This special liturgy for the third week of Advent was originally given on December 17th, 2017, at Central City Campus.
By Raeben Nolan
In the beginning we lived in a garden side-by-side with God, but we turned away, and the garden was lost. We were separated from what made us whole. We slipped into distrust and murder and chaos. Into this wilderness, God planted a seed. The seed was called Emmanuel. God with us. From this seed, a new garden would grow.
I want to invite you now into a garden space. I know the third sunday of Advent might seem like a weird time to garden but I am guessing you came here to maybe find God and I am very sure that he came here to find you. So let’s co-create a space right now - a garden in our minds were we can walk with God.
You can close your eyes or watch the images on the screen. We will be walking around a bit, so don’t be alarmed. We will be visiting the four far corners of our garden but first, let’s look to the center here. There is always a tree in the center of the gardens - the tree of knowledge of good and evil, the tree of sacrifice and redemption, or the tree of life. In Eden, there were also precious stones throughout. In the future, the garden that is the City of God is walled and paved with these precious stones. In the center of our garden now, let’s envision an abundant fruit tree with stones and gems around its base. The fruit is God’s provision and salvation for you - take it and eat. The stones are reminders of God’s everlasting truths for you to carry and build with as you journey through the garden with God.
We often begin our journey with God in the north. Nights fall early and days start late. This is our soul’s winter. This is high desert in darkness, snowed over and howling. This is a fallow land of quartz and obsidian. This is not what we hoped. This is where we meet Him in despair and sobs, where we call out for peace that passes understanding.
This is where Hagar fled weeping, where she was seen and saved. This is the dreamspace where an angel told Joseph to name the boy Jesus…”God Saves”...and that he would be called Immanuel, “God is with us”.
Come with me over here to the East side of the garden. It’s spring time now and still early in the fresh morning. The soil of our souls needs to be turned and tilled. This is challenging and disrupting but very necessary so that the seeds of faith may take root and grow deeply.
This becomes a garden of spiritually transformative work. Prayer is the act of planting seeds and remembering to water them. Confession is pulling weeds - new and old, year after year. Repentance is reclaiming thorny land and turning it into a fruitful vineyard. It is always a good idea to leave some extra space in your garden, because, like Mary and the Angel of annunciation, you may be asked to foster an unfamiliar seed in an unexpected place.
In all of this remember, it is God who makes the rain fall and the sun shine. We must be faithful to do the good work that is before us and trust the outcome of our crops to his plans.
The South end of the garden is summer. This is when the garden is decked with dahlias and marigolds and jasmine vines. It's afternoon hours poolside on the hottest days. It’s stars over a campfire at night. Here, especially, there is a lull. Here, we rest while hummingbirds and honeybees and photosynthesis do their work. We appreciate a season of celebration and sabbath. We eat berries. We swing in hammocks. We let rivers run under our toes.
This vibrancy sings to the beauty of God. Find heart in His Word. Sing songs of praise. Seek joy in games and play and stories and friends.
This is a glimpse of the good land ahead! This is a wisp of the great garden city in which we’ll dwell! This is a foreshadow of Him.
Come with me to the West side of our garden. It’s Fall now and the sun sets early. We are in a season of work again, racing the shorter days and the colder nights to gather in the harvest. Fall is a sacramental season, the grains and the fruit trees, the meat birds and the root vegetables - they are sacrificed in the harvest so that we may live. We glean the generous earth and give thanks.
After the harvest there is still more work. We gather and burn the weeds so their seeds do not spread to the next generation. The Lord worked with me in the garden and taught me to love the transformative miracle of the compost heap. All the ruin and rot, ashes and waste - even this is not wasted. Turned over to the God of redemption, all the ruined parts of our lives can be broken down over the hard season and transformed into fertilizer to nourish new growth and a good future.
In the beginning we lived and worked in a garden, side-by-side with God. The garden seemed lost, but a new seed was planted. The seed was called Emmanuel, God with us. From this seed, a new garden, a new city, a new world, springs.
If the big truths are truly universal, we should expect to see them blossoming out of every corner of reality. This is why Jesus taught in parables, allowing his greatest teachings to be contained in everyday things like birds and flowers and farmers and fields. This is how he allowed his very self to be contained by everyday things like flesh and bone. Today, on the third Sunday of Advent, we celebrate the God who is with us and will dwell with us forever. I hope that whatever season you are in right now, that you can deeply experience his presence with you.
Each week of Advent, we light a new candle for the ways we anticipate Christ is entering into our world. This week, we light the Advent candle of love as we anticipate the love of God coming to dwell with us.