‘There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see “the Son of Man coming in a cloud” with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near. Luke 21:25-36
It happens every year, the hustle in the bustle, the stress in the mess, and the chaos in the confusion over who saw the parking spot first. It must be the Christmas holiday season brought in with the evening after Thanksgiving Day. I’m not sure as to when what we know as black Friday became the harrowing event that it is today, but I’m pretty sure one precursor to such anxiety and anticipation is the once a year sale that ‘Strawbridge & Clothier’ use to have at the Jenkintown branch located just north of Philadelphia. Shoppers would come in groups to claim drastically reduced prices on furniture and other home goods. The savvy buyers had scoped out the items beforehand so that the day of, they could direct their team members to stand or sit with the item until it had been ticketed as sold in their favor. As maddening as the whole event was, somehow at that time it all seemed worth the effort. Most times people got exactly what they wanted. And so it is today, with what most of us call the Christmas season, where the stores have prepared well for their consumers and the consumers well prepared to buy the coveted prize at drastically reduced prices either for them selves or a loved one. While it is easy to get caught up in the madness of these events, I have found that what many people miss is that the preparation needed for this season has nothing to do with one single event, reward or acquisition, but rather a lifetime of continual events which lead to one ultimate experience. Of course the season to which I am referring is Advent, the liturgical season of preparation, expectation and awareness. (But) These days outside of the church, the season of Advent seems to have no real life of it’s own. It’s almost as if it appears to be packaged up like a gift; only to be opened on Christmas Day because the time we spend leading up to that moment is filled with distress and confusion much like the scripture describes as the roaring of the sea and the waves.
Thus, at first glance, the prophetic scriptures in Luke seem to promote the concept of Advent as we experience it in our everyday physical lives. Is it possible that the scripture could be referring to the hustle and bustle that we endure in order to get to that one magical day? Are these considered the signs; the shoving and pushing along with heightened sensitivities to being first in line or quicker to the availability of stuff? If that’s the case, then practically every aspect of our lives, could be considered a mini Advent. Consider all the work we put into achieving a new job, a new home, the long awaited college acceptance letter, engagements, or perhaps the birth of a first child. Do we not spend every day of our lives shifting and maneuvering various things and relationships in order for something to be gained or something to be received – big or small?
I recently read about a movement called the Advent Conspiracy. A group of three churches some years ago designed this movement to help give its participants the opportunity to slow down in order to experience a Christmas worth remembering by doing things differently and creatively. They said that the idea was to turn Christmas upside down with a movement that involved utilizing our time leading up to the day of Christmas, by focusing on four tenets; to worship fully, spend less, give more, and to love all. To worship fully was described as spending time giving Christ our full attention and our full praise. They defined spending less as the call to stop spending money on gifts that are forgotten about in less than a year, while the tenet of giving more was the call to give more of the self. Finally, to love all was to be expressed as – to love as Jesus loved by giving to those who really needed help. Who wouldn’t admit that this isn’t a wonderful (albeit familiar) concept? Except that, to suggest that these elements would turn Christmas upside down also seem to suggest that the season of Advent, what we as believers understand to be a celebration of our continual preparation, expectation and awareness of the coming of Christ, meant something else in the first place, that the dissipation, hustle and bustle was in fact it’s original intent. It seems to me that from a spiritual point of view, for those caught in this “seasonal” trap of which the scripture refers, the tenets of this movement were in fact turning Christmas right side up! All of those elements are things that God has called us to do even before the promise of the one who came and is to come again! This message had already been unwrapped for us in the Ten Commandments and subsequently unwrapped for us again in the New Commandment to love God with all our heart, soul and mind and love neighbor as self. What these churches proposed isn’t new. It’s not radical. And it certainly is not different from what is expected of us as Christians today. Advent, the season of preparation, expectation and awareness of the coming of Christ doesn’t need to be a conspiracy. (Because) Although the physical “season” of Advent comes but once a year, for the believer it has always been and always will be part of a continuous way of life. There is no doubt in my mind that if we are able to focus all of our preparations, expectations and awareness towards the glory of God we would in fact be living the fullness of an Advent life to which God has called us and not to the life called by the likes of a Strawbridge & Clothier.
So, here’s what we know. We know that when we look at the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they sprout leaves we can see for ourselves and know that summer is already near. So too, the season of Advent may bring with it some stressful and irksome events but we also understand that they are not without purpose. Yes, it’s easy to lose focus. Sometimes we fall short of our goals. If we are not careful we may find our selves caught up preparing for everything except the one thing that really matters. (And) As difficult and painful as it sometimes is to be caught up or moving in a direction we did not foresee, the season of Advent is our opportunity to remember that we can always be turned right side up, by helping us to see and discern the signs of chaos and respond with expressions of hope, joy and love as we celebrate the coming of Christ. We know that by sharing in the ancient longing of the Messiah, as well as encouraging one another to be alert for the Second Coming of Christ today, the heightened awareness of the Advent season is the perfect opportunity to help move us freely and without conspiracy to examine the fullness of our praise, the accountability of our time and treasure, and most importantly the expression of our love for God and one another. As we continue to discipline our faith in this “radical” preparation for what we already know is a two-fold outcome, our ongoing spiritual relationship and reconciliation with God through his Son Jesus Christ and the redemption of our spirit when Christ returns, no longer do we need to equate our preparation in Advent with waves of roaring distress but rather the promise of the life to come. Finally, we know that the daunting yet formidable voice of the gospel doesn’t have to be a seasonal challenge nor a conspiracy to change others if we already live both individually and corporately in faith, a life that is transparent to the truth about the word of God so that others too will experience Christ with us and believe.
So, As we continue in this Advent season, Let us encourage one another to continue to look for the signs of Christ, knowing that the life of all things begins and ends with the Creator of all things and knowing that the Advent life is part of our life of faith, no longer to be lived waiting for temporary things like parking spaces or items so valiantly fought for at an annual sales event. Discern and know, that when these things begin to take place,be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and the worries of this life. (And) Be alert at all times, praying that we may have the strength in due time, to stand up and raise your heads before the Son of Man,ready to receive the ultimate gift – for surely and especially during this Advent season our redemption too (as well) is already near.