Tag Archives: Advent

The Deception of Carols

Silent night, holy night,
all is calm, all is bright…

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O little town of Bethlehem,
how still we see thee lie!
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep
the silent stars go by…

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Away in a manger, no crib for his bed,
the little Lord Jesus laid down his sweet head.
The stars in the bright sky looked down where he lay,
the little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay.

The cattle are lowing; the poor baby wakes,
but little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes…

***

Christmas carols bring a sense of calmness and stillness to this time of year. Amidst the hustle and bustle of shopping and preparing for Christmas celebrations, from running here and there trying to find sales, a Christmas carol lets us slow down, gain an inner sense of stillness. It makes us feel better, more Christmaslike, more peaceful. We adorn our churches and homes with crèches — the peaceful, holy looks on the faces of Mary and Joseph, baby Jesus with a halo around his head, the animals silently sitting by, and the magi reverently kneeling before the newborn messiah.

During the holiday season, much ink is spilled with the words, “peace,” “love,” and “joy.”

It is a nice feeling.

But Christmas carols lie.

 

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I’m over at YALT today, come on over to read the rest…

Hurry as an Enemy of Faith

I’m back!  It has been a busy week, pastorally speaking.  We had a sudden death in our congregation and the pastoral tasks that go along with something of the like are great. My days (and nights) have been so consumed with work that I have not been able to even think about my blog which has been sitting sadly idle.  I, however, am back to regular life, and I am back to writing.  I try not to make too many extended absences, but alas, pastoral life is often unpredictable.

This past week, despite my resolution to slow down this Advent, was not able to slow down. I was logging thirteen to sixteen hour days, my mind was always consumed with the details of the memorial services, details of the upcoming and regular worship service, details with some of the Christmas activities at church. How was I going to get everything done? How was I going to get both sermons done? How were we going to have enough space to hold all of the activities we need to do?  On top of this, we are having guests visit the church, who grew up in the Presbyterian church to which our building formerly belonged, and I don’t want them to think bad things about me, or us, because our building is cluttered and with so much deferred maintenance.

Not only were my early mornings and late nights consumed with these concerns, so were my dreams.

I nearly forgot that it was Advent, I nearly forgot about Advent as a season of preparation, and as a season of repentance, a season of hope and expectation. I nearly forgot to stop and listen to God.

I am eager to blame everything that is going on, I am eager to blame all of the things that I have to do for this. I am eager to point to the fact that I have so much to do, and this is the reason why my own experience and my own formation as a disciple of Christ had been pushed to the back burner.

The culprit, however, was not necessarily busy-ness, but rather hurry.

Hurry is an interesting concept Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th edition, defines “hurry” in many ways, among them: “to carry or cause to go with haste” and “to perform with undue haste.”  Noticeably absent is the mention of outside forces, that the problem of hurry is outside of us.

Hurry is a state of being, it is an outlook, often times, it is an orientation to life.

Hurry is the insidious enemy of delighting in God. I think of Mary and Martha — Martha so busy and frustrated at Mary for not helping, and Mary who simply sat at the feet of Jesus — and it was Martha who was admonished! (Luke 10:38-42). I think of John the Baptizer, an individual who must have seemed crazy at the time (and if we saw him today, we would be certain he had a psychiatric disorder), who preached in the wilderness to prepare the way for Jesus (Luke 3:1-18; Matthew 3:1-12; Mark 1:1-8).  When asked for particular ways to repent, John told them that if someone had two coats, to give one to someone who did not have one, if someone had food, to share with someone who did not.

It takes an unhurried worldview to listen to God, to travel out into the wilderness to listen to what may seem like rantings of the insane, to share with those who lack because it takes time to notice them.

How many times have I passed someone on the street, sometimes even without noticing, because I was hurried? I dare not even guess a number.

