Pilate slept in. Pontius Pilate had made a late night of it – in fact, he had turned in not long before dawn. He had washed his hands of the latest “Messiah” in the early hours of last Friday, called it good, and walked away. The nights since had been full, full of celebration – of a kind: reveling and drunkenness, debauchery and licentiousness, quarreling and jealousy, all the fleshly indulgence the apostle Paul so well describes. He was a creature of this night: the night at the end of the week. Pilate slept in.
It was early on the first day of the week, and it was still dark.
Across town, though, things were beginning to stir. Just quietly, a few women (Mary of Magdala, Mary the mother of James, Joanna, Salome, perhaps a few others) gathered together ointments and spices and made their way out of their houses and down through the pre-dawn streets, to pay their last respects to their friend, do their last duty to their master. And so they made their way to the tomb of Jesus son of Mary, Jesus of Nazareth. They thought they knew what they would find there.
It was dawn minus thirty. Day was coming; dawn was soon to break.
Imagine a desert landscape half an hour before dawn. A star glimmers in the east. As you move out into the open you see the moon, almost full, in the west, illumining the landscape – nearby trees, houses, hills, and the mountains beyond. The star in the east has a companion, a lesser satellite, still shining with brightness from the night before. There is a rustle here and there of night sounds. A campfire flickers: it can be rekindled.
The night is far along now, and the day is about to dawn.
We are waiting: you and I, together. We are waiting for the new dawn, the day of the Lord, the day when righteousness and peace will embrace, when swords will be beaten into plowshares and never will nation learn war anymore. We wait for the day when the poor are justified, and receive their due; when the widow and the orphan are protected.
And we are moving: we are not waiting passively, but actively, expectantly, we begin to move into this new day. Because something happened that morning as Pilate slept in; something that Salome and Mary and Joanna did not expect to happen. When they got to the tomb they found not the beginning of eternal night but the rising of a new day, the day of the Lord, just beginning, the day breaking into night’s dominion, bringing peace.
They ran to bring the news of this new day to all the disciples so that they could begin living in it, living into it, living it, as soon as possibly joy could allow.
And so we too are moving, running walking climbing, making our way into the world to let it know that Jesus is alive: the King has come home, the true King, the Messiah indeed, at last, is coming to his own – and his own shall know him and be set free.
He comes to us, this unexpected Jesus, in a form unsuspected: where we look for a king, a royal birth, we find a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. Where we look for a warrior we find a man of peace. Where we look for a master we find one who empties his self of all majesty and serves. Where we look for an answer, a question:
How are we to live in this new day, the day of the Lord? How are we to announce it?
Every year it comes back around to us, at the top of the year, as we face both backwards into the past – the Nativity of our Lord– and forwards into the future – the Return of the King; and yet at this present moment, when we stand on the precipice of time, we live in the moment of freedom: to find ourselves and define ourselves anew, as people of the passing night or as the people of God, Christ’s children, the Church.
How are we to live at this moment? Whiling away the waning hours of night? Or shall we begin, even now, in this moment, to live as children of the day?
To live as children of the day is to begin to live into God’s kingdom – to take the values Jesus has taught us and without waiting for a big sign in the sky – like the one that says, “Welcome to Las Vegas!” – to say, “Eternal life starts here”, to begin to live that way. O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!
We cannot be again what we once were, but we can become what we should be, can be, and are called to be. We cannot recapture lost time, but we can stay focused, keep together, and move forward in the name of Christ, into the redeeming of time: future, present, past – all are made new and whole in the light of Christ.
The ways of the Lord are so precious and true, so giving of life, that Isaiah predicts all nations will come seeking instruction, to learn to walk in the ways of God, and to be shown his pathways. God through the Holy Spirit – and through the Body of Christ – teaches us the way. It is a way that leads to justice, that finds peace, that sees an end to the strife between people and nations – a time so confident of its fruitfulness that the tools of war are no longer needed and can be turned into the tools of productive abundance.
We are his hands and his feet in the world, his voice and his ears, and we are gathered here in this place in this time to embody to the world his message of peace. As we bear forth his message – even in the absurd and timeless form of a baby – we bring the greatest force to bear that the world has ever known: and that force is the love of God.
Irresistible, it moves mountains; immemorial, it lasts forever; inconceivable, it is real… the most real thing of all.
This is the season of advent, of new beginnings, for you, for me, for all of us who live in this world – a new hope is dawning as surely as the light is rising in the East, beyond the mountains, unseen, but closer every moment.
We experience that new hope in our own lives, even in the midst of sorrow. Where Pilate would find only the end of night, the women of Jesus found a new dawn. Where the world runs out its string, there faith begins to take hold. Jesus is with us, even in the darkest hour, just before dawn. And he is our light.
And if we are transparent enough, the light of the love of the Lord shines through us, a beacon for others, beckoning them to join us in this new day.
O come, let us walk in the light of the Lord.
The First Sunday of Advent: December 2, 2007
The Church of Saint Alban, Edmonds, Washington.
God, who ever comes to you, draw you to his love, draw you to his light, draw you to himself; and the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, be among you and remain with you always. Amen.
(David Adam, Clouds of Glory, Year A, Advent 1)
Isaiah 2:1-5, Psalm 122/Canticle 15, Romans 13:11-14, Matthew 24:36-44