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Advent 1 A ~ "Advent-Where the Infinite Beckons, and all Bets are Off" ~ Susan McGurgan

This week,

we enter into a new liturgical season,

with a new cycle of readings.

When we look at these readings

over the three-year span,

it doesn’t take long to figure out

that Advent readings

are frequently odd,


a little strange.


even disturbing.

If we are listening,

these readings illuminate a season

at odds

with our view of Advent

as something quiet,



A tame and comfortable resting place

in the run-up to Christmas.

Today, for instance,

we are confronted

with the image of two men in a field

one snatched up,

the other,

left behind.

We see two women grinding at the mill,

one taken—

we don’t know where--

one left.

We see thieves in the night,

and receive the ominous warning,

“Stay awake!”

In some years, we read of a woman

clothed in the sun,

crying out in the pangs of birth,

while a dragon

waits to devour her newborn child.

The desolate wilderness bursts into bloom,

and burning sands

become pools of clear water.

Other years,

we study engineering reports

and construction plans.

We learn of highways

carved through the desert,

mountains bulldozed low,

valleys backfilled and leveled.

Some weeks of Advent,

we are invited into a twisted broadcast

of the Animal Planet

and are thrust,

ready or not,

into a strange new world

where wolves lie peacefully beside lambs

and babies play in a cobra’s den.


the Advent readings promise miracle

after miracle

after miracle—

the blind shall see,

lepers will be made whole,

the dead raised.

Heavenly messengers

announce unexpected new life.

Some years,

we receive updates

drawn straight from the 6:00 News—

atmospheric warnings

that the sun, the moon, and the stars

will bear signs.

Nations will be in dismay.

People will become frightened,



During Advent,

God even invites us

to look into the mirror and see,

not our own familiar faces,

but threshing tools—

sharp, double edged, dangerous, new.

We discover that time


in Advent.

Like Alice, falling down the rabbit hole,

Time looks backward,

then forward,

then stands still,

then ends altogether.

Advent teaches us that our concept of time;





with a beginning, middle and end

is not necessarily God’s time,

which may be slanting

and spiral

and beyond our ability

to comprehend or measure.

Advent points us to another,

more mysterious kind of time;

the time that exists


in the eternal being of God.

Advent reminds us that God’s plan

does not reach its peak in the birth of Jesus

or even in his death and resurrection,

but in his second coming

at the End of all time.

And into this season,

a season filled with strange images

and cryptic warnings,

and time folding in on itself,

emerge the people of Advent.

People as challenging

and as unconventional

and as unexpected

as the images.

We will hear the rough shout of a man

emerging from the wilderness

A wild man,




A man wearing a goat hair shirt

munching on locusts and honey.

This man is calling us to repentance and belief;

calling us to be on watch for the one

who will come after him.

We will hear the story

of an unconventional family—

A family beginning life under difficult,


Spirit-led circumstances.

We will meet an honorable man,

guided by a voice in a dream

to take his pregnant fiancée into his home,

leaving himself open to scorn and ridicule.

We will encounter a woman,

guided by a voice heard in broad daylight.

A woman pregnant,

not by her betrothed,

or by any other man,

but by the power of God’s spirit.

If we are not astonished

at the Advent stories we hear,

the images we see,

and the people we meet--


It could be

that we are no longer really listening.


maybe we have heard them so often

that their rough edges are worn smooth

and their radical surprise has dulled.

HG Wells once said,

there is either something Mad

about the Christian message,

or else our hearts are still too small

to comprehend it.


is an invitation to enlarge our hearts;

To enter fully into a world

where nothing is as it appears at first glance

and everything feels a bit sideways.

If we are truly listening,

we will discover that Advent is something


than a season of waiting

or the sentimental story of a Mother and Child.

It is more complex

than a purple-tinged interlude

tucked away

between the foodfest of Thanksgiving

and the chaos of Christmas.

Advent is a world

where people who seem to be on the brink of disaster

encounter Hope so profound

that it changes the course of humanity.

Advent is a world

where the astonishing becomes ordinary

and the ordinary becomes sacred.

It is a season that opens a small tear in the veil

between our time and God’s time.

A season where the infinite beckons,

and all bets are off.

Welcome to Advent!

On this journey,

we may discover that somewhere along the way,

our lives have become too small,

too tame,

too safe.

And in that discovery,

we might just encounter a hope so profound,

that we, too, are transformed.

O house of Jacob, come,

Let us walk in the light of the Lord!

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