First United Methodist Church
Plymouth, Indiana

Advent 1: Sacred Time

First United Methodist Church
November 27, 2022
Rev. Lauren Hall
Advent 1: Sacred Time 

During the darkest hours of the morning when I was in my deepest dreams, my sister would walk into the room where I was sleeping, gently shake my shoulder, and whisper, “It’s time.” The two of us would tiptoe through the house, hoping to catch Santa Claus in the act, but somehow we always arrived after he had been there, and then after looking through the wrapped packages to see which ones were for us, we would go back to bed and wait, anxiously anticipating the moment that our parents would wake us up so we could begin our Christmas morning festivities.

Anticipation. Expectation. Hope.

Years later, we would practice a similar routine, only now the occasion was Black Friday, and rather than sneaking through the house hoping to find Santa we would instead go out into the darkness of the early morning hours to work our plan that would make the most of the morning’s shopping frenzy. After our Thanksgiving dinner we would look through the flyers, noting which stores opened at what time, and then work out a detailed schedule in which my oldest sister would drop off my mother, my other sister and me at the first store. My mother would get in the check-out line, my sister and I would race through the store to get the items we wanted, hand them off to my mother, and then go outside where my oldest sister would be waiting to take us to the next store. She would then go back and pick up my mother and take her to that store where she would get in line again, and we would repeat this same routine until we got through our entire list, and then at about nine o’clock we would all celebrate with breakfast at Denny’s. This was a fun tradition we used to enjoy as a family, and something I anticipated and looked forward to every year when I traveled home for Thanksgiving.

Anticipation. Expectation. Hope.

In the middle of night a little over nineteen years ago, my sister would come again to gently touch my shoulder and whisper, “It’s time.” This time, however, it was in the waiting area outside the intensive care room where my mother lay struggling for each breath. I experienced a different type of anticipation, knowing that entering my mother’s hospital room meant confronting the darkness of death. But I was ready. I didn’t know exactly what moment my mother would choose to leave this world, but I had been preparing for it for several months. I knew that she was ready, and because of that, I was ready too.

I didn’t know I was preparing for it. In fact the phone call that whisked me off to Connecticut was a bit of a surprise. But my mother and I were in right relationship. We were separated by distance, and for some years we were separated by tension too, and even though I made my obligatory visits, I often returned home angry and frustrated. But over the last couple of years, we had found a way to put our past behind us and just be mother and daughter, sharing life’s joys with one another and staying in touch through phone calls and emails.

Mom wasn’t the greatest with the internet and quite often I would receive a message from her that was completely blank. That was before Spam was really a thing, so even though I never knew what she intended to send, I at least knew that she was thinking of me! It was like a nudge from God – call your mother, share what’s going on in your life, she loves you, just as I love you.

The week before she died, I called her from Denver. I was attending a Camping Conference and I had a few extra minutes. I was bored and feeling lonely, so I found a pay phone – yes, do you remember those – and I made the call. We didn’t really talk about anything special, neither one of us realizing that it would be our last conversation. But it was a good one. I have no regrets. At that moment in time, our relationship was as good as it could possibly be.

Anticipation. Expectation. Hope.

Just a few years later I would experience another moment of anticipation, expectation and hope. This time I was in a hospital bed and at 8:00 am, the obstetrician would enter my room and announce, “It’s time for your water to break,” and he broke it. Rowynn’s birth was induced, and everything went exactly as planned, with a tiny new life emerging after about three hours of labor pains. Yes, I experienced one of the easiest labors in history. I’m really sorry – I know that many women experience those pains for a much longer time.

Anticipation. Expectation. Hope.

It happens to us all. Inside each one of us is a feeling, more than a feeling, a conviction, that what we experience right now in real time is never enough. We long for something more and something better. Great poets and thinkers like George McDonald, T.S. Eliot, and C. S. Lewis have all noticed it in us. Lewis uses a German word to describe it. He called it “Sehnsucht,” this deep longing for what we do not have but know must be out there. The apostle Paul sees it as universal when he writes in Romans 8:19 that all creation is “waiting with eager longing.”

There are times when we experience this longing in joyful expectation and other times in sickness, terror, or deep disappointment. We sense that somewhere in time or beyond it, there has to be more, and it has to be better.

Setting time aside to see reflections of the sacred requires that we pay more attention to the “right now” rather than the past or the future. Our minds are so easily occupied by memory and imagination…wonderful gifts that we possess. But living in those places often robs us of another great gift – the ability to “notice the now” in a deeper way. As Paul reminds us throughout his letter to the Romans, we are never actually separated from the presence of God – from the sacred – except in our mind’s continuously distracted activity.

The scriptures for this week can conjure up both anxiety and confident hope. Jesus tells us to be ready: “Keep awake therefore,” he says. “for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. (Matthew 24:42) Paul, on the other hand, defines readiness through a different perspective. “…you know what time it is. The hour has already come for you to wake up from your sleep…the night is far gone, the day is near.” (Romans 13:11-14)

What is it we are preparing for? Quite a few things actually.

  • Be ready to welcome the presence of Jesus.
  • Be ready to be a servant of God.
  • Be ready to live as we’re supposed to live.
  • Be ready to act in the interests of the kingdom.
  • Be ready to be faithful.

A person who lives in a state of readiness is a person who looks for opportunities to glorify God. This is a person who lives in anticipation of teachable moments, and who also is aware of dangers along the way. He or she pays attention to possible pitfalls or potential dangers. They see the signs that say, “Mind your head,” or “watch your step.”

Our first week of Advent is called “Sacred Time” not only because the scriptures point directly at the concept of time, but also because I wanted us to start by framing our Advent journey in terms of identifying sacred time. The word “sacred” literally means to “set apart.” I encourage you to set some time apart this week to engage in the idea that all of time is full of possibility for reflecting the sacred. All we have to do is stop in a moment and notice it. Marvel at something. Take a deep breath. Light a candle. Listen to favorite music. Speak of the deepest things we know with a friend. “Spend” a bit of time to make life better for someone or some place. Any of these activities are the way we turn what is often a busy season into a journey toward deeper connection to the universal Christ.

At the heart of the Christmas story is the promise that God not only came in the small and vulnerable form of a baby born to poor and frightened parents, but that God keeps coming in small, vulnerable, unexpected, and unlooked for ways even now. In fact, each time we reach out to another in love, God is once again invading the kingdoms and structures of this world with God’s radical and transformative presence and grace.

So indeed, watch, wait, look, and most especially listen, for in the Christ child who will grow up to embrace all of our longings and experience all aspects of our life. Seek the places where God is whispering, “Emmanuel, I am with you!”

Anticipation. Expectation. Hope. It’s time. Amen.