Advent need not be dour

Before you read my post today, click here and read my friend, Evan Garner’s, excellent post from yesterday.

My Facebook Memories section this morning featured not one, not two, but three different blogposts on my discomfort with the season of Advent.  In 2008, 2010, and again in 2014, I discussed why I dislike this season so much.  It is partly because I find the music to be absolutely dreadful, but mostly because I have such a hard time disconnecting from the wider cultural impact of the Christmas season.  I get that Advent is now seen as “counter-cultural,” but the majority of my Facebook friends who comment on it “not being Christmas yet” just sound obnoxious, and the Good News of Jesus Christ was never meant to be obnoxious.

believer-jerk1

So what are we to do with this season that if full of awful music and lessons about the end of the world while the rest of the world is doing the whole peace and joy thing that the Kingdom of God is supposed to be about?  How can the Church be counter the culture of rampant consumerism without the counter the culture of time spent with family, sharing cookies, and trying to make the world a better place?  Maybe we take the chance to preach from somewhere other than the Gospel lesson.  Let Jesus handle the “signs in the sun, moon, and stars” and instead focus on Paul’s summation of what this Seasons of Advent and Christmas should really be about.

“How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy that we feel before our God because of you?… And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you.”

Let’s focus less on whether the altar should be blue or purple, less on whether we should say “Merry Christmas” before Christmas, less on the fact that the twelve days of Christmas don’t actually start until Christmas Day, and focus more on what it means to spend the next month and half rejoicing because Emmanuel has come and will come again to ransom us from bondage to sin and restore us to the everlasting life of peace, hope, and love, to paraphrase the only decent Advent hymn.

The Church doesn’t have to give up on Advent.  We don’t have to stop being countercultural in this season of excess, but we should probably quit the whole Debbie Downer routine and celebrate that for at least 30 days each year, the usually critical of religion world we live in embraces the core tenants of our faith.  We should pray, like Paul did, for an increase in love for one another and for all.  It seems to be what we say Christmas is all about, so why not live it, whether the Church calendar says its Christmas or not.

When waiting breaks your heart

“How long, O Lord?”  That is the cry of the Psalmist and the Prophets.  “How long must we wait for your dream to become reality?” remains the cry for the faithful even today.  Since yesterday at about 8:26pm CST, I’ve been pondering this question of “How long?” and thinking, in light of the lessons for Advent 1, and the call to holy waiting, how I can faithful live in the meantime because living in the meantime can be heartbreaking.

Living in the meantime means living as a broken and sinful human being in a broken and sinful world.  It means paying the penalty for sin: my own and a myriad of systemic ones.  It means that sometimes a young black man, after a lifetime of living in fear of the police, makes a terrible choice and ends up dead.  It means sometimes that a young white man, in a position of authority and carrying a gun for a living, makes a terrible choice and kills that young black man.  It means sometimes that a grand jury, bound by laws that aren’t perfect makes a decision that is devastating to a family and a community.  It means sometimes that a group of people so fed up with the way things are takes to the streets to exact vigilante justice that devastates whole families and communities.  It means watching as conservative bloggers say some crazy racist stuff that gets liked by a friend on Facebook.  It means watching as liberal bloggers say some crazy insensitive stuff that gets retweeted by a friend on Twitter.  Living in the meantime means having your heart broken again and again by bigotry, injustice, violence, and hatred.

Living faithfully in the meantime means being a force for justice, hope, peace, and restoration.  It means putting a stop to the cycle of demonization, anger, violence, and vitriol that perpetuates the broken system.  Too often, in the emotional aftermath of an event like the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO, even the Church forgets this call.  Too often, the Social Media accounts of the clergy look like the same bubbling cauldrons that the 24 hour news cycle has taught us to worship.  Too often, Christians forget to be harbingers of peace in the midst of conflict.

How long, O Lord, how long?

My heart breaks for the family of Michael Brown.  My heart breaks for Darren Wilson and his family.  My heart breaks for every African American person who lives in fear of the police, and my heart breaks for every police officer who lives in fear of every young black man they see.  My heart breaks for Ferguson, and for every place where the dream of God, that all should be united one to another and to God, has yet to be realized.  And so this morning, a few days ahead of the start of Advent, I will begin this year’s Advent Practice.   Following the suggestion of Bishop Matthew Wren from way back in 1662, I will pray the Collect for Advent 1 at least once each day.  I will pray through the waiting and through the heartbreak, trusting that through God’s grace, I can be a part of a Church that casts away the darkness of this broken and sinful world, and puts on the armor of light, of hope, of peace, and above all, the armor of love.  Won’t you join me?

Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Advent Prayer

A New Beginning

If it is late fall, and you hang out with me long enough, you are bound to hear me wax eloquent on why I think the Church gets Christmas wrong.  It is the one time that the story of Jesus still plays a practical role in secular society and instead of embracing the ever expanding Christmas season, we bitch and moan that “it isn’t Christmas yet” or “whatever happened to Advent” or “Christmas is 12 days, starting on December 25th.”  It is no wonder we’re drifting into irrelevance, even when we still have a voice, we sound like whiny children.  My suggestion is to forego four weeks in the interminable Season after Pentecost and start Advent on All Saints’ Day.  Christmas then can begin on the Sunday after Thanksgiving (in America) and run through The Epiphany.  Throughout its history, the Church has used secular calendars to develop its seasons, and I can’t for the life of me understand why we don’t do that here.

As usual, I’ve flung myself down a rabbit hole, but my point is that while Advent is important, it is only because it points us to the new beginning that is Christmas.  And so, as we come to the end of the Pentecost Death March, we find ourselves preparing for a new beginning by embracing the end.  The Sunday before Christ the King is always an eschatological day.  The lessons point us toward the end, so that we can be prepared for what new thing is to come.

I’m not 100% sure what the Imaginary Foundation is or does, but I think this bit of artwork is spot on as a representation of what the transition from Pentecost to Advent is supposed to be about.  As we hear the lesson from Luke about the destruction of the Temple, as we sing Jack Noble White’s setting of Canticle 9

We look to the future culmination of all things in hope for resurrection, new life, and joy.

I used to think that these final lessons in Pentecost were a buzz kill, but now I’m convinced that they help put the story into context.  These apocalyptic texts show us the end so that we can understand the beginning.  I’m really starting to like that.  I just wish we had them a month earlier.