There are two kinds of people that often stand out in our memory – those who light up the room by being a positive influence, and those who have such a negative outlook that they suck the light and life out of the room. People who make a positive impression on others have a luminescent quality. They are able to change a mood, lighten a moment and turn difficult circumstances into something better. A light seems to shine from within them, inviting others into its brightness and warmth.
The prophet Isaiah reminds us that we are to be people of the light. We are to walk in the light of the Lord, not just following the light of God that leads us, but allowing our luminescence to guide and inspire others. The prophet Isaiah was actually three prophets in succession, all writing under the same name, who offered counsel to four of Israel’s kings in the eighth century B.C.E. They were sent by God during difficult times with the task of naming the troubles and helping the people to hear God’s voice through it all. Their message is just as relevant today. Just as the Torah provided guidance for the people of Isaiah’s day, so the Word of God still shows us the path to follow. We can hear God’s voice, even in the midst of any anxiety we might be experiencing in our time and place.
Advent is a time to walk together in anticipation and hope for what lies ahead. It is a time when we need to focus on the light that guides and inspires us and also to allow our own lights to shine as beacons of hope. In his letter to the Romans, St. Paul compares the advent of Christ to the coming of dawn. We are to put away the darkness and let our light shine forth for others to see. In the first century, when Paul wrote, the darkness of the night was much deeper than we experience. We have street lights to illumine a night sky that isn’t nearly as dark as back then, thanks to all the ambient light that surrounds us. With only a small oil lamp or a torch to illumine the night, people in the first century had difficulty seeing anything at night. They anticipated the coming of dawn with relief and joy.
During the time that Paul wrote his letter to Christians living in Rome, there were plenty of opportunities for living the wild life. Just as many temptations surround us today. Paul warns us to hold fast, and to see that giving into those temptations is living in darkness. We are to put on, as he calls it, “the armor of light” so that we allow what we know is good and true to guide us. We are to be luminescent, to be a positive influence on others and to support one another.
When we walk together on the journey through life, rather than by ourselves, we always have a support system. It means that even if our own light grows dim at times, there is still plenty of light emanating from those around us to provide hope and guidance for the journey. The journey through Advent is a time of anticipation for when Christ will come again. Matthew warns us that this will not happen the way we expect. We do not know the time or the way it will happen, therefore we are to be alert, to live in anticipation and hope.
The language of today’s gospel is a little confusing. People are just going about their lives, doing ordinary things, and suddenly they find themselves in the middle of apocalyptic events. When we read these words, we are tempted to try and figure out who is taken and who is left behind. But in the original Greek, those who are “taken” are gathered in, held together in a close relationship. What is left behind – or more precisely “let go” – is a release, a release of sin, of all that is negative and drags us down. Whatever impedes anticipation, whatever threatens to destroy hope, whatever sucks the light and life out of the room, is left behind. None of those who are walking together on the journey will be left behind.
Sister Mary M. McGlone writes in the November 27 issue of Celebration about her friends from Ecuador who live at the base of one of the most active volcanoes in South America. Mount Tungurahua is either smoking or rumbling at least half the time and the towns below are always on alert. The danger level moves unpredictably from yellow to orange to red and then back to yellow.
The people have learned to live with it. They have backpacks ready with water, medicine, flashlights and matches. They all know the routes that lead to safety. No one will be left behind. They are prepared as they go about their everyday lives. Some of the women grind corn, just like in our gospel story. Others work on computers, give physical therapy or are special education teachers. Life goes on even while they remain vigilant, alert to the warnings that could change everything in a moment. Living there has taught them to be watchful without being nervous, which results in a sense of gratitude for each day, for each hour, because they know how precarious and precious life is.
David Good, a minister in the United Church of Christ, writes in The Living Pulpit issue on Advent that we live in an age of “disenchantment.” He believes that many of us have allowed ourselves to become skeptical and cynical. We don’t listen sufficiently to our dreams and visions and so don’t understand what it means to be holy. We no longer pay attention to the stillness of the night time sky and so we might not even hear the music of the angels that the shepherds heard. Sometimes we are hesitant to follow our dreams, never mind undertake a journey of thousands of miles without GPS following a star as the magi did.
Good says that “re-enchantment” is the good news of Advent. He has no secret formula, except to say that if Lent is the season of being on our knees, then Advent is the season of being on our tiptoes. The New English Version translation of Luke 3:15, a traditional Advent text, says, “The people were on the tiptoe of expectation.” Good recommends that during Advent we should be up on our toes, leaning into the future. We should be in a state of readiness and preparation. Our attention and all of our senses need to be on “red alert.” If we’re not looking for revelation, then we might miss it.
Although we might often feel disenchanted with the world around us, it helps us realize how much we need Advent and Christmas. In order to fight that feeling, we need to get up on our tiptoes in expectation, to seek the promise and wonder rather than get bogged down in despair. Advent encourages us to seek re-enchantment, to see the glass as half full rather than half empty, to light up a room with our presence because we are allowing our inner lights to shine. Let’s begin this Advent by getting up on our tiptoes, looking in Scripture and seeing the promise of hope given to us by God. Let’s look around and see the inner lights emanating from the people who surround us. Let’s walk together on this journey we call Advent, which points the way to the realization of our hopes and dreams. As Sister Mary says, Advent is not the time to hit the snooze button. Amen.