Third Sunday of Advent
By Melody Kroeger
Last week while trimming the rose bushes, in between rain squalls, my thoughts wandered to Christmas. More to the point, I thought about why the time leading up to Christmas is difficult transition for so many people. (It is a tough time of year for me, too.)
Christmas is a time of great anticipation and expectation but also of unfulfilled promises. It is, for many reasons, a season of contradictions.
Working in the garden between rain drops it occurred to me that perhaps I’ve overlooked something. Maybe Christmas is meant to be a threshold celebration – standing in the doorway between light and dark, promise and fulfillment.
It is something of a paradox that we celebrate Christmas at the darkest time of the year. Some scholars contend that the Christmas date was borrowed from pagan solstice celebrations. Other scholars maintain that Christmas is 9 months after the March celebration of the Annunciation. Of course no one knows when the real date of the Annunciation. It is but only one mystery of our faith.
In the gospel reading today, we listened to Luke’s narrative on John the Baptist – a transitional figure standing on the threshold between seasons – of promises and of fulfillment.
From John we learn the importance of situating ourselves on a new threshold, straining our eyes by peering into the darkness to look for the one who is coming – the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit. Christmas is the season of good news because we are invited to stand in the doorway between light and dark, promise and fulfillment, the kingdom now and the kingdom not yet – with anticipation and hope.
And that is where God chooses and promises to meet us as well. Not in the tinsel and parties, hustle and bustle of Christmas but in our daily lives. It is on the edge between light and dark, promise and fulfillment that God does something transformative, renewing and inspiring. God often uses these in-between times in our lives to teach, to stretch, and to remake God’s people.
We stand in this dark time of year assured of God’s promises to us because it is a continual theme throughout the scriptures. God met Abraham and Sarah in their old age and promised them that God would make a “great nation” of them. God heard the cries of God’s people when they were enslaved in Egypt and led them to freedom. God met God’s people over and over again, even after they had turned away. God keeps God’s promises.
Like John the Baptist, we are called to be transitional figures – leading others from dark to light by walking with someone through recovery; encouraging others to see a new beginning when we acknowledge the homeless and engage in conversation. We build bridges between promises and fulfillment when we work for justice. And when we do these things, we are proclaiming the kingdom of God.
As Christians, we profess our new life in Christ, yet we are still waiting for its fullness. We have faith in God’s promises, yet we are waiting for that faith to be fulfilled. The reality of God’s kingdom here on earth is something of a paradox: the kingdom now and the kingdom not yet.
And that’s what I thought about while trimming the roses. When the light starts to fade and the days grow cold, the spent flowers on the rose bush transform into these small, berry-sized, reddish seed balls, left on tips of the stems. Rose hips are the seed pods of roses – a winter promise to be fulfilled in the spring.
What I did not know was that in order to germinate, rose seeds can take many months and require a prolonged period of cold dark days. One particular species, Rosa canina, can only germinate after two winters have passed. In order for the promise contained within this small hard shell to burst forth as a rose – the seeds must endure the dark and the cold.
When the sun returns and winter recedes across the Northwest, the promise of new life will once again emerge from my bare and thorny rose bushes. In the meantime, Christmas carols will be sung and the stockings hung, but I’ll be thinking about my roses. They give me hope through the rain, wind and cold dark days – the hope for a promise to be fulfilled .
Christmas is a threshold season – the time of promises – but not yet the time of fulfillment. But because of the promises God has made and kept over and over again we can stand on the threshold with faith and hope. We trust that the cold and dark times in our lives are not the last word. Spring will come. And as Isaiah says, “The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever.”
As you come up for communion – take a promise and place it on the wreath as a sign of future fulfillment.