November 22, 2020
The First Sunday of Advent, 2020
Today is the first Sunday of Advent. This liturgical season is devoted to expectant waiting – waiting for the unknown to enter.
For many cultures, this is a season of review and a season of expectation, a season of looking back and a season of looking forward.[ii] This is a season when prophecies abound – shaping an unknown future. This is a season in which we, ourselves, are simultaneously shaping the future and being shaped by it.
As the light wanes in the northern sky our thoughts and reveries guide us inward. We wait but we know not why we wait nor for whom.
2020 has been a difficult year – a year filled with apocalyptic plague and suffering; a year filled with political divisions that may (or may not) heal. As a people, as a nation, as individuals we have been isolated from each other and even from our true selves. We know the existential loneliness of God’s absence.
We have been in quarantine from the rest of the world. In our lonely isolation we have witnessed and experienced the destruction of trust.
Yet, one of the parables of this season comforts me: Rockefeller seems the most unlikely harbinger of good news. His home, a Norway spruce tree, was cut down and transported to New York City’s Rockefeller Center where it will serve as one of the nation’s iconic Christmas trees. Rockefeller is a Northern saw-whet owl. He was starved and dehydrated and captured inside the tree’s branches. A worker, installing the tree, discovered Rockefeller, this tiniest of tiny owls, and set about rescuing him.
Less than a week later, Rockefeller, the tiny owl, was released into the skies over Manhattan. Once again, he flies free.
Waiting for the unknown; waiting for the rescue; waiting for open skies (and open hearts): this is the scary business of advent. Our breath stalls. Scary waiting becomes the unwanted adventure of our lives. We wait and pray for our lives to return to normal – even as we fear this may never happen. We worry that our community is unbalanced and unbalancable. We are uncomfortable with the new normal. We are afraid. We do not know who (or when) we can trust again.
The rooms we live in have shape-shifted. Our footing is uneven; our hearts fail us. Trust deserts us. We feel all alone in a hostile universe that seems to have turned against us.
The transition from ordinary time into the season of advent is a time in which we search the future looking for the golden city on a hill – way off in the distance. If we blink our eyes, we believe that we see its glow. We sense its allurements. We feel it tug at our heart. But, if we look away, for just a second, the blink of an eye, the city is gone. Losing the vision, we stumble, fall, and curse the future as an imagen.
Yet, the message of advent continues to haunt our daytime reveries and our nighttime dreams. It captures our imagination and eventually it captures our hearts.
There is a better way forward. Our hearts know that. We just need to believe that the golden city exists. We need to begin the journey in hope, in faith, and in solidarity with others.
Our skin color does not matter; our age does not matter; our gender does not matter; our economic status does not matter, our nationality does not matter: what matters is that our dream has captured us. What matters is that our hopes for the future have captured us. There is a golden city. That much is clear. Or, so we hope.
The season of Advent has arrived. It is out task now to embody it.
Looking back on this dreary, anxious, and pain-filled year, it is hard to believe in ancient deities from a distant past. Yet the message of Advent 2020 is one of hope. As Christians, our belief is future-oriented. There is a golden city on a hill. We can find our way towards it one step at a time. That is the message of our hope; it is the expectant message of 2020; it is the message of Advent in a disturbed and out-of-sorts time. [iii]
Copyright Dr. Ruth Krall, 2020
[ii] Advent occurs in an extended season in which various world cultures celebrate the solstice and the retuning of the sun’s light in the northern hemisphere.
[iii] This sermon was first posted on Bill Lindsey’s blog, Bilgrimage, on November 23, 2020. It can be retrieved from