingdom of God is always near.

And so, Jesus gives us this simple, very profound, unbelievably difficult spiritual practice for us all:

he says, stay awake, keep alert, be attentive in this moment, experiencing all the joy and agony of life and this world, don’t escape, don’t inhabit some other moment, be here, stay in this moment and you will find your hope, seek the light shining in the darkness and you will find God.

That is a powerful word for us today, in the midst of the times that we find ourselves in.  As a culture we are still grieving the mass shootings at the Tree of life Synagogue and Borderline Grill, we are still seeing pictures and hearing stories of the unbelievable destruction of the Woosley and Camp wildfires in California, and this last week we saw images of children being tear gassed at our border.  We see all of this happening in our world and on top of it we have the joys and struggles that we each carry with us and it’s hard to see any kind of light, any kind of hope in any of this mess.

This last week my wife Allison rented that new documentary about Mr. Rogers that came out a few months ago, Won’t you be My Neighbor?  This documentary is an incredible testament to an incredible life lived following in the way of Jesus.  I’m sure many of you know already that Fred. Rogers was an ordained Presbyterian pastor.  His life’s work was about living in the light of God’s love and letting that love shine through him for as many children as possible.  What a life and what a ministry.

I often think of this quote he said when this world is, well, being the world, when things are getting almost too dark, too dark, to see.  Mr. Rogers said: “when I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news my mother would say to me ‘look for the helpers.  You will always find people who are helping.’”

The story of Advent, the story of our faith tells us that God is here, present in the messiness of life, the light enters the darkness and the darkness can never overcome it.

The story of our faith says that God so loved the world that God came to be with us,  light to all people, all people, so that all would know the fullness of grace, undeserved love, and the abundance of life made new in him.  As we journey through this season that has been co-opted and hijacked by our culture, may we become more aware, more attentive to the movement of God’s Spirit at work redeeming all things even in the messiest of moments we may find ourselves in, may we move about these days cultivating the spiritual perspective of hope which never gives up, may we look for the helpers, look for the good, may we seek the light which shines brightest in the darkest nights.  Amen.