“We Acknowledge Our Weariness”
November 26, 2023
First Sunday of Advent
Psalm 80:1-1; 17-19
To the leader: on Lilies, a Covenant. Of Asaph. A Psalm. 1 Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock! You who are enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth 2 before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh. Stir up your might, and come to save us! 3 Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved. 4 O Lord God of hosts, how long will you be angry with your people’s prayers? 5 You have fed them with the bread of tears, and given them tears to drink in full measure. 6 You make us the scorn of our neighbours; our enemies laugh among themselves. 7 Restore us, O God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved. 17 But let your hand be upon the one at your right hand, the one whom you made strong for yourself. 18 Then we will never turn back from you; give us life, and we will call on your name. 19 Restore us, O Lord God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved.
Since many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed.
In the days of King Herod of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly order of Abijah. His wife was a descendant of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. Both of them were righteous before God, living blamelessly according to all the commandments and regulations of the Lord. But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were getting on in years.
Once when he was serving as priest before God and his section was on duty, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to enter the sanctuary of the Lord and offer incense. Now at the time of the incense-offering, the whole assembly of the people was praying outside. Then there appeared to him an angel of the Lord, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was terrified; and fear overwhelmed him. But the angel said to him, ‘Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John. You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He must never drink wine or strong drink; even before his birth he will be filled with the Holy Spirit. He will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. With the spirit and power of Elijah he will go before him, to turn the hearts of parents to their children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.’ Zechariah said to the angel, ‘How will I know that this is so? For I am an old man, and my wife is getting on in years.’ The angel replied, ‘I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. But now, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time, you will become mute, unable to speak, until the day these things occur.’
Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah, and wondered at his delay in the sanctuary. When he did come out, he could not speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the sanctuary. He kept motioning to them and remained unable to speak. When his time of service was ended, he went to his home.
Welcome to Advent, the most wonderful time of the year! A phrase you will probably never see on a Hallmark card ever. There are at least two reasons why you will never see this particular card on the card aisle of the store. The first reason is because the card aisle is too busy with Christmas to notice Advent. The card aisle has probably never even heard of Advent. The only part of the store that’s heard of Advent, these days, is the novelty aisle where “Advent” has made a trendy new way to count down to Christmas with 24 pieces of small pieces of whatever you want: chocolate, cheese, legos, trolls, Taylor Swift keychains… you name it and it’s probably a thing someone has put in an Advent calendar that you can buy. I would say, by and large, Advent is not a holiday most stores understand very well. And that’s really okay.
And that brings me to the other main reason you’ll never see a Happy Advent card in the card aisle. Happiness in Advent is not generally the point. Now don’t get me wrong, it’s not that you can’t be happy in Advent, it’s just that Advent weaves together a complex range of emotions. It’s not that simple.
Advent literally means “the coming.” And we use it to describe the season of preparation that comes before the birth of Jesus and also the hope that God will come again. It’s a season of waiting. A season of moving through dark nights and a weary world believing that something better is not only possible, but actually coming. It’s a season of creating space so that we’re ready to help usher in the Kingdom of God. Advent speaks to the tension between our present reality and God’s vision for our future. They’re not the same right now, but that doesn’t mean it will always be like that.
Santa’s fun. The Christmas trees : beautiful! And matching pajamas and the Mariah Carey Christmas hits, they’re all festive and fun ways to celebrate the season. But when it comes down to it, we also need Advent. Because if we don’t have Advent we’ll lose our focus on why the coming of Christ is so significant. The world is really hard. Especially right now. And Advent gives us this lens through which to see how God can still come into even this kind of world when it seems that only evil gets the spotlight.
You can’t really put that into a Hallmark card or a chocolate-filled Advent Calendar. But that’s okay. That’s why we’re here. Now. To embark on Advent together, the only way you really can.
Our choir just sang a song you probably didn’t expect to hear. The words go like this: Honor the dark, as you do the light. Receive the gifts that come to you, by day and by night. Honor the dark, uncertainty and change. Deliver us from fear until only love remains.
