There is a song from the delightful and inspiring musical, West Side Story, that always comes to my mind when we begin the journey of the holy season of Advent because it is a song about the feeling that something great or life-changing is about to come into one’s life—and that is the great theme of Advent: “Something’s coming.”
Indeed, the word, Advent, comes from the Latin, Adventus, which means “coming.” Tony, one of the star characters in the musical sings about the changes he feels coming into his life in the stirring song: “Something’s Coming.” Here are just a few lyrics from the song—listen and I think you will hear the spirit of Advent in these words:
There's something due any day; I will know right away, Soon as it shows…
I got a feeling there's a miracle due, gonna come true, coming to me!
Could it be? Yes, it could. Something's coming, something good, If I can wait!
Something's coming, I don't know what it is,
but it is Gonna be great!...
The air is humming, And something great is coming!
Friends, that how I feel this morning as we begin our journey together in a new season of Advent—Yes, there can be no doubt, “the air is humming, and something great is coming!”
The stirring music of Paul Dunn’s bagpipes this morning only adds to that feeling of anticipation within me—their unique sound causes me to look to the past in gratitude—to embrace the present with thanksgiving—and to look toward the future with renewed hope.
The “air was humming” in Tony’s life, in West Side Story, and his dream of true love would be realized in the person, Maria. Despite tragedy, theirs would be a love that would never die.
At Advent, we, the church, celebrate that our dream of a true love that will never let us go—a love that will sustain us amidst hardships and losses—a love that will inspire greatness in us by enabling us to live in a spirit of kindness, compassion, and gratitude—a love that will give us hope for the future and the courage to meet it—this dream, this love, becomes a reality for us as we anticipate the birth of Jesus.
During Advent we once again look toward Bethlehem—and we are challenged to think about what it might mean for us to have Jesus fully alive in our hearts and minds today.
In our Old Testament lesson from Psalm 4 we hear a voice cry out for God’s countenance, God’s “face to shine” once again upon his people so that a new day of liberation and hope will dawn.
We all know that feeling which the psalmist professes—the feeling of fear and isolation when times are dark—times of tears and sorrow—times when we feel, like the Psalmist, dishonored or constantly in the presence of dishonest and fake, self-serving people.
The times when we cry out to God seeking the peace and comfort that we know God’s countenance, his presence, can give us.
Advent is about that quest to rediscover God’s grace shining upon us, and in us, and through us-- a gracious love that lifts us from darkness to light—despair to hope, from fear to peace.
Our Gospel lesson this morning from Mark reminds us that the attitude that we are to embrace during Advent, no matter what the current circumstances of our lives--is poise, wakefulness, and alertness.
Yes, we are challenged to be wide awake, spiritually, so that we will see the new thing that God is doing in our midst—in our church, in each of our lives.
In response to the disciple’s question—How will we know that your mission among us is accomplished?—We hear Jesus say to brothers: Peter and Andrew, James and John:
“Take heed, watch; for you do not know when the time will come….Watch…you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning--[take heed] lest he come suddenly and find you asleep…I say to you, I say to all: Watch."
Friends, The sound of the bagpipes this morning reminds us that something great is coming…they also stir in us a sense of watchfulness and alertness. Someone may nod off during a sermon—but no one nods off when the piper is plays! And the piper during Advent is God.
The gospel writer Mark suggests that unless we are truly awake to the mysteries that are unfolding in our lives even now—unless we are intentional about asking God to open our hearts and minds once again to the wisdom available for us in the life of Jesus, we might miss His true meaning and power altogether—we might sleep thru a revolution.
Referring back to West Side Story: I truly believe “Something good” is coming toward us again this Advent. Scottish Theologian Calum Macleod agrees and he says that:
“Advent is about hope…. It’s about the promise that God is with us in the baby born in Bethlehem and that God promises to be with us, calling us to new ways of living in our lives, challenging the old ways of doing things that are broken and hurtful and divisive for community and for the world.”
Dr. Macleod, reflecting on the passage we read this morning from the Gospel of Mark, writes: “There is a spiritual discipline to be undertaken [during] Advent…Our Advent discipline is a discipline of watching and waiting. Watching and waiting in the midst of all that the world throws at us…and recognizing that the coming of Christ is transformational for our world and our lives.”
Says Dr. Macleod, “[In this holy season of Advent] we don’t pretend that things are not hard, that there are not things to deal with. [Thus] Advent is about watching and waiting while facing personal [conflict,] tragedy or loss, [or] while encountering—as we all have so much these days—the [heartbreak] of what Scottish poet and lyricist, Robert Burns called: “man’s inhumanity to man.” Friends, Advent asks us to watch, to remain awake, to trust, even though much evidence in our world, in our lives, is contrary to the dream that “Something’s coming, something good.”
Finally, years ago, 1987, in a restaurant on the upper Westside of Manhattan, I had the chance to spend an evening talking with black South African leader, Allan Boesak.
Rev. Boesak, a minister in the South African Dutch Reformed church, was lecturing throughout the United States on his people’s dream to be free of Apartheid—the racial caste system in his country. Alan Boesak, now 72 years old, was a close friend of my colleague, the Rev. Jill Martinez, who grew up in this church…and she had arranged the dinner party.
As I think back to that evening I remember being deeply inspired with how confident and hopeful Rev. Boesak was about the work he was doing and of his tremendous faith in God. I realize now that his was an Advent faith—one which was able to look beyond present challenges and sorrows in anticipation of a new dawn of peace.
A faith, which was awake to a new day of justice God, was bringing which would transform his nation of South Africa as well as the world. Legal segregation had existed in South Africa since 1948—it came to an end in 1993.
Aware of the political corruption in our world, today, the racism and injustice at the highest levels of our government, and in light of our call to keep the faith amid chaos and uncertainty,
I close this Advent morning with selected words from the conclusion of a sermon Allan Boesak once gave, which reflects the spirit and truth of Advent. I heard him preach it at the historic Riverside Church in New York City just a block from the apartment where I lived.
Here is a message, rooted in Scripture, clearly relevant to our day too, which reminds us that one of the things which is coming to us at Advent is a new truth about the world and our call to be witnesses of this truth.
A new Truth born in Bethlehem.
Said Rev. Boesak, quoting scripture including the words of Jesus himself:
“It is not true that this world and its inhabitants are doomed to die and be lost. [That cynicism is not true]
“This is true: ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him shall not die, but have everlasting life.’
“It is not true that we must accept inhumanity and discrimination, hunger and poverty, death and destruction. [It’s not true!]
“This is true: ‘I have come that they may have life and have it abundantly.’ [Jesus’ words]
Said Rev. Boesak: “It is not true that violence and hatred [and I would add white nationalism] shall have the last word and that war and destruction have come to stay forever.
“This is true: ‘For unto us a child is born; to us a son is given…[and his] name will be “Mighty God, Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.’
“It is not true that we have to wait for those who are specially gifted, who are prophets of the church, before we can do anything.
“This is true: [from the Prophet Joel’s own lips:] ‘I will pour out my spirit on all people and your sons and daughters shall prophesy, your young people shall see visions, and your old folks shall dream dreams.’
“It is not true that our dreams of the liberation of humankind, our dreams of justice, of human dignity, of peace, are not meant for this earth and its history. [That simply is not true]
“This is true: ‘the hour comes and it is now when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth.’”
Friends, the holy season of Advent is upon us—and thus, God in Christ causes this question to rise up in our hearts and minds once again: “Could it be—yes it could—something’s coming—something good”—if we can wait, in hope.