Dear friends, By the time you are reading this message, I will be half a world away, in France, where I am visiting with the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Paris. After spending ten days travelling around Normandie, visiting Mont St. Michel, the Normandy beaches, the Lisieux Tapestry, and the Cathedral in Rouen, I am spending a few days with people who, in spite of differences in language, culture, and currency, share our UU values. In Paris, I am giving a workshop on the traditions of the Winter Solstice, and leading a worship service on the meaning and symbolism of Advent. So while you all celebrate your December 9th Advent service in Tennessee, I will be celebrating the same with the Paris congregation. So what is Advent, after all? Advent is the season that leads up to the Christian holiday of Christmas. It is a time of waiting, of expectancy, of looking for light in the darkness. Advent is the time when Christians honor, not the arrival of Jesus of Nazareth, the light that will bring salvation, but rather when they honor the journey of patience, perseverance, and hope that must necessarily come before the arrival of the light. It is easy, in our modern world, to be focused on instant gratification. After all, we do have almost instant gratification in so many things. We have instant access to answers to most of our intellectual questions, thanks to Google. We have instant FaceTime with people far away, and have such ease of communication that we are actually starting to count the number of characters in our postings. We can buy anything we want on-line, without leaving our homes. We have the world at our fingertips. I can easily cross the ocean—a journey that used to take weeks or months, after millennia of it being nearly impossible—and spend a few leisurely weeks abroad.
But life isn’t quite so simple, really, is it? There are many, many things that instant gratification cannot solve or resolve. We all need the ability to sit with difficult circumstances, to find hope when there’s no obvious answer in sight, to remain patiently present when we have the urge to panic. This is what Advent is about. For the ancient Jewish people, who were waiting for a savior, there was no guaranteed solution; there was just the promise of an eventual savior who would come at some time in the future. Remember, all those folks in Joseph and Mary and Jesus’s story didn’t know this little baby would be the answer they had been looking for. In fact, only a portion of the Jewish community embraced the idea that Jesus was the answer to the prophecy, and they did that only after the fact. The Jewish community remains patient for such a savior, while Christians believe he has already arrived. In Advent, we honor four essential qualities that are necessary for patience in difficult times, times of darkness: Hope, Faith, Joy, and Love. We need to hold onto hope in whatever form serves us best: hope in the human spirit, hope in a next generation, hope in the natural world, hope in our God or other transcendent reality. We need faith that change is possible, that things will shift, even if we can’t see how. We need to find joy in the simple things of life, even when it’s hard or pain is all around us. And we need love—love of self, love of our family (chosen or inherited), love of community, and love of the world. It is only with these four qualities—hope, faith, joy and love—that we can wait with wonder in the dark night for that thing which cannot yet be seen. As this holiday season arrives, with its steady lure and promise of instant gratification, let’s take a moment to pause at the edge of the darkness, and wait. Let’s be still with the unknown, and invite in a light that is born of hope, faith, joy and love. May your holidays, whatever they are, be blessed with a sense of peace and possibility.
In faith and peace, Rev. Carol