Keri Wyatt Kent uses the image of a jar of river water, all shaken up, to speak about a hurried life. River water contains all sorts of sediment, particles, minerals, and murky, when it settles, the water is able to become clear (Deeply Loved, ch. 25). The problem with Martha is not that she was busy, it was that she was living in a state of hurry, so much so that she was unable to experience and enjoy the gift that she had with Jesus in her home.

Last week, I was busy, that is to be sure. however, the bigger problem is that I was hurried, and this hurry is something we must always work against, because hurry pulls us away from God, away from the experience of God, and distracts us from the fullness of what we are called to: love for God and love and care for others

This Advent, I will begin to remove hurry from my life, even when I am busy, and I invite you to do the same.

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This post is in the Deeply Loved Advent Blog Hop Series hosted by Angie Mabry-Nauta

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Advent in Tension

The Old Guitarist by Pablo Picasso

Many of my parishioners walk to church, as most of my congregation does not own a car for financial reasons. One of these was walking the two blocks from her home to church. In that short distance she was struck by a car and died as a result of the impact.

All of this while she was walking to church.

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Advent is a time in which we prepare ourselves for Christ, not only the first coming, but also the second. Advent is a profoundly conflicted season, and a profoundly conflicted orientation for life. For those of us who have wonderful memories of the holiday season, Christmas is a wonderful time. For others of us who have bad memories of the holiday season, it can be incredibly painful.

Advent is a time in which we can understand most clearly the tension of the in between in which we live. We celebrate Jesus’ birth but we also look forward to Christ’s return.  We sing about the coming of Emmanuel and this is a cause for rejoicing. Yet we also face the stark reality that redemption is not yet complete.

A perfect example of this is a mother in her 40’s who gets killed because a car ran her over.

The already-but-not-yet is a difficult place to live. It is hard to sing “Rejoice! Rejoice believers,” while at the same time grieving the fact that life continues to be but a shadow of what it was intended to be.

In her book, Deeply LovedKeri Wyatt Kent bravely takes on the aspect of the walk of faith that few Christians dare speak of: depression and its relatives. Although “‘happy, happy, happy, happy, happy all the time,;” is popular in religious talk, it is often not rooted in reality (Kent). The good news, that she brings out, is that when we express our depression, our melancholia, our blues to God we follow in a long line of the faithful. Kent notes, “The Bible is full of stories of victory, but also of struggle” (Ch. 15, para. 12).

If the Christian life eliminates a place for sadness, suffering, and mourning, then the gospel ceases to be good news for real life. If God is only present with us in good times and not in bad, then God ceases to be good. If God forbids us from expressing emotions and thoughts from the shadow side of life, then God is not a refuge for us. If the Advent focus is too much on Christmas and not enough expressing a longing for the kingdom of God, we do ourselves and our spiritual formation a great disservice.

I always take Advent seriously, but this year, my Advent is more than simply sober, it is also somber. It is a time in which I can rejoice because Christ has come and I can mourn because the restoration is not complete. I can hope because the Kingdom of God is at hand, and I can despair because there is so much to the world which is in need of redemption. I can look back to celebrate the birth of Jesus, and I can look forward to Christ’s return.

This Advent, I am living in the tension of in-between the two comings of Christ, the tension of joy and sorrow, of hope and despair, of celebration and mourning.

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This post is in the Deeply Loved Advent Blog Hop Series hosted by Angie Mabry-Nauta

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A Fresh Start

hatching

By Sarahluv on Flickr (cc)

The lure of a fresh start is ubiquitous. The idea that we are not tied to our past, that we are not destined to repeat the mistakes we had made, the idea that change and redemption is possible, and if only we could make a fresh start without our past following us, we could live into who we are supposed to be.

This is why we make New Year’s resolutions. A new year is a fresh start. The image for the old year is an very old man, with a long white beard, slumped over a cane. Conversely, the new year is a small child who has their whole life ahead of them, no past to follow them. So we make resolutions to do things, to be better people. Resolutions that will help us to be the people we want to be. We make resolutions because we can, in a way, start afresh. Like many people, this year I will resolve to lose weight (again), and I will resolve to stop procrastinating (again), and I will resolve to be more organized (again).

