I love the different seasons of the church. I love changing the colors, using a seasonal preface and planning events around the new season. And I love Advent most of all. I used to think I loved Advent because it is the lead up to Christmas, and I really love Christmas. But I read something while preparing for this sermon that helped me realize why I really love Advent. In her book, Breathing Space, Heidi Neumark, a Lutheran pastor, writes about why she loves Advent.
Probably the reason I love advent so much is that it is a reflection of how I feel most of the time. I might not feel sorry during Lent, when the liturgical calendar begs repentance. I might not feel victorious, even though it is Easter morning. I might not feel full of the spirit, even though it is Pentecost and the liturgy spins out fiery gusts of ecstasy.
But during Advent I am always in sync with the season. Advent unfailingly embraces and comprehends my reality. And what is that? I think of the Spanish word anhelo, or longing. Advent is the time when the church can no longer contain its unfulfilled desire and the cry of anhelo bursts forth: “Marantha! Come Lord Jesus! O Come, O Come Emanuel!”
Something clicked with me when I read this, because I too am always in sync with Advent, and now I know it’s because Advent is not just about preparation but longing. We don’t just prepare for Christmas; we long for Christmas. We sing hymns like “O Come, O Come Emanuel!” We are asking for Christ to come now, like right now.
This is the kind of Advent I can understand because I am always full of longing. I am just that kind of person. Even though I have more than most, I always have long lists of things I want and long for. And these aren’t just lists of things to buy (although trust me there are plenty of those). I have lists of goals, which are a kind of longing, I have personal goals, professional goals, goals for my husband and if I’m being really honest, goals for our dog. These longings range from simple things, like sticking to an exercise routine all the way to complex things like implementing a new worship service that will bring in droves of new members.
I also have longings for our wider communities. I wish that more people went to church and that more people could see the value in prayer. I wish for those who can’t even fathom the purpose of church to find Christ in their own way. I cry anhelo for all those who sleep outside when it is cold. I cry anhelo for those who don’t know where they will spend Christmas this year. And I long for a reality where no one lives in fear.
So there you go, I have a long list of longings. And we all have a long list of longings or anhelos, for ourselves, our families, our church and our world. Many of us long for the healing of someone we love, or perhaps we long for a change in situation: new job, new school, new house, or new friends. Or is there someone you long to see? Is there a place to long to see again that no longer exists or has changed so much that you don’t recognize it? Maybe you long to return to return to a moment in your life that is no longer. Like your sophomore year of college or a when all your children still lived at home? It could be that you long to see the house you grew up in? Perhaps you long for a more righteous world. And I think we all long for peace in our crazy violent world.
What do you long for this Advent? What is your anhelo?
But what can we do with our longing in Advent? It would seem that the prophet Jeremiah had some ideas. In this morning’s reading, Jeremiah speaks to the Israelites who are in exile from Jerusalem in Babylon. The Babylonians besieged Jerusalem in 605 BCE and deported Jews to Babylon after the siege. It can be hard to imagine what their connection to Jerusalem was, but it was much more than a city on a map. For the ancient Israelites and indeed modern Jews, Jerusalem is a spiritual home, a cultural center, and the only place to be close to God. The Passover Seder ends with the prayer “Next year in Jerusalem.” Their longing for Jerusalem during the Babylonian captivity must have been intense. Just as intense as any of our longings are today. But Jeremiah reassures them that “the days are surely coming” when God will fulfill His promise to Israel. He instructs them to remember God’s promise to them and to wait for the promise to be fulfilled. Jeremiah’s advice to a desperate exiled people is to hold steadfast to God’s promise.
And Jeremiah offers us the same advice this morning. We too are a people full of longing waiting for God’s promise to be fulfilled. We all know what it is to long for something and wait for the longed for promise to be fulfilled. We are all eager to see the future God has in store for us. And in our case this promised future is Jesus or the righteous Branch that sprang up from David. Jeremiah reminds us that in the midst of all of our longings, what we really long for is Jesus.
What does it mean to long for Jesus?
For me, to long for Jesus, is to be who we are right now. It is to be a broken and confused people who long for something more. To long for Jesus, is to long for God’s future for us and for our world. If you wish for a world without violence you are wishing for God’s future. If you long to see a departed loved one, then you long for God’s future. If you wish to use your gifts in the best possible way, then you are longing for God’s future. If you long for comfort, hope or courage then you long for Jesus. We have to believe in God’s promise of His future for us, for surely the days are coming.
As we wait for God’s promise in this season of Advent, what can we do with our longings, our anhelo? This Sunday like every Sunday brings us to the altar. Jeremiah’s promise to the people that the “days are coming” comes to fruition for us most clearly in the Eucharist. Perhaps in Advent, we can see this table as a table of longing and we can bring everything we long for to the table. Perhaps we can let God’s promise present in the Eucharist nourish us with hope as we wait with our longings this Advent. Amen.