November 2020

Expectant Waiting in Uncertain Times

1st Sunday of Advent, November 29, 2020
Isaiah 64:1-9, Mark 13:24-37

– The Reverend Dr. Arnold Isidore Thomas –

Advent is a season of expectant waiting and preparation for both the birth of Christ and the second coming of Christ. The term is derived from the Latin word “adventus” meaning “coming” or “arrival,” which, in turn was translated from the Greek word “Parousia,” an expression associated in the New Testament with the second coming of Christ.

Now much of the biblical readings we will hear during the early part of this season will concern the second coming, and our need to stay alert and awake, not knowing when this Judgment Day arrival of Christ will occur. And as we move closer to Christmas, the readings will turn to the nativity, the angel Gabriel’s annunciation of Jesus’ birth to Mary, the journey to Bethlehem, the witness of the shepherds, the gifts of the magi to a holy child born in a cattle stall in Bethlehem.

This is one of Christianity’s most celebrated time of year that, this year, happens to fall on the most somber circumstance of a worldwide pandemic. During this time when we would normally be planning vacations and large family gatherings, rehearsing for Christmas pageants, brushing up on our favorite carols, and shopping for friends and loved ones, instead we’re cooped up, confined and quarantined by a virus that limits our shopping to online, our caroling and pageants to virtual presentations, and our family gatherings to those already in our homes or apartments.

However, before we start wallowing in the resentment of Ebenezer Scrooge or crooning Elvis Presley’s “Blue Christmas,” maybe we might take this time to consider the more dire situations in which Advent expectations arose, and realize from these historical contexts, that this is the perfect time and season for Advent waiting.

Today’s reading from the Prophet Isaiah reminds us that Isaiah, a court prophet for the rulers of Judah, lived with his people under the constant threat of conquest from more powerful adversaries such as Babylonia, which eventually overtook Judah and incorporated it into its empire. For Isaiah, Advent waiting was for a universal divine rescuer who would punish all oppressors and relieve the suffering of the oppressed.

In todays’ Gospel reading Advent waiting is compared to a constant vigil of alert watchfulness, as enslaved individuals awaiting the unexpected return of their master.

I am reminded of the Watch Night service commonly held in African American churches every New Year’s Eve, commemorating the enactment of the Emancipation Proclamation, which on January 1. 1863, freed all black Americans enslaved in Southern Confederate states. Of course, this edict did not apply to Northern states, such as Kentucky, Missouri, and New Jersey that continued to enslave black people until the 13th Amendment abolished slavery nationwide. Yet to this day African Americans, recognize that a constant vigil of alert watchfulness and action must still be pursued to prevent the oppressive master’s return and encourage the coming day of freedom.

Advent could not have come at a more convenient time, because in this pandemic when we are aware of the physical, spiritual, social, and emotional challenges that beset those who came before us and who still had cause to hope for a better day, we too, despite our present hardships and dilemma, must be especially alert, vigilant and hopeful that this too will pass. And in our conviction to incarnate the love and compassion of God, even in difficult times, we do more than await the coming of Christ, we realize the presence of Christ is alive and well within us, liberating us as children of God for the realm and reign of God.  And so, we pray, “God with us, come! Amen.”