Sometimes we need dark seasons before we are ready to see the light. Sometimes acknowledging that we are weary is the first step to slowing down. And sometimes we have enough wherewithal to observe this about ourselves, and other times someone else has to notice it for us.
The Gospel of Luke tells the story of Jesus’ life. And today we heard the first verses of that Gospel. But it didn’t mention Jesus, did it? That’s because in this Gospel, the story of Jesus begins with the story of John the Baptist who prepares the way for Jesus. Today’s story wasn’t really about John, either, though. It was about two people, Zechariah and Elizabeth, who are exhausted by their inability to have children. They are weary. Weary in the way you are when you are literally approaching a very old age, and weary in the way you are figuratively when you have given up hope. So when an angel appeared to Zechariah and said:
You’re going to have a baby with your wife Elizabeth and your baby will bring joy
When that happened, Zechariah’s weariness had so clouded his ability to have hope he responded the only way he knew how, with skepticism:
But are you sure? How can I be sure? I am an old man and my wife is an old woman.
What happened next could be seen as a punishment for Zechariah’s skepticism or something else. The angel of God took away Zechariah’s ability to speak. She muted him until the day of his son’s birth. This was probably hard for Zechariah. Elizabeth may have enjoyed it slightly more. But the point is that Zechariah’s weariness had eclipsed his ability to have hope. He had become so pessimistic about what God could do, he couldn’t even believe it when a messenger of God was right in front of him telling him the very thing he hoped to hear. So God gave him an Advent. A season of reflection to help him replace his weariness with hope. A time to learn the possibility that joy could come. For Zechariah that meant removing something from his life in order to make space.
If it’s a better world we’re waiting for, sometimes the wait can feel very long. Like the Psalmist in Psalm 80 says, sometimes it feels like we’ve only been given tears to drink, waiting for restoration. It can feel so long that our weariness with how bad things are can begin to eclipse our ability to see possibility; to have hope. Does it ever feel that way? Like if good news were staring us in the face, we’d have a hard time recognizing it?
This is why we need Advent. To rekindle our hope. To look for the joy in the midst of the weariness. To retrain our hearts to hold space for possibility.
Over the next four weeks we’ll help each other on this path. We’ll hear the story of O Holy Night, the amazing and surprising song from which the phrase a Weary World Rejoices comes. We’ll continue to see the story of Zechariah, Elizabeth, and then Mary and Joseph unfold as they see possibility coming from their collective hope. We’ll sing songs, we’ll take part in familiar rituals.
So, welcome to Advent.
Where it’s okay to say: I feel tired by life and conflict and stress. Welcome to Advent, where we hold our weariness together in good company. Welcome to Advent, where together we honor the darkness in which we wait. Welcome to Advent, where joy and grief sit together in a holy tension of what is and what can be.
This Advent I invite you to make space for possibility. Perhaps this means finding a new practice that will open the door to experiencing joy. I doubt you’ll choose to go the route God had Zechariah go and give up speaking. That seems a bit extreme. But is there something else you can do special this season to make space for God? Like maybe join a small group. Or make an Advent Wreath at home and light it each night as a family. Maybe take home one of the Advent Calendars we made for this series follow its daily ideas. Maybe for you, making space for joy means taking something out of your life…. Like a once-a-week break from the news. Or a break each day to go on a walk outside.
Four weeks is not that long! If you want something more from this season, create the Advent you need. Spend time in the darkness so that you can come to terms with your own weariness so that you’ll be ready to hear the good news when that time comes.
by Sarah (Are) Speed
wind and water
will sand down the edges of a stone.
our wind and water
is the grief of the world.
Stay here long enough
and pieces of you
will be pressed upon
by life’s never-ending stream.
It’s enough to make you weary.
It’s enough to make you question.
It’s enough to make you quiet.
And yet, the stream continues.
So do not be afraid to stand in that water.
Wade in. Soak the hem of your jeans.
Drip wet footprints through every room in your house.
Let the water stains tell your story.
And when your body grows weary of swimming,
name the stream.
Acknowledge your weariness.
you will pick flowers from
the opposite bank.
And over and over again, we’ll tell this story.
And over and over again,
a weary world will rejoice.
Grace and Peace,