See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight—indeed, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap; he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the Lord in righteousness. Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years.
In 1967 I was born and the movie Dr. Doolittle premiered in theaters. Now, some of you are thinking, “1967! You’re a BABY!” and at the very same time, there are others of you who are saying, “1967! Isn’t that when dinosaurs still roamed the earth!” The truth is that 1967 is BOTH… it WAS just yesterday AND it was, at the same time, millions of years ago when dinosaurs still roamed the earth. Advent is like that too. In that same year Dr. Doolittle, who could talk to the animals, had among many animals, a Pushmi-Pullyu, which some of you will remember was a llama with two heads and no tail. My advice to you is not to dwell on how that works biologically. That basically ate up my whole Monday! But Advent is like that llama too, both looking forward AND equally looking back.
Advent is meant to be two different, but equal, things… all at the same time. We see it in the lessons we hear in this season. Last week we had apocalyptic, future looking, end of the world stuff, and as the season progresses we’ll have more “get ready for the baby Jesus” lessons. We see it in the colors for Advent too. There’s purple, which like Lent, has a penitential flavor to it… a better watch out, better not cry, sort of color… because baby Jesus is coming to town. But then there’s blue, which challenges us to be HOPEFUL that God will break into the world again, just as God has before, and smooth out all the world’s remaining rough places!
Advent is supposed to be a time to remember BOTH that very first Christmas, with Mary and Joseph and the Christ child, lying in a manger… AND it’s a time to look forward to God’s next amazing breaking-into-our-world time which is yet to come. It’s supposed to prepare us for that nostalgic look BACK to an amazing miracle that happened in a very real, very specific, point in history… The fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruled over a very real place that remains hard to pronounce... AND Advent is supposed to also be a time to look FORWARD to a time when “the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple.” To a time when God will complete making the world fully as God intendeds it to be. A time when God will remove the impurities from the world… things like hatred, hunger, racism, poverty and greed in the same way a refiner would remove the impurities from silver ore, or like a Fuller… who is someone who “fulls” as you all know... would clean the dirt and oils out of wool fabric so it’s clean and white and pure.
Our culture today isn’t very comfortable with two different things being true at the same time. I’ve preached about that before, but in spite of my preaching it hasn’t gotten much better. Our culture would like us all to just pick one thing OR the other, and cut out all this BOTH/AND junk. So there are folks who say, purple for Advent is a terrible idea and blue is the only appropriate color, while others insist that the introduction of blue for Advent is some sort of plot to kill all that was good and right in the church! There are folks who say that a penitential attitude for Advent is WAY too depressing! Why do we have to think about the impurities in our lives and our world when this is supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year? And at the same time, others insist that we beat back even the smallest hint of that first Christmas until December 24th at midnight at the very earliest!
The reality is that Advent is meant to be BOTH, from the first Sunday of the season, right up the the last! The colors are meant to be BOTH. Purple is both the color of penitentially preparing for the Lord coming into the world at the second coming AND it’s the color of royalty, for the King of Kings and Lord of Lords born in a manger! Blue is both the color of hopeful expectation that our remembrance of the first Christmas is coming soon AND the color of Mary’s “yes” to God... and our hope-filled “yes” to God breaking into our lives today and our looking forward to God breaking into our world at the end of time.
Advent is BOTH a season to look BACK and give thanks that God sent a light to shine into every darkness... a light that no darkness could ever overcome, AND it’s a season for us to make paths straight now… to fill in the potholes in the paths of our own lives and in the lives of people around us. It’s a time to straighten out injustices, lower the mountains of privilege that keep others from being fully the person God created them to be, and smooth out the rough patches in the lives of ourselves and in the lives of our neighbors.
Advent is a look back to the first Christmas when God broke into the world in the unexpected form of a baby AND a look forward to the moment God will break into the world again in a whole new unexpected way! Advent is penitential with refiner’s fire and fuller’s soap cleaning us up to be ready to have Emmanuel… God with us again at Christmas AND it’s a time to look forward in hopeful anticipation and prepare for the time when the King of Kings will reign, and weeping and crying will be no more. Advent is purple AND Advent is blue. Advent is penitential AND a time of hope. Advent is a look back AND a look into the future. My prayer for all of us this Advent is that all of us will make room in our hearts, minds, prayers and preparations for both. Amen.