Advent is the forgotten season. That’s ok. While the world is already in full swing Christmas mode, with Christmas music, decorations, shopping, and more, the church finally has an opportunity to do something unusual – be countercultural. Advent is a season of waiting and anticipation in a culture that has no concept of what it means to wait. Advent is a season of offering hope and light to a world that is plunged into a deep void of despair.
It’s tough to keep track of the number of mass shootings that happen in this country now. They have become all too common. And our response? “Thoughts and prayers.” Wow. That’s sad and pathetic for a nation that likes to claim it’s so very powerful yet the reality is that we are held hostage at gunpoint (quite literally) to anyone who feels like killing anyone else they have a problem with for whatever reason, or no reason at all. I’m not sure how exactly what we have is freedom – how are we free from the fear of being killed by a fellow citizen at a Walmart, a nightclub, or any other common location just going about our lives? All for what? We have a serious problem in this nation – an addiction to violence and death. A serious mistrust of our fellow citizens. An inability to see others, no matter how different they may be, as worthy of having the same protections as we think we deserve. A society can’t stand when that continues. And that’s not even talking about the complex racial, gender, sexuality issues related to all of this.
The world is in despair, yet Advent offers us a message of hope in spite of it all. Advent is radical in nature after all. Just listen to the readings each week. It’s hard to hear the truly radical nature of the season though if your life is nice and pleasant and organized and just going along fine – at least if we keep telling ourselves this. It’s hard to encounter the radical message of John the Baptist if the only craziness we ever really have is the rush of preparations for Christmas in our middle class lives, in our middle class neighborhoods. It’s hard to see the truly radical nature of the coming of the Prince of Peace in a world hell bent on war and the teaching of war when we continually edit and sanitize what we see so that we are never uncomfortable for more than just a few moments, or we all just agree that we shouldn’t talk about politics or religion because they are just too divisive and that would disturb the gilded niceness around us. Instead we water down the Gospel so much, it becomes just a facade of what it was, some nice words, but empty of real meaning or impact. No wonder Advent is forgotten and looked over. No wonder people have been leaving the church in droves. Christians don’t take Christ’s message seriously, why should anyone else? People see what other actually believe based on how they live.
The gift of Advent, if we can talk in terms like that, without sounding too Christmassy, is that it offers us an opportunity to examine the faith we have been given and ask this question. How are we using the faith that Jesus has given us? Is it just a compartment of our life – something we take out on a Sunday morning for about an hour, and at other times when we deem it’s appropriate or convenient, and then put it away? Or does our faith flow over into other parts of our lives, even when it’s inconvenient and conflicting, much like the waiting of Advent and the hope of Advent in spite of doom of the world around us? Does our faith impact our money, or do we put our faith away when it comes to money? Why? How about our politics? Again, why? How about our work? Our relationships? Our possessions? How we treat people? How we treat strangers? And so many other aspects of life not listed here? Why? Does faith impact all of these things and guide how we deal with them, or not? Does faith get a say in them? If not, why not? If not, then what’s the point of faith at all anyway? Why are there boundaries around our faith at all? Isn’t the idea of discipleship that it’s supposed to be about Jesus being Lord of our entire lives, not Lord of an hour on a Sunday morning? What is our concept of God anyway if Jesus if only God for a small portion of our life? Seems like a pathetic god. One that fits into a small box. One that is pretty powerless. And maybe that’s the point. Maybe that’s what we really want – a powerless god who doesn’t mess with our nice middle-class comfortable life in the suburbs, or our high-powered job in the city, or our independent rural lifestyle, or whatever it is that we have where we place ourselves at the center and pull out God when it is convenient for us.
Advent is here. The world will do what it will do. You are offered a gift of waiting and a gift of hope. A gift of integrative faith – a lived faith that flows through your entire life. A faith that is impactful. The gift is right there – wrapped up. Do something different – take the entire season to unwrap this gift and try it on. There is no rush. Advent is here. The world doesn’t care about it. It has forgotten about it. And that’s the beauty and the power of Advent – it doesn’t have to compete. It’s here for the taking. Just waiting and offering hope in a world that is impatience and full of despair. Advent is here. Just look and see. Turn your ear and hear. Reach out your hand and feel. It’s right there if you are willing to not be the center. If you are willing to be honest for this season that the world pretends doesn’t exist.