The following comments are an adaptation and expansion upon the words of welcome I shared with the congregation of Good Shepherd Community Church at the beginning of worship this past Sunday.
The noted preacher Fleming Rutledge makes the point of reminding congregations in many of her Advent sermons that “Advent begins in the dark.” On one level, this is an empirically verifiable reality as we gather together during Advent to light candles against the encroaching darkness of the ever-shortening days of December. However, this experience is not shared by our brothers and sisters in the Southern Hemisphere who find themselves in the midst of summer. Nonetheless, Advent begins in the dark for them as well. This is the case because the statement “Advent begins in the dark” speaks first of all of a theological reality. During the season of Advent we pause to take stock of a world enshrouded by the darkness of Sin and Death, plagued by violence, famine, and injustice. We acknowledge that the way things are is not the way they were meant to be, not only in our world, but also in our hearts. In the words of the incisive theologian Pogo: “We have seen the enemy and he is us!” For creatures like us salvation can only come from the outside, from above. If the human race could have saved itself, we would have gotten our act together and done it a long time ago. The season of Advent reminds us that we are waiting for the appearance of the Saviour, the coming of the Rescuer. Of course, this not a word that our culture is prepared to hear. We do not wish to acknowledge either the dire condition of our world or our inability to rectify the situation. Perhaps this is why the Season of Advent has largely disappeared from our contemporary Western Culture. Instead, the malls and stores have been celebrating their own version of “Christmas” since November 1. That makes what we are doing here this morning all the more unusual. While the world rushes on in the midst of its holiday bustle, we are waiting. This morning we wait for the One who came as a child in Bethlehem, the One who will come again to judge the living and the dead, and the One who promises, even this day, to come to his people in the power of the Holy Spirit.
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