Sunday, December 3, 2017

advent one 2017

And so the cycle of the church year begins anew as the seasons go round and round and the painted ponies go up and down:  Advent 2017 is here. Over the years I have sensed that at the start of this liturgical season people gather for worship wanting something different. Some want a prophetic word of social change, while others are looking for inner reassurance. Some want comfort and joy, others think they want John the Baptist in all his glory. Most of us arrive with unrealistic expectations at one time or another wishing that this time maybe the faith community might be more: more loving, more alive, more spiritually sophisticated, more poetic, more articulate, more tender, more artistic, more vulnerable or just something beyond what we already know. We show up wanting more... and Advent asks us to become... empty. 

The wise souls of AA have an aphorism for this dilemma when they talk about the geographical solution.  They say with a wry but sympathetic smile, "The fundamental problem with moving someplace new in your search for being filled with something more is that wherever you go on this quest, you always bring yourself with you!" Oh how we resist owning who we really are at any one given moment in time: others are snarky, I am just witty - those people are judgmental, I simply have high standards - unsophisticated fundamentalists might be able to buy all that Bible talk, but I am well-educated and successful and can't abide by any of it - they are racists, but I am color blind - there's a cultural war taking place in this country and all the preacher talks about is love. Blah, blah, blah. It happens in conservative circles as well as progressive ones: it is always the other who is insufficient and the real reason we can't seem to get that something extra that we're certain will make everything alright.

So I mostly put away my prepared worship notes today and emphasized that Advent is all about hollowness before its about being filled. The waiting - and alertness - we're asked to nourish is NOT so that we become more patient people. No, it is so that we have less distractions clawing for attention in our hearts. It is so that we can be free to love those who need our love when they need it. When Jesus needs it. Not when we're ready. Or better prepared. Or more satisfied. But when they need it. It was a small message. Hardly anything "more." I mentioned that just before getting ready to leave for worship, I read an Advent reflection from the late Henri Nouwen:

Be alert, be alert, so that you will be able to recognize your Lord in your husband, in your wife, your parents, your children, your friends, your teachers, but also in all that you read in the daily newspapers. The Lord is coming, always coming. Be alert to his coming. When you have ears to hear and eyes to see, you will recognize him at any moment of your life. Life is Advent; life is recognizing the coming of the Lord...

Still, I keep making my mistakes. Tonight I went to The Stuntman, a movie about the making of a film. The movie was so filled with images of greed and lust, manipulation and exploitation, fearful and painful sensations, that it filled all the empty spaces that could have been blessed by the spirit of Advent... Why do we keep missing the most obvious signs of God's coming and allow our hearts to be filled with all those things that keeps suggesting, not that our Lord is coming, but that nothing will happen unless we make it happen?

I hope and pray that Advent will not be filled with stuntmen, but with the Spirit of him who invites us to listen carefully to the sounds of the New Earth that are manifesting themselves in the midst of the old. Good and gracious God, you know how much clutter fills my heart these days. Help me to pay attention to your presence in my life. Help me to look far and find opportunities this Advent to become more aware of how you touch my life each day. May I become evermore a sign of your love in the world. Amen.

"I can't say it any better or more intensely than Nouwen," I concluded. "All we have is this moment - not one second more - besides more won't make us any happier. The only thing that will do that is sharing a bit of love. That's what makes life worth living. Love." Then we sang a hymn as I set the communion table thinking, "I wish I could give them more. I wish I could give them what they wanted. Or needed. But all I know is Jesus and his love." Preaching in this season is humbling. I always feel inadequate.

And mostly that's true: I am inadequate - and that is the charsim of preaching. It's not about us. It's about Jesus and his love. So after the Eucharistic blessing, as I was sharing the Body of Christ with those gathered, a young man who has always stayed in his seat during communion came forward with a huge smile on his face to be a part of the feast. I thought, "Hmmmm..." And after worship, an older member said to me, "You know, if you change the word wait from a verb into a noun - and make it waiter - you get at what you were talking about this morning: being ready and prepared to serve another with love." Hmmm again.

You just never know, right? Whether we're in bourgeois America during the darkness of the Trump regime, or Aleppo and the bombs are falling, it isn't about more. It isn't about the geographic solution. And it isn't about giving people what I think might make them satisfied during Advent. It's about Jesus and sharing something of his love. May the darkness surround us so that we can see the light.

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