Advent 1 – Preparation In Chaos

‘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

Shoppers pour into David Jones for the opening of the post-Christmas sales.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?

AdventConspiracyI 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.

Advent HopeSo, 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.

Solemnity Of Our Faith

As for you, always be sober (not drunk, serious, sensible, solemn), endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, carry out your ministry fully. 2 Timothy 4:5-13

Since I can remember, for a long time, I’ve been guided by my emotions. In some situations it’s been very good and in others very destructive. It is quite possible I believe, to be drunk with strong feelings, to respond emotionally in ways that either create change on one hand and/or chaos on the other. The solemnity of our faith is not to be without emotion but rather to be able to distinguish the influence our emotions can have in creating that change and/or chaos. Various groups have adopted the serenity prayer in modified versions. I think today’s scripture warrants our attention to this original and untitled serenity prayer attributed to theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, 1943.

God, give me grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things
which should be changed,
and the Wisdom to distinguish
the one from the other.
Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,
Taking, as Jesus did,
This sinful world as it is,
Not as I would have it,
Trusting that You will make all things right,
If I surrender to Your will,
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life,
And supremely happy with You forever in the next.

Faith & Desperation

I lift my eyes to the hills, from where will my help come? He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber  Psalm 121:1,3

The ebb and flow of recent years has at times left me tenuous. Yesterday, in particular I awoke feeling tired and ill. Although the past weekend was extremely busy, in my heart I felt I’d earned a day of Sabbath, but in my mind I felt like I needed to do the things I have committed myself to do. Somehow the flow would be consistent and the hope I have for things to come as a result of my commitments would be held up and rewarded. Today, as I drank my early morning coffee I realized that I felt 100% better than I did yesterday. Perhaps all I really needed was rest.

I share this testimony because this weekend was not without some small yet reassuring rewards of God’s faithfulness throughout this ebb and flow of my own life. Ebb tides can’t really be separated from the flow tides. Sometimes the tides are high and sometimes low. From a physical point of view we have a tendency to pay too much attention to the ebb and flow and equate God’s faithfulness with what is or is not physically happening. When the ebb is overwhelming, the feeling of desperation rises. In our heart we know that God’s faithfulness is everlasting and ever flowing, but in our mind we question and doubt because we can’t see the flow materialize in our everyday life when we want it to occur. Things happen when they happen. In this faith journey we have to accept in both our heart and our mind that through ebb and flow God’s faithfulness is always at work. While this is easier said than done, it is worth every effort to work towards this level of actualization because in my experience it is the difference between walking in peace and walking in chaos. It helps to recognize desperation for what it is, as a form of fear. It is a response to the ebb tides of our physical life, a loss of hope. So, whenever we find ourselves with feelings of ebb tides great or small, we should remind ourselves that we walk in faith, not in desperation.

Luke 6:5 The Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.

Psalm 127:2  It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives sleep to his beloved.

Hebrews 10:34-35 …you cheerfully accepted the plundering of your possessions, knowing that you yourselves possessed something better and more lasting. Do not, therefore, abandon that confidence of yours; it brings a great reward.

To Love In The Midst

Thomas Merton wrote; “It is in deep solitude and silence that I find the gentleness with which I can truly love my brother and my sister.” Jesus himself often went off to pray, meditate and be in conversation with God. Some of us have learned to create that kind of space in our lives, while others grab it whenever we can. When we do, it is often quite rewarding  as well as rejuvenation for the will of the spirit within us. We come to realizations and affirmations about who we are, as human beings in love with a merciful God ready and willing to bless us with his love, as we commit to sharing that love in our prayers for our bothers and sisters. When we are done we accept that we can’t stay in that quiet place forever. We are called to go back out into the midst of whatever chaos we left in order to attain some quiet peace. As blessed as we are in that solitude, we must learn to love our brothers and sisters in the midst of our interaction with others, to call upon the strength of God in the moments and events of our lives even as they occur. Its not easy to work through the chaos to get at the peace but when we do we will experience the power, strength and authority of the presence of a reconciled spirit within, and laugh without fear of the future.

Proverbs 31:21,25-26 She is not afraid for her household when it snows, for all her household are clothed in crimson…Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come. She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue. (NRSV)