Monday, November 30, 2009

Advent

Advent is that season marked by the four Sundays prior to Christmas (in the Western tradition). Normally associated with the coming of Christmas, the season can quickly lose its significance amidst the hubbub of the holiday season. Just as our larger society – and we too – allow the glitter, social, and commercial aspects of Christmas to overshadow the central spiritual aspects of the holy day, Advent has itself become more of a festive season, looking to a naturally exuberant birth of a new child. Advent though isn't all anticipatory of a celebratory birth but has mixed with it both the anticipation of the Second Coming, and somber reflection and self examination.

Only the first reading (Jeremiah 33:14-16) for the First Sunday of Advent (Revised Common Lectionary, Year C) speaks to the birth of Jesus, doing so as the familiar Branch of David. Even this reading expands the purpose of this birth to include justice and righteousness and the enduring provision of someone to sit on the throne of Israel. In this prophecy of the coming of Jesus we begin to grasp something larger than simply a baby being born. No, there is reason behind this coming and while we aren't told specifically, there are inherent warnings and expectations for those who would look forward to this birth. This coming will establish a King who will rule with justice and righteousness both good things for the people of Israel and the people of God. The implication is one of salvation, but the flip side of salvation is judgment and punishment for those who do not support justice and righteousness.

The second and third readings (Psalm 25:1-10, 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13) begin a more plainly self-reflective theme for the season. The Psalm passage is very clear that the writer wants to be found as one of those "…who wait for you…" comparing himself with those who are "…wantonly treacherous." The psalmist asks to be forgiven and then led in the ways of the Lord. During this period of Advent, we are called to remember the steadfast love of God and at the same time, commit ourselves to learning His ways.

The Thessalonian passage continues the theme of learning the ways of God with Paul wanting to supply "what is lacking" in the faith of his readers and his prayer that God will increase their capacity for love for all people. This passage ends with looking toward the next coming of Jesus at which time their hearts will be blameless and they will be holy before God. It is important to Paul that his readers conform their hearts and minds to the love of God so that they will be ready when Jesus comes back.

The fourth reading (Luke 21:25-36) is one of warning and encouragement; one that calls the readers to examine themselves, to make sure they are ready, to make sure they are awake. This reading is the most strident of the readings for the first Sunday and is the one which most clearly demonstrates that Advent is not just a season of birth announcements and celebration. There is a reason this birth is coming and we are in danger of deluding ourselves and those around us if we fail to consider the reason behind this coming and all the comings (past and present) of our God.

Epiphany (January 6th) is often called "Little Christmas" because it too celebrates and recalls the revealing of Jesus in the world. Advent is likewise called "Little Lent" because it calls us to reflect on the purpose of this coming, on our preparation to receive this coming, and our call to live in this coming. To live in this coming is to receive the gift of a Savior-child with all of His demands for self-denial and love for others. If Jesus has come to save and relieve, we accept this coming as our charge to bless and soothe those around us as we live in His life.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Encouragement

This Youtube video in entitled "encouragement" for obvious reasons. Published by the Foundation for Better Life, the idea is that we should encourage others so that we can all have better lives. So far so good, but there are other nuances in this commercial that may be more instructive for believers. The video shows a small boy plunking out "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" on a concert grand piano. Clearly he isn't supposed to be on stage in front of this black tie crowd. The crowd is nonplussed and somewhat incredulous that this kid would have dared to do this. After all, this isn't what they've paid to see and hear. Perhaps they have been hoodwinked and they don't like it.

The maestro strides on stage, coming up behind the kid who is still plunking. Reaching around the boy, the maestro says "keeping playing" takes up the tune. The maestro's hands embellish and create a masterpiece of music dependent on and using the simple tones as the structure around which the now grander music is received with wonder and applause by the audience. The audience at first only sees the boy, but their eyes are opened and they come to see the magnificence of the greater artist.

Encouragement, yes, and a picture of grace as well. Can you see God in this commercial? As we incompletely attempt to live His life in our life we are often seen as amateurs, as children trying to do something that only those more capable can do. We try but we speak and behave amiss as we plunk out our tune. Others may think we imperfect, that we don't know what we're doing. And then, in the midst of our stumbling, bumbling attempts to play the tune we have heard before and which is in our minds, God comes and through us – building on our imperfect attempts – creates a masterpiece of intricate and beautiful music for the world to enjoy.

Which are we? Do we see others who are not as pretty, not as polished, not as capable trying to plunk out the Christian life as we come to expect more sure performance, more finesse in living this life? Can we see God working through and with them? How do we see ourselves when we don't think we're doing well, when we think others don't appreciate us? Can we trust that as we plunk out our tune as best we can, God is around us creating a wonderful concert for those that have eyes to see and who receive our lives as ministries to them?

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