I hold in my hands two pieces of fencing to begin building a home for Christ to come this Christmas. Many of you might know what this project will eventually look like, come the Fourth Sunday of Advent. For those who are not sure, I encourage you to check in every Sunday right here to witness the building emerge before your very eyes, piece by piece.
These fences suggest both something necessary, and something of the downside in human behaviour. It is in our nature to build fences after all—whether in our neighbourhoods between homes, between nations and tribes, between individuals and families.
Boundaries are good and important. They define who we are as individuals and people. They clarify and bring focus to relationships, roles and functions. Boundaries are especially important for young people as they discover who they are and explore the limits of possibility for their lives.
Boundaries are not meant to be divisive. Yet, division is often a consequence of drawing a line in the sand. Fences can divide and keep people apart, at war, in acrimonious conflict. Fences can entrench people in opposition to each other. Building fences can hurt and damage relationships for the long term.
Despite the ambiguous image of a fence, we start anyway. We begin to build something from scratch. And maybe that is a grace. I wonder if that isn’t a recurring theme of the pandemic: rebuilding and restarting from the ground up considering everything we may have taken for granted before the pandemic. Whether in our friendships, our hobbies, our leisure acitivity, our work and even our church. We seem to be pressing the reset button: From our practice of Communion, to the way we do meetings, to our outreach activities, music and mission in the community—everthing requires all the assumptions to be laid out on the table again, to be re-examined and re-purposed.
And that can be unsettling–to start over, to start from scratch.
Not only do we begin Advent today, today is the start of a new church year, a new cycle, a new round: Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, Pentecost with Ordinary Times mixed in throughout the cycle of the church year. And then it all begins again, next year. We symbolize today the start of a new cycle by lighting candles, progressively—four of them for the four weeks leading to Christmas—on an Advent wreath.
As we build for Christ-coming each week with a new part of his home, I’d like to look carefully at different parts of the Advent wreath to describe something important about how we begin again.
And the first thing we notice with most Advent wreaths is the foundational part—the circular form of the Advent wreath. Fences tend to be square, or rectangular, coming together at right angles. But the wreath is round. And around the circular form of the Advent wreath we place boughs of spruce or pine from trees that we will notice outside especially during the cold and grey winter months when nothing else appears to be alive.
In the Psalm today, the refrain is a prayer to God: “Remember, O Lord, your compassion and love, for they are from everlasting.” And, in the Gospel today, Jesus says, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” [emphasis mine]
The good news–gospel– that threads throughout both of these scriptures appointed for the First Sunday of Advent is the lasting and indestructible nature of God’s compassion and love. Nothing in all of history, all of creation nor anything in the future can shuck the love of God. Nothing. No division, no enmity, no strife, no walls that divide. The loving presence of God is eternal, timeless, unending—just like evergreens wrapped in a circle on a wreath. A circle has no beginning and no end. It goes on, forever.
Perhaps you remember when you were a child and an adult said something like, ‘OK, kids, gather around, it’s circle time’. Circles are natural to us. And sacred.
When we gather in a circle, the praying has already begun. When we gather in a circle, we communicate with each other and with God, even without a word being spoken. That’s what I love most about this building in which some of gather in person this morning: The building here at Faith Lutheran is round, circular.
The circle has no beginning and no end, so one can enter at any place or stage. The circle can explain stages of life, cycles of maturity, values, and different groups of people. The symbolism of the circle is one of the oldest in Canada, having been found in various parts of the country in ancient petroglyphs. It is included in various Indigenous traditions. Many of the ceremonies and dances are fashioned intentionally in a circle.
Circles are found in nature. Circles can explain the seasons, how they all continue on to create harmony and balance. In observing the outdoors, the circle is a common and natural shape. Trees, rocks, whirlpools, tornadoes, and flowers all bear a common resemblance to circular objects more than triangles, rectangles or squares do.
We may need to establish those fences. We may need to enforce personal boundaries and sometimes even assert where the line must be drawn. Sometimes we do have to close a door. We are human, after all.
But God is beyond any boundary, even one drawn by the circle. God is not bound by any material or mental boundary we may devise for God. What we construct may or may not be helpful. But these boundaries are not ultimate. Thirteenth century Italian theologian, Saint Bonaventure, spoke of God as one “whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere.”
What is ultimately important is to know that it was out of great love that God chose to take on human form and flesh—take on the boundaries defined by our humanity, good and bad. Here we make a house for Christ to dwell, for this word is true and will not pass away: “The home of God is among mortals. God will dwell with them, and they will be God’s people.” Because of compassion, a love that is everlasting.
This is the first and necessary part, the foundation, for building a home for Christ. When we press the re-start button on anything we do, this is where to begin.
 Psalm 25:6 NRSV
 Luke 21:33 NRSV
 Bonaventure, Bonaventure: The Soul’s Journey to God, 1,14, trans. Ewert Cousins (Paulist Press, 1975) p.5,8,100
 Philippians 2:5-8
 Revelation 21:3
 See also Psalm 103:8-14