The first week of Advent has to deal with the shock. Is it time? Already? Sure, the world has been giving Christmas hints for months now, but it still seems to surprise us every year. Perhaps it is because we don’t start with the Christmas story. That might be a little more palatable. No, we start with the warning signs, with the forecast for cloudy skies ahead. We start with a prophetic call to look at the world we inhabit. How close are we to the kin-dom we proclaim week after week? How close are we to this coming “on earth as it is in heaven” for which we pray regularly? Advent is about being honest.
But not hopeless. Advent is about the joy of longing for home – the kind of home that will complete us, the kind of home that will transform the world. It is about helping us remember that we have a mission and a hope. We are people who see God at work in this world, and we are partners in that remaking. We are the disciples who make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
Worship this week, then, is that call to remember the hope. We cast a vision in our songs and prayers that holds up the kin-dom ideal and invites everyone to get ready to head home. It’s time: that’s our call; it’s time to go home.
So, what do we do when we get ready to go home? We make lists. We put things in order. We set our minds on our destination. So, as we decorate our sanctuaries, we are painting a portrait of the kin-dom, light and color and vibrantly green with life, even in winter.
Our arms are open to receive those who come, maybe for the first time, maybe old friends, maybe the usual crowd, but all are welcome in God’s home, our kin-dom home. Pay attention this season to hospitality; it matters. It matters always, but especially this time, this threshold time. If the church is the glimpse of the home toward which we move, then take care to reflect the welcome that is being offered.
Light, of course, is crucial to Advent. We light the candles on the wreath, not to count down to Christmas, but as a beacon to call us home. “We’ll leave the light on for you” isn’t just a slogan for a hotel chain, but a gospel promise that we will find our way by the light that is Jesus the Christ and now is reflected in the body of Christ, the church. So, let there be light during the season of Advent. You could, as some do, bring in more and more light each week, or you could start the season with the full complement, except for the remaining candles of the wreath, but the full complement of lights glowing in the worship space.
The first Sunday of Advent, or the Sunday of hope in some traditions, or the prophecy candle in others, is the reminder that it is time to head home.
Rev. Dr. Derek Weber, Director of Preaching Ministries, served churches in Indiana and Arkansas and the British Methodist Church. His PhD is from University of Edinburgh in preaching and media. He has taught preaching in seminary and conference settings for more than 20 years.