First Week of Advent
Advent is the season of the year when the Church testifies that we are waiting for Jesus. Like the Jews in the Old Testament who were waiting for their Messiah, the Church too is waiting for Christ to come. And it’s fitting that we are celebrating Advent as we near the end of our series on the Minor Prophets. In the English order of the books of the Bible, the Minor Prophets end the Old Testament. After them comes the 400 years of silence. 400 years in which God does not send prophets or give new revelation or manifest his presence to his people in evident ways. God was not wholly absent; he still guided history (the book of Daniel prophesies a number of the events in these 400 years).
However, as these 400 years went on, things grew increasingly dark. Sin abounded. The priests and kings compromised the faith; the people sought refuge in other gods. This was not an easy time for the faithful: they were ruled by foreign nations—Persia, Greece, Rome. Persecution sporadically broke out. And it’s one thing to endure such things when the Light is bright and God’s presence is near and clear and evident. But that wasn’t always the case in the years of silence. And it’s not always the case for us either.
We too have felt the pangs of God’s absence. Many of us know what it means to be waiting desperately for a sure word from God. We know the ache and longing for God’s presence. We know what it means to dwell in deep darkness, in the valley of the shadows. And there are dangers in the darkness. In the darkness of God’s absence, it’s easy for us to slide into a spiritual and moral darkness. It’s easy to begin to justify our sin, our little compromises, on the grounds that we’ve been in this darkness of God’s absence for too long. If God doesn’t draw near to us, then we begin to excuse our sin. We feel entitled to the light, and if we don’t get it, then it’s almost as though we try to get back at God for his disappearance.
But the sad truth is that when we excuse our sin in the darkness, we’re the ones who are harmed. The light that we do have, the faith and hope that God will again be with us, begins to fade, and we grow hardened in our sin. It’s one thing to lament and long and cry out for God to show up; the Bible is full of such faithful cries of saints dwelling in deep darkness. God is in no way threatened by such cries. But it’s another thing for that lament and longing to grow angry and bitter, for it to take a darker turn as we indulge evil thoughts of pride and envy and resentment, and then watch as those evil thoughts spill over into evil actions—lying, malice, hatred, anger, and grumbling. And so, this Advent we see both kinds of darkness: the darkness of God’s absence in which we cry out for his Light, and the darkness of our sin which hardens and corrupts us.
This reminds us of our need to confess our sins, so let’s seek him together now.
Prayer of Confession
Our Father and God, we live in a land of deep darkness. Tragically we are a people who have grown to love the darkness. We love darkness, and hate the light, and so we won’t come into the Light when it comes, lest our evil deeds be exposed. In our foolishness, we think that the darkness means that you’re as blind as we are, that because we can’t see, you can’t see. And so in the darkness we nurse our grievances and cherish our resentments and glory in our shame. These are great evils.
What’s more, as your covenant people, our legitimate longing for you in our darkness easily slides into excuse-making and rationalizing of our sin. How tragic for us to put more distance between you and us, when what we need most is your nearness, because your nearness is our good. Forgive us, O God. Shine your light into our darkness and scatter the shadows. Put the dark shadow of sin and death to flight. In the land of deep darkness, we wait for your light.
We know, Father, that if we in the church regard sin in our own midst or in our own hearts, our prayers will be ineffectual. So we confess our individual sins to you now.
Assurance of Pardon
Let’s stand for the Assurance of Pardon. Like the Jews, we know what it is to wait for Christ to come. But our waiting is also different, because Christ has come, and so everything is different. The people who dwelt in darkness have seen the Great Light. You have confessed your sins. You have acknowledged your iniquity.
Therefore, by the authority of Jesus Christ, and as a minister of his gospel, I declare to you the entire forgiveness of all your sins, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
Congregation: Thanks be to God!