Sunday, November 27, 2011

Advent Considerations

The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,’” (Mark 1:1-3)

What do you want for Christmas? It's the timeless question that Santa Claus asks of children who sit on his lap in shopping centers from Westwood to Walla Walla. Parents similarly query children about their Christmas wishes. The kids' responses often create tension rather than pleasure. The ever-increasing cost of a 4-gigabyte iPod or an upgraded iPad tablet doesn't necessary bring the joy of Christ's birth into a family's holiday. “Things” do not necessarily remind children and adults alike that Jesus the Christ was born in the equivalent of a rural Motel-6 garage. If not, what does? It's probably fairly commonplace for a pastor or priest to bemoan the corporate and secular worlds' claims to Jesus' birthday. Yes, I witnessed Christmas decorations being displayed before All Saints' Day. Yes, I started receiving coupons for Black Friday sales in my e-mail inbox before the Thanksgiving holiday. There doesn't seem to be any means by which I can push back against the Amazons of December. However, maybe it isn't even necessary to do so if and when we come back to the question that Santa asks of children and, implicitly, that God asks of us as Advent opens before us. What do you want for Christmas this year? Advent offers 24 days to delve into the true meaning of Christ's pending arrival in our hearts and homes. What is it that we truly desire? Is it the coolest 3-D video game? Maybe it is. Maybe it isn't. Wouldn't it be intriguing to delve even more deeply into the question(s) of our “wants?” What are we in want of as we turn on the (energy- efficient!) Christmas lights around our house? What are we truly yearning for as we invite friends and family to spend some precious time with us between now and Christmas Eve? The answers to these questions may reveal some prayerful possibilities as we trim Christmas trees or strive to find those perfect gifts for the people we love most.

A truth of Advent is this: Vocatus atque non vocatus, Deus aderit. (Bidden or unbidden, God is present). Jesus, the Son of God, who is born in a stable to an underemployed carpenter and a teenage mother, is going to gaze into their and our human hearts on Christmas whether we are aware of it or not. The angels of the heavenly host are not going to sing their Glorias only to rulers sitting on thrones in palaces of grandeur. They will also proclaim the joy of God's peace and goodwill to a bunch of smelly and forgotten-about shepherds camped out on a chilly night in some hills miles away from the glitter of grand houses or big city malls. You will hear their message when we offer Lessons and Carols on Dec. 18th. You will hear it again when we sing Hosanna on Christmas Eve. With any luck, the glory of their songs and the joy of Jesus Christ's birth will be really apparent to you long before then.
If God's love is indeed truly present with or without our direct invitation, this Advent Season is an opportune time to discover more deeply our lives' desires. The silence of prayer during our special Advent worship services may provide just the sacred space that you need to hear God's message as Elizabeth and Zachariah did. Some unbidden angel might approach you as you are standing in a store line or jotting down your “holiday greetings” on this year's family Christmas Card. I can't say. What I will say is this: yearn for something wonder-full between now and Christmas Day. Take time to get inside of your “wants” so that God can somehow respond to you in a way that Apple cannot. Ponder how you and we as a church can be a living example of the baby Jesus' love for his family and the world around them (and us). What do you really, really, REALLY desire for Christmas this year? May you discover these Advent answers even as Santa and his elves are busily working toward their big day and the Gospel begins to proclaim yet again The Lord's birth on Christmas Day.

Blessings Along The Way, Jim+