I like fresh starts, and I will guess that you do too.

This is the beauty of Advent. Advent provides a time for the church year to start over, but also for each of us to refocus our lives, both individually and as a body. Advent, of course, is more than simply a season in the church year, Advent is a orientation of life in which we are always standing in the already (Christ has already come and redemption has begun), looking forward to the not yet (Christ has not yet returned and redemption is not yet accomplished). It is fitting, then, that the first season in the Church calendar is one that models what the rest of the year is to be — always living in the tension that the reign of God has come, but has not yet fully arrived.

In Deeply Loved, Keri Wyatt Kent discusses the practice of “Review of the Day” which is a recovery of the ancient practice of the Examen of Consciousness. Far from simply ruminating on our shortcomings, a practice of retrospective remembering where God was faithful even in times in which we were not; where God showed up even in times when we did not. This daily look on the past day solely exists to help us tomorrow. We only have a future because we have a past.  Several times in scripture, we are told to remember. We remember the past because it illumines the path before us.

Advent is a season of repentance, which requires looking back, but looking back only so that we can move forward. It is so fitting that Advent is a time in which we examine the past year, not only individually, but corporately as well.

I look back at my past year and I can see God working, but I also see places where I didn’t realize that God was working.  I see times in which I was faithless, times that I would love to do over. I can see times in which I was so wrapped up in the hurry of life, that I have forgotten to pay any attention to God, and I can see where, regardless, God continues to pay attention to me.

I am sure I am not alone here.

Advent is about new beginnings. Advent brings a fresh start. We look back so that we can move forward.

We live in the already, and we remember the already because it points us toward the not yet, and this is where the good news is in all of this.

So this Advent, not only am I slowing down, I am also looking back, because this is the only way that we can look forward.

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This post is in the Deeply Loved Advent Blog Hop Series hosted by Angie Mabry-Nauta

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Why I’m Avoiding Christmas Music During Advent

This is the time of year when people begin talking about getting into the “Christmas Spirit”.  I must confess, I’m not in the Christmas spirit, but I think that it is okay, because now is not the time to be in the Christmas spirit, this is the time to be in the Advent spirit.

In my experience, Advent is a difficult season for many of us to celebrate (as is Lent, but that is a thought for another time).  As can be seen in many areas of life, we want things faster and more efficient.  We want definitions to words by just clicking on them rather than looking them up in a dictionary.  We want synonyms for words by clicking on them rather than using an actual thesaurus.  We want to write papers based on sources solely in the internet rather than going to a library to research.  If we want music, we simply turn it on.  If we want to follow a thought, we do it immediately.  There is no need to wait for anything anymore with smartphones, broadband internet access, and hand-held mp3 players, and various other gadgets that we busy our lives with.  I must confess, that I also fall into this, and I find waiting difficult as well.

Advent is not always easy to celebrate because it is a season of waiting.  Who wants to wait during Advent when we can jump right to Christmas now?  There are radio stations playing Christmas songs 24/7 right now.  I have stacks of Christmas music that I can listen to.  I can read any of the birth narratives in the Bible whenever I want.  While none of these things are bad, there is something to say for a fuller experience of Advent.

While I can jump right to Christmas, the one thing that I cannot do is jump to the Parousia.  Celebrating Advent is not an exercise in self-denial, celebrating Advent is an exercise in life!  The song for Advent is “O come O come Emmanuel” knowing that there will be “Joy to the world, the Lord is come!” It is tempting to jump right to the latter, who wouldn’t?  While in the church year we celebrate the birth of Christ, we live our lives looking forward to the return of Christ.  We live, in a very real way, singing, “O come, O come Emmanuel…”  We know that Christ will return, and bring redemption and restoration with him.

