December 2, 2012 “ 1 Advent C
Jeremiah 33:14-16; 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13; Luke 21:25-36
Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr.
Think for a moment about those negative people in your life. Of course there are none here but we all have them, those folks who never seem to be able to do anything but point out the things that are wrong.
A few years ago I went back to a former parish for a special event. I was walking down a hallway and noticed, way on down at the other end, just such a person. The whole time I had been there she had been negative about most everything that happened. I automatically had a sinking feeling and took immediate evasive action. I spun around to head in the opposite direction before she could see me. And, as I did, I literally bumped into the very same person that I thought I had seen at the other end of the hall. It was like I was surrounded. The first thing out of her mouth was negative. Well, you finally decided to come back to see us. We thought you had long forgotten us down there in your fancy church in Alabama. Now how could I ever forget you, I offered but she kept on, soon switching to complain about her current rector. Try as I might, I’m not sure I could ever forget this person. Even after some years just the sight of her brought about a visceral reaction.
When those negative people approach, we usually know what is coming and we try to get away. Sometimes it seems like they sneak up on us. Other times we can predict exactly when they are going to come forward. Kind of like vampires at night, when things are getting dark they seem to thrive on the darkness. When things are good they seem never to be around but let something a little bad happen and here they come to offer their own heaviness. Sometimes they’re loud and overbearing but most times they sidle up to you and offer some comment like they are doing you a special favor. When they do compliment you it’s like they are baiting some trap, luring you in so they can dig the knife in a little deeper. These are the people who, when there is a crisis, end up being the crisis themselves. First you have to deal with them and then work your way back to the main problem. They never make anything better, only worse.
Contrast with them the positive people you know, not the Pollyannas who are lying to themselves and everybody else, but the people who seem to be attracted more to the light than the darkness, the ones who are looking for the good signs, the solutions, the evidence of healing, the ones you gravitate toward and intuitively trust. How can people be so different? What makes the negative people negative and the positive people positive?
Advent is here, the time when we reflect on how the world is getting darker around us, yet a time when we proclaim that the great light is still there and working to overcome all darkness. Advent is here, the time when we ask: Are you ready? But remember, we’re not asking if you’re ready for something dark and negative to overtake you. We’re asking if you are ready for all that is light and positive. That’s what so appealing and challenging about Advent. It faces honestly the darkness that surrounds us but it reminds us that the light is winning, that the light of Christ outshines any darkness. Any kid with a night light knows it is true “ a tiny light defeats a whole room of darkness. The light of the infant Jesus defeats the dark and heavy sinfulness of our human world.
Pretty soon we’ll start asking each other, are you ready for Christmas? The Advent question is deeper and more profound: Are you ready for the great hope of Christ to break into the world? Are you ready to change and grow? Are you ready for the darkness of your own heart to be transformed by light itself? What is amiss inside you? Where do you need the light the most? It is a time of repentance, a time of turning, but also a time when we’re asked to notice things beyond our own navel, a time when we’re asked to look up and around us to see what is changing. Advent is a time when we’re invited to embrace the changes taking place instead of clinging simply to what we’re accustomed to. Change typically scares us so much that we think it is the ruination of what is good. Advent invites us to see change as an indication that God himself has intervened and is bringing about the redemption of all that has gone wrong. God sees the darkness and shines light upon it.
It’s kind of funny but, at this time of year when the days grow shorter and shorter, we are drawn toward the sunshine more than usual. In the summer, we seek the shade for its coolness. But in the late fall, the shade is cold. There’s a dramatic difference, at this time of the year, between the warmth of the sun and the coldness of the shade. Our dogs and cats know it too as they bask in that strip of sunlight in the den. The dark days have a real effect on us. Some of us literally suffer from a seasonal depression. When the days are darker, we know all the more the value of the light. But if we’re in the dark for too long, we forget. The coldness and the fear take hold. We forget there is light until it shines on us and then we remember. Advent, falling when it does, helps us know how dependent we are on the light and how very good the light really is. Cats and dogs search for the sunlight to warm them. You and I yearn for the light of Christ to warm us.
What’s the difference between the negative people and the positive people? One has been in the dark so long he has forgotten there is light. The other has seen the light and trusts that it is there even if the particular situation is dark and grim. One is afraid and one is trusting. One has attached himself to the mire which sucks everything downward. One has attached himself to grace which pulls everything upward.
People are who they are and they don’t really change “ that seems to be true. The negative folks will mostly keep on being negative; the positive folks will keep on being positive. But another truth is that all people are changing. Just because something was one way yesterday does not mean it will be the same tomorrow. Change is the one true constant we all face. Change reminds us that the kingdom is breaking in and shaping us. All of us are being transformed. All of us are dark and cold but the warm light is searching us out to warm and renew us.
Don’t give up on the negative folks. The light will win out eventually. The negative folks are simply those who have yet to be warmed by the light. We’re all that way at some point. We have been overtaken by dark and cold but God has shined his light upon us and given us hope. Just as the shorter days help us be drawn to the light, so the negative times remind us that God is about to make himself known in a powerful way. We can choose the light or the darkness, that is true enough. We can change our choice, that is true as well. But the truth above all is that the light of Christ has chosen us, has chosen this world of creeping darkness. The light will prevail. The Advent message is alive once again. Stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.