Advent 2012

Advent, 2012.  A brief homily by Rev. David M Bryce

Summary: Celebrating Advent typically involves a season of prayer, fasting and repentance, followed by anticipation, hope and joy.  A brief homily.  Advent means arrival, approach or coming.  A period of advent is a period of waiting for the arrival of something.

In the Christian calendar it is today the period before Christmas, so it is the time of waiting for the birth of the Christ, the Messiah.  However, it was originally a time of waiting for the second coming; only slowly did it become connected to the story of the birth in Bethlehem.

Today Advent is celebrated by putting up lights, trees and wreaths.  The waiting time is now filled with parties and carol singing, with musical programs and ballets, with television specials and the buying of presents. 

It also is a time of decorating the house and preparing for Christmas—which can mean clearing the space where the tree will be, getting out special linens, bringing the tree ornaments up from the basement or down from the attic.

The advent season has become a time of feasting and indulgence and–at times–overindulgence.

But once upon a time Advent was called “Little Lent”.  It was a time of spiritual preparation.  Advent used to be a time of prayer and fasting and repentance. 

Ah, gee; repentance again?  David does repentance every Rosh Hashanah, every Ramadan, every New Year, every Lent and now he wants to mess up Christmas.

We came here today to listen to beautiful music, to have a good time with friends and family in the middle of the Midwinter-Solstice-Hanukkah-Christmas season and he is going to tell us that its wrong thing for us to be doing that. 

No. 

I believe in celebrating all that life has to offer, and in taking advantage of moments of celebration.  And I have said in the past–and I repeat today–that I will celebrate any national or cultural or religious festival from anywhere around the world if that tradition includes eating.  And I will abstain from any that includes fasting.  That’s my abstinence: abstinence from fasting.

On the other hand…I am going to point out that the nature of this season has changed and that maybe—just maybe—it would be nice to include some of the older practice of self-reflection, of prayer and even of fasting.

Self reflection is not just a matter of asking, “What have I done wrong”?  It can include a variety of things.  Yes, it includes the question “Where have I fallen short?”; but it also includes: What have I done well?  When have I acted in a manner that I am pleased with, maybe even humbly proud of?  When have I reached out to someone who needed a helping hand or a word of encouragement?  When have I been a good parent or child or sibling; or a good human being?  When have I surprised someone with an act of compassion or kindness that was entirely unexpected?  What have I done that would be pleasing in the eyes of my God?

And what of fasting?  Fasting need not be about food, but can be from other things perhaps more difficult to give up.

What of a fast from selfishness?  That would be tough.

What of a fast from anger?  What if I chose to give up anger for forty days?  Not just the anger that flashes into my mind because of what people do during those forty days, but also the angers that I carry with me from before Advent, maybe long before; maybe years before.  That might be more difficult that going without food.

What if I chose to fast from being judgmental about others?  What if I decided to fast from all of the “shoulds” and “should nots” by which I judge others?  I have a whole lot of “shoulds” around very small issues.  Fasting from those shoulds would also be difficult.

That fast, the fast form anger and from judgments is in the Bible.

Selections from the book of Amos:  

6Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
7Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
8If you remove the yoke from among you,
the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,
10 if you offer your food to the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
then your light shall rise in the darkness
and your gloom be like the noonday.

May we consider such a fast during this time of Advent.