God Comes Near

We started our service today with the hauntingly beautiful Advent hymn, “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” It’s the first hymn in the hymn book. It is a hymn of longing, of hoping, of praying for the time when God comes near. Emmanuel means “God with us” The church has been singing this hymn for centuries “The antiphons, sometimes called the ‘O antiphons’ or ‘The Great O’s’, were designated to concentrate the mind on the coming Christmas, enriching the meaning of the Incarnation with a complex series of references from the Old and New Testaments.” Each antiphon begins as follows:

O Sapentia (Wisdom)
O Adonai (Hebrew word for God)
O Radix Jesse (stem or root of Jesse)
O Clavis David (key of David)
O Oriens (dayspring)
O Rex genitium (King of the Gentiles)
O Emmanuel

Put together, the first letter of the second word of each antiphon spells SARCORE. If read backwards, the letters form a two-word acrostic, “Ero cras,” meaning “I will be present tomorrow.” https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/resources/history-of-hymns-o-come-o-come-emmanuel

            Advent is the time of getting ready and preparing the day when God comes near. The Mark reading set for the first Sunday of Advent is a bit scary sounding. Certainly not what you expect for a day of celebration. It doesn’t seem to have anything to do with God coming near or the promise that God is with us. Mark writes, “But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.” (Mark 13:24 – 27) It doesn’t sound like we are waiting for something good. It sounds scary – maybe like the childhood story of Henny Penney and the sky falling.

            Mark’s “little apocalypse” may sound daunting but he is not talking about the end of the world in the traditional sense of apocalyptic literature. Mark is writing at the time of the destruction of the temple. The temple was the centre not only of worship but of their economic and community life. The destruction was an ending of something that was central to who they were as a people. Karoline Lewis writes, “At the heart of apocalyptic literature is encouragement and hope. To some extent, this is Jesus at his pastoral best. That which looks like devastation and defeat will be God's victory. Out of the theological turmoil and confusion surrounding the destruction of the temple will be a new presence of God. Out of the suffering and death of their Messiah will be new life. God's new way of being in the world will turn a cross into resurrection and a baby in a manger into salvation for the world.” https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1145

            At the heart of this season of waiting, is a hope that cannot and will not be dimmed. During the year and a half that we worshipped at the Seventh-day Adventist, we did so trusting that God was and is here with us on the journey. Those moments when it was hard and we had to learn how to be and do church in news ways, also reminded that together with God’s help so much possible. There was an abundance of God’s grace at every turn in the road.

            Today we celebrate our return home. We celebrate all those times when God drew near. The moments when we found hope when it seemed like there was no reason to hope. Those moments when we did not know which path to take and God guided us. It has been and will continue to be remarkable journey marked by God’s guiding spirit.

We do not know what the road ahead holds for us as a community but we trust in our God’s enduring presence to show us the way. God’s Spirit is with us as we begin the next part of our journey as God’s people. In the words of our hymn, “O come, O Desire of nations, bind all peoples in one heart and mind … Rejoice, Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.” (Voices United, #1)