First Sunday of Advent: Breaking Through the Darkness

First Sunday of Advent: Breaking Through the Darkness
“Coming Out of the Darkness.” Art made by Libby, 14, at the Cunningham Children’s Home in Urbana, Ill. From the 2020 Prayer Calendar.

Isaiah 64:1-9, Mark 13:24-37

Advent is here – a time for anticipating the birth of Jesus! 

And yet, this whole year has been one of anticipating – often stressfully. We have experienced collective loss and grief. The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted our way of life with illness, death and isolation. The extrajudicial killings of Black people in the United States and the protests that followed have led us to face more intensely the prevalence of racism in our society. We have awaited, with apprehension, the outcome of a presidential election that has deeply polarized our communities and churches. As we enter into Advent we bear the anxiety of anticipation on our shoulders.

The Old Testament scripture today finds the Jews returning to Jerusalem. With the fall of the Babylonians and the rise of the Persians, they were granted permission to return from exile – still under an empire, but with permission to rebuild. In this text, they lament, crying out for God’s presence, protection and forgiveness.

Reading this I imagine the Israelites trying to return to a sense of “normal,” and mourning the loss of that possibility. I am struck by the verse 6b in which the poet writes, “We all fade like a leaf, / and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.” This movement from life to death, that involves the nation, speaks into the ways in which “normal” for the Israelites included iniquities, sins that separated them from God.

Grieving the loss of “normal”

As we, too, grieve the loss of “normal,” we recognize that this year has brought us face to face with the sins of our nation, and as we move forward, our calling, like that of the Israelites, is not to return to normal, but to take what we have learned – new ways of being, understanding, and caring for ourselves and community – and repent.

In lament, the poet of Isaiah 64 expresses grief, sadness, repentance and a desire to be close to God, and in this complexity the text offers us an option. Can we continue to grieve the losses we have experienced, while repenting for the sins of our nation? Can we seek to find comfort and maintain the conviction that we can still yet reach the fullness of God’ promise for equity and justice?

Keeping awake

The New Testament text in Mark 13:24-37, shows a triumphant Jesus breaking through the clouds of suffering with glory and power. In leading up to this moment, Jesus advises that there will be signs of his coming. In order to see them, we must “keep awake.”

“Keeping awake” in our current moment means continuing to discern the difference between comfort in “normal” and comfort in the righteousness of God. We are called to remain vigilant to the ways in which systems of oppression and discrimination separate us from the hope of Jesus. In this new season there is an unreasonable dream being birthed in the coming of Emmanuel – God with us. Jesus’ birth brings hope for now and the future amidst our anxieties and grief, and through him we are invited into the will of God. In the birth of Jesus, we have the joy of building out possibilities for new life.

Nora Asedillo Cunningham is the spiritual growth & formation specialist at United Methodist Women.

Posted or updated: 11/27/2020 12:00:00 AM

Give Thanks. Give Now.

Advent 2020

November 29: First Sunday of Advent
December 6: Second Sunday of Advent
December 13: Third Sunday of Advent
December 20: Fourth Sunday of Advent
December 24: Christmas Eve
December 31: New Year's Eve


2021 Prayer CalendarClick Here.2021 Prayer Calendar available on the e-store