Sunday, December 8, 2019
Second Sunday of Advent
“E hoʻomākaukau ʻoukou i alanui no Iēhova e hana i kona mau kuamoʻo i i pololei.” These words appear in the Hawaiian language Bible in verse 3 ofour reading from The Gospel According to Matthew. “Prepare – hoʻomākaukau – the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.”
Those of you who have studied hula or who are students of hula learn that that is one of the first instructional words one learns when it comes to hula kahiko or ancient hula. There is the ka‘i or “coming out to dance before an audience.” That begins with an oli or chant (Hawaiian Dictionary, Mary Kawena Pukui & Samuel H. Elbert, University of Hawai‘i Press, Honolulu, 1986, pages 115).
But before the oli and the ka‘i is performed, the kumu hula or teacher will ask in a commanding voice, “Ho’omākaukau?” Are you ready? Are you prepared . . . to begin? To which all of the dancers would respond in the affirmative – “‘Ae! ‘Yes, I am ready’ or in a collective voice, ‘Yes, we are ready!’”
Then the teacher would respond by saying, “Pā,” and then thump a gourd down on a pad, with one quick slap of the fingers as the gourd is raised” (Ibid., page 296). At that point, one assumes that the dancers know the chants and the motions to each dance.
Every dance is preceded by a time of preparation. One might say the same as we continue through this season of Advent. Advent is a time of preparation.
The Rev. Tish Harrison Warren is a priest in the Anglican Church in North America. She points out: “Historically, Advent, the liturgical season that begins four Sundays before Christmas Day, is a way to prepare our hearts (and minds and souls) for Christmas.”
She reminds us that “for Christians, Christmas is a celebration of Jesus’ birth – that light has come into darkness and, as the Gospel of John says, ‘the darkness could not overcome it.’ But Advent bids us first to pause and to look, with complete honesty at that darkness” (“Want to Get Into the Christmas Spirit? Face the Darkness,” The New York Times, November 30, 2019).
As we move through this time of year that we also call the Makahiki season, the days grow a bit shorter and the nights a bit longer. Christmas lights abound as we crash our way into Black Friday and through Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday and Giving Tuesday. Christmas carols and holiday music blare at us at every turn. Christmas trees, Christmas cards, Christmas carols, Christmas ornaments, Christmas cookies, Christmas parties, Christmas plays, Christmas wreaths, Christmas holly, Christmas everything abounds everywhere.
But not in our churches. The sanctuaries are draped in purple, the color of both royalty and repentance. “There is,” in our churches what Warren refers to as “a silent stillness. The music turns to minor keys and becomes contemplative, even mournful” (Op. cit).
And as we have heard over the last two Sundays, the Scripture readings are also apocalyptic, “short on sweet tales of babies, little lambs and Christmas stars.” In this sanctuary, Christmas season has not yet begun. In this sanctuary, we wait in Advent.
I am drawn to the notion that in order for Advent to have any meaning for us, we must “lean into,” what Warren describes as “an almost cosmic ache: our deep, wordless desire for things to be made right and the incompleteness we find in the meantime. We dwell in a world still racked with conflict, violence, suffering and darkness. Advent holds space for our grief – [whether personal or communal] – and . . . reminds us that all of us, in one way or another, are not only wounded by the evil in the world but are also wielders of it, contributing our own moments of unkindness or impatience or selfishness” (Op. cit.) and as such, the we ourselves are in need of repentance.
The call to repentance is want permeates our reading from The Gospel According to Matthew. The people who were going out to the river Jordan heeded the words of John the Baptist who proclaimed: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near. The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare – hoʻomākaukau - the way of the Lord, make his paths straight’” (Matthew 3:2-3).
John appears baptizing others at the edge of the Jordan and as word spreads, more and more people come to the river. He welcomes all who have come, that is, until the Pharisees and Sadducees, representatives of established religion, arrive (“Reflections on the Lectionary,” Matthew Johnson, Christian Century, November 20, 2019, page 21).
John questions their motives and challenges their faith. We may be tempted to think that we are not like the Pharisees or the Sadducees. But John’s proclamation to all is very clear.
Warren is also clear in her observation when she says, “I think Advent offers wisdom to the wider world. It reminds us that joy [at Christmas] is trivialized if we do not first intentionally acknowledge the pain and wreckage of the world” (“Want to Get Into the Christmas Spirit? Face the Darkness,” The New York Times, November 30, 2019).
It would seem that many today begin celebrating Christmas long before Thanksgiving is over. We would do well to take time to “face the darkness” and not turn Christmas into an “anesthesia from pain . . . ” we may feel in our own lives. Warren adds that Advent becomes the time for us “to look long and hard at what is cracked and fractured in our world and in our lives. Only then can celebration become deep, rich and resonant, not as a saccharine act of delusion but as a defiant act of hope” (Op. cit.). We dare to hope when it seems there is no hope.
I have shared the lyrics from the song “Anthem” with you before. It is a song that took Leonard Cohen, a poet and ordained Buddhist monk, a decade to write.
The message he offers for troubled and troubling times is this: “There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.” Indeed, the Apostle John writes, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it” (John 1:5).
In this season of Advent, Warren asks rhetorically: “Want to get into the Christmas spirit? Face the darkness.” Amid the troubled and troubling moments in our own lives and in the world; amid the sorrow, there is redemption.