Advent is not simply the time before Christmas.  Advent is not a space holder on the liturgical calendar.  Advent describes our lives in a very real way as we long and yearn, and prepare for the coming of God.  The sesason of Advent reminds me of my need to live an Advent life, not longing for rapture or with some escapist purpose, but an Advent life that includes expectation, and preparation, and trying to take my part in the whole church’s mission to be a foretaste of the Kingdom of God.

That’s why I’m celebrating Advent, and that is why I’m avoiding Christmas music during Advent.  I want to sing, live, think, and deeply feel the essence of “O come, O come, Emmanuel.”

Advent in a Wintry Eschatological Perspective

Winter_oak_tree

As a child, my family did not fully celebrate Advent. We lit Advent candles at church, but we still put up Christmas decorations and sung Christmas songs during Advent (which is not exactly proper observance). As an adult, I have begun celebrating Advent, and I have found it to be very meaningful. Advent is a season of arrival, of preparation, of expectant waiting, of a longing for what will be but what is not yet. As the first season of the western Christian calendar, Advent gives us an opportunity to reorient our lives as we look forward to another year.

Advent is not about passive waiting, it is about expectation, yearning, longing, and hoping.  Advent is a time to refocus our lives toward the end goal, which allows us to live more fully right now. In my view of the Christian tradition, this goal is restoration and redemption of all creation.

I live in Michigan, and here, Advent comes when the leaves have fallen, the birds have flown south for the winter, and bears have entered into their dens. While they are not necessarily linked, my spiritual formation around Advent has always included something of the transition into winter, as during my whole life they have come together. Winter looks dead, it is quiet, and it is still (snow storms excepted). Winter is a time when I feel my dependence on God most clearly. Winter can be harsh, unforgiving, and life-threatening.

For me, this transition to winter has served as a big object lesson for Advent. The oak tree outside my window looks barren, almost dead. It certainly looks like a shadow of its grandeur. I, at times, wonder, if a tree could have feelings, would it feel sad and grim? Perhaps. But I would also imagine that the tree would have hope of spring and the return of its leaves and its full foliage. That tree is not always destined to remain bleak and bare, but its leaves will be restored. Similarly, it is during Advent that I can experience feelings of desolateness, and bleakness, and barrenness to the very depths of my soul. But with this always comes the knowledge and expectation that an everlasting spring will dawn and the bleakness and barrenness will be replaced by fullness of beauty and redemption.

I have always thought it somewhat paradoxical that I find the greatest hope in the feelings of despair. I have always considered those as opposites. Perhaps, however, they are not opposites, but cousins of sorts, related closer than I have always thought. Perhaps the two need each other. But the despair I feel during times like this is certainly not total, because just when I think that winter brings death upon the world, I hear a child playing in the distance or a squirrel scamper across the shimmering white of the snow to serve as a reminder that winter is not death, winter is very much alive, one might just have to look a bit deeper. Likewise, Advent is a time when, though life may sometimes feel bleak and as though God has turned God’s face away, one may be able to find something, in some way, in which God may be saying, “Hang in there. Redemption is coming. Winter will end. I promise.”

The oak tree outside my window is not dead, it is very much alive, it is just winter, and the tree has prepared for it with the eager longing and expectation that spring will arrive and it will be able to grow leaves once again. The birds have flown south in the expectation that they will be able to return. The bears have retreated to dens believing and knowing that they will be able to emerge yet again.

Me? I long and prepare for restoration. I expectantly long for redemption, for justice, peace, and wholeness. What gives me hope in living is the belief that how things are now is not how they should be or will always be. I ultimately wait, in a very active way, for the Parousia – the coming of God. Advent gives me hope and pushes me forward to live fully with a renewed clarity on the ultimate goal of the gift of the beatific vision. This Advent season, like ones past, I expectantly wait and yearn, but most of all, I hope.