From the Pastor
I didn’t grow up with Advent. I suppose we all grow up anticipating Christmas, complete with tools such as the long construction paper ring chains that we’d make at Charles Carroll (which were a nightmare on the bus ride home that dayJ). Religious preparation, however, was never really on my radar. So, when I heard about it the first time, I had a lot of questions. Preparing for Christmas? Why?
Well, for one thing, we walk the path of Mary and Joseph, who prepared for nine months! Their story is recounted for us in the gospels because their story can inform and form our own paths. But above all, I learned that Advent is about seeing the world as it is in all of its beauty AND all of its ugliness. For what’s the point of a Savior if the world really doesn’t need saving? Surely a greater understanding of the problem gives us even more cause to rejoice in the solution. And that’s what Advent is - a time to think deeply about the world, both the pain of sin and the thrill of hope. As the world continues to lean into the commercialism of the season, it is important for the church to invite us to another way.
The paraments for Advent – the drapes on the pulpit, lectern, and altar - used to be purple. Yup, like Lent. Generations of Christians before us have thought of Advent and Lent in a similar vein. Advent was once described to me as, “Lent with a cherry on top.” Advent is a season of penitence and preparation. Because the climax of the season is a newborn child rather than a crucified rabbi, there’s a touch more hope, a touch more enthusiasm, a little more hope than Lent. But the message is still the same: Prepare yourselves, because God is turning everything upside down. This explains why the readings for Advent are often jarring, harsh even. They don’t yet indulge our felt need for extravagant celebration, but rather call us to the deeper work of preparing for God who is coming to set the world aright and to bring a new Kingdom based in love and justice. To this end, then, we prepare ourselves in prayer and worship, in acts of charity and love, so that we will know the Kingdom when we see