November 27, 2016

A Ribbon at a Time

Our Advent journey begins with a report from Emily Dickinson. A witness to the dawn chorus, the poet wrote,
I’ll tell you how the sun rose, -

A ribbon at a time.

The steeples swam in amethyst,

The news like squirrels ran.

The hills untied their bonnets,

The bobolinks begun.

Then I said softly to myself,

"That must have been the sun!"

Of all the reasons I love Emily Dickinson, and there are numerous reasons why I love her, the simple power of her nature poems is one of the most significant. In these works, her characteristic patience and truth-telling come through clearly as she reanimates incredible scenes of beauty and drama to which lesser souls would remain blind. Spying the first robin in spring, a snake slithering through the grass, cornstalks waving in a summer breeze—her poetry does more than describe these sights, she brings them back to life.

Emily’s keen eye and open heart remind us that epic and life-changing forces are at work all around us. However, we often fail to perceive them.

If the Heavens are telling the glory of God, then the question is, “Are we listening?”

Emily was, and she was watching, too. So, just in case we missed it, she will tell us how the sun rose—“a ribbon at a time.”

If you want to understand the spiritual significance of the Advent season, then go out early in the morning and watch the sunrise.

Go out while it’s still dark, when the wind off of the water stings your face, when the chill of night hangs in the air, and look to the East. Watch the black sky give way to the deep blue hues of the pre-dawn.

Watch the first slivers of orange and red pierce the horizon.

Watch the sky explode with light as the sun finally begins its daily ascent.

Watch the city come to life, feel the warmth on your face, stand up and start the day, and remember what God said through the prophet Isaiah, “Come, let us walk in the light of the LORD!”

There’s a deep connection between sunrise and Advent because a sunrise is a daily reminder of the Prophet Isaiah’s ministry.

When God’s people felt as if their whole lives were shrouded in darkness, the prophet told them to set their focus on the horizon, to watch and see just what God would do.

A new day, Isaiah told them, was dawning—a day of justice, of reconciliation, of God’s chosen Messiah.

“People, look east,” he shouted, “the sun will rise to chase away the shadows of injustice and the chills of isolation.”

Between now and Christmas, we’ll be reading from Isaiah every Sunday morning and we’ll hear in his words some of the most cherished, exciting promises God ever made to God’s people.

We’re going to hear about the reign of an anointed leader—of a Savior—who would right all wrongs and bring peace to Creation.

Today, a reading from the second chapter of Isaiah’s book started us off.

In days to come the mountain of the LORD’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it.

Many peoples shall come and say, ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.’

And what were those ways?

What might one experience when walking in the Lord’s paths?

He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. (Isaiah 2: 1-4)
Moving through Advent, Isaiah’s focus will become even clearer as he tells us more and more about “the days to come.” About those days, the prophet writes,
The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. (Isaiah 11: 6)
The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom. (Isaiah 35: 1)
The eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy. (Isaiah 35: 5-6)
These days will belong to the Messiah—God’s Anointed One—who will reign like no other.
The spirit of the LORD shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD. His delight shall be in the fear of the LORD. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth. (Isaiah 11: 2-4)
And his name shall be Emmanuel, which means “God with us.”

Today, we’ve gathered together to hear the Good News and give thanks that Isaiah’s faith became sight in the person of Jesus for just like the rising sun, Mary’s son brings hope and new life to people who are walking in the dark.

Schooled in the ways of justice and peace, Jesus loved outcasts and sinners, healed the sick, strengthen the weak, and cautioned the proud.

Through his life, death, and resurrection, God forgave our sins and delivered us from death.

Jesus is the light of God’s new day—a light that shined into the world’s darkness, and the darkness could not overcome it.

But there’s a reason we look to the sunrise as an image for Advent instead of high noon.

Even though we believe that Jesus’ life on earth fundamentally changed things, we still believe that there’s more to come, that his kingdom has not yet come in full, and that parts of our world and corners of our hearts are still in the shade.

The sunrise might separate the day from the night, but it only anticipates the sunlight’s life giving shine.

This season points us to a second Advent, a time when all shadows and shades, chills and suffering will be no more, when death will be no more, when mourning and crying will be no more, when the first things pass away and all things are made new in Jesus Christ.

There is a reason for people who know Jesus to still sing, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.”

Our reason is hope—the hope we share that Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection are but the dawn of Creation’s bright and glorious new day with God.

We live between the Advents, and in this in-between-time God calls people of faith to be heralds of the Risen Sun.

Like Emily, our lives should bear witness to the beauty and power and drama that we have seen.

I’ll tell you how the sun rose, -

A ribbon at a time.

If you want to understand the spiritual significance of the Advent season, then go out early in the morning and watch the sunrise.

Go out while it’s still dark, when the wind off of the water stings your face, when the chill of night hangs in the air, and look to the East. Look to the East and give thanks be to God for this Good News. Amen.

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