It wasn’t even 6:00 in the morning and Rachel and little Annie had been giggling and whispering for nearly thirty minutes before their excited energy drove them from the comfort of their warm blankets. Mom allowed them to stay up a little later than usual the night before and that simply added to their excitement.
For almost six weeks Rachel, who was ten, and little, Annie, who was four-and-a-half, had been anticipating this day. From the first moment they saw Christmas decorations in the local store, it had been non-stop Christmas. They watched all of the Christmas specials, popped popcorn and drank hot cocoa. They decorated their Christmas tree and traveled to see the lights. They “helped” mommy with the Christmas shopping and even baked Christmas cookies for the family in their Easy Bake Oven. On Christmas Eve they wrote a note to Santa Claus and left a giant cookie and two big carrots for the man in the red suit and his tiny reindeer. They put on their new pajamas and went to bed to listening to their favorite Christmas CD, the one with “I Want an Elephant for Christmas” on it. This was all leading to the moment…the moment before.
They sat, in the moment before, on the floor at the end of the long hallway that led into the great room. They could hear strange noises occasionally emanating from the room and echoing down the hall. They were trying desperately to be as quiet as possible. They were whispering to one another about what might await them down the hall and around the corner. Suddenly mom’s voice pierced the silence, “Girls. Are you out of bed already?” They quickly shushed one another so as to fool mom into believing that they were indeed still in bed. However, the silence lasted only for a moment. The excitement and anticipation were too much. They began chatting and giggling yet again. It didn’t take long until they heard it once more, “Girls. It is not time yet. You are going to have to wait a little while longer.” That wait seemed like hours. It was like the moment would never come. But then, the phrase they had waited to hear finally came floating down the hall, “Okay girls. It’s time.” With those simple words Rachel and Annie’s wide eyes met. Their mouths were open and they held their breath in anticipation of what would happen…of what would happen next. This was the moment. The moment before.
This was Advent. Advent at the end of a long hallway. Advent for two children in pajamas. For Advent is the moment before. Advent is the time when that for which you have been waiting is about to become. You know something is about to take place, but you have no idea what it is. Frederick Buechner writes, “The extraordinary thing that is about to happen is matched only by the extraordinary moment just before it happens. Advent is the name of that moment.” Advent is the moment before.
This season of Advent is about anticipation. This season of Advent, that comes to a close in the wee hours of this night as it turns into tomorrow morning, is all about waiting. In Advent, we do not know what is about to happen, but we can be certain that we are fully immersed in the moment before.
We all know something about waiting. In fact, there are times when it seems as if that is all that we get done – waiting. We wait in line to pay. We wait in traffic to proceed. We wait for the child to be born. We wait for the news. We wait for the diagnosis. We wait for justice, for peace, for love. We wait, not because we want to but because we must. Indeed, some of us are all too familiar with the moment before; eyes wide, breath abated. Bonhoeffer wrote, “Whoever does not know the austere blessedness of waiting – that is, of hopefully doing without – will never experience the full blessing of fulfillment…For the greatest, most profound, tenderest things in the world, we must wait.”
In another time, in another place, another people were also all too familiar with waiting. They had been waiting for centuries. They had lived, as one author wrote, “under one empire after another for around five hundred years. Some were worse than others, but all behaved as empires do, with their attendant oppression, injustice, and violence…And with the introduction of Roman imperial rule in 63 BCE, these people seemed more oppressed than ever. The hope for justice and the promise of peace had not come to pass” (Borg). This people, who lived in the occupation of Rome, were waiting. They were waiting for deliverance. They were waiting for justice. They were waiting for the culmination of God’s promises.
It was into this setting that the stories of the first Christmas were given birth. It was into this conflict that both the Gospel of Matthew and Luke proclaim that a child was born who was to break through the waiting. They wrote that it was through this infant that all of God’s promises were to be fulfilled. The author of the Gospel of Luke tells us that there were shepherds who were in the fields doing whatever it is that shepherds do. Their night and their work were suddenly interrupted by a heavenly messenger. This angel said, “Do not be afraid; for behold—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” And suddenly, there was a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among humanity, who are favored!” The shepherds were in this Advent moment, the moment before with their eyes wide open, holding their breath in anticipation of what would happen next.
The shepherds then went with haste, we are told, to see that which had happened. They had seen babies before. They had most likely witnessed countless births. However, this night, this birth, was somehow different. This birth was signifying change. This birth was the culmination of all their hopes and dreams. The waiting had now, somehow, come to an end. And these shepherds were transformed; transformed by what they were told - transformed by who it was they saw.
There is something different in the air tonight. Tonight is our moment – our moment before. It is a moment pregnant with anticipation. You and I are here expecting something. We may have caught a glimpse of it in our past, or maybe have seen in the back of our mind. Tonight, the anticipation is palpable. This is, for us, Advent. This is our moment before.
And if you listen carefully, you too may hear the wings of the angels. Listen. Do you hear them?
These messengers have come to proclaim that our wait is over. As our moment before turns into tomorrow morning, that for which we have been longing will have been born. The wait will be over. The question is, can we be like the shepherds and go and live as if it is true? Will we allow ourselves to be transformed by what we have heard and seen on this night; in this moment before? We cannot leave and remain the same. The Christ, Emmanuel, God with us, does not allow us this luxury. We must live as if what we say we believe is true! The angel says, “Behold, I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.”
Here we are, together, with our eyes wide open, holding our breath in anticipation of what will happen…of what will happen next.
This is the moment. This is Advent, our moment before. Amen.