What is Advent really about?
I mean really. What is it really about, church?
Waiting? Sure. But there’s more to it than that. Waiting is a bit of a cop out, don’t you think? We wait for the Lord, but we don’t sit around and do nothing while we wait. It’s not sit around and do nothing, type of waiting. It’s active preparation type of waiting. So what does that mean for the church?
Self-Examination? Absolutely. Ooooo, now we’re getting somewhere. We’re getting into dangerous territory actually. If we take this seriously. What is it that we need to examine church? Watch out. Careful how you answer. Are you going to keep it at the surface level, which is what so much of our society does? Or are you actually going do the hard work of Advent and go deep, down into the dangerous levels which will make us uncomfortable to say the least?
If Advent is about active preparation and anticipation for Jesus and about self-examination and reflection in the preparation, then I wonder how we can do that as church? Over the summer, the ELCA churchwide assembly passed a resolution reconstituting the ELCA. This essentially means that it’s well past time to re-organize the church because the way it is organized if out of date and doesn’t work and isn’t sustainable. That’s the simple version. This reconstitution is not an uncommon thing. It’s the very essence of what we believe as Christians – we claim to believe in life, death, and resurrection. In other words, nothing lives forever.
This is an opportunity to re-examine so much about our church – our polity, our hierarchy, and so many other things. And it’s an opportunity to address more systemic challenging issues like why the ELCA is the whitest denomination in America and what are we are called to do about this? What systems do we need to put in place to address this? And how to we need to need to not only acknowledge injustice within the church and the world, but also repair damage done to people by the church. That’s a basic tenant of justice and the justice system – you repair and restore people and their descendants. We could ask similar questions around LGBTQ+ issues and more.
Let’s address something about this – this isn’t about blaming specific people or pointing fingers at particular people or groups of people. It’s about ending injustice and unjust systems. We Americans have a difficult time with this concept. We’re so caught up in individualism that we have a hard time grasping systems, all the while being a part of many different systems. We are too quick to say that we individually didn’t commit a particular sin so we shouldn’t have to do anything about it, while ignoring the fact that benefit from the system that we live in regardless of whether we deserve it or not. Maybe, instead of our quick American gut reaction to protect ourselves, we should instead apply the theology that we claim to believe and do so with grace and mercy. A theology that claims to love our neighbor, a theology that claims that we are the body of Christ and that what happens to one part happens to all, a theology based on justice – God’s justice, a restorative justice.
Apart from the larger church, what about Advent on a more local level? Advent on a level that doesn’t require what might seem like or feel like a complete tearing down or reordering of the church, even though it really isn’t. What is one serious question of self-examination for your church to explore this season? Maybe it has something to do with how the facility is being used or not being used. Maybe it’s about starting a ministry. Maybe it’s about ending a ministry. Maybe it’s about who’s missing in your community. Maybe it’s about how people’s assets aren’t being used as they could be. Maybe it’s noticing a need that’s not being addressed in the community. Advent is a time of new beginnings. And noticing the world around us as it is. It’s the time of Mary singing the Magnificat. It’s the time of John the Baptism calling people out. It’s the time of the prophets calling an end to injustice. These are bold things. What are the bold things that Jesus is calling your congregation to this Advent in your context?
And finally, how about you? What are you called to? How is Jesus calling you to prepare for his arrival? What bold things is his calling you to do, to end, to start, to say, to propose? What ventures is he calling on you to begin in this new year? How is God opening your eyes to the reality of the community around you? What is that community around you? Who does it include? Who does it exclude? What are you called to in relation to that? Where is God in the midst of that community? Where do you see God already active?
Advent is not a time to sit around and wait. It is a time of active preparation. A time for change. A time for boldness. Not a time to be timid. Now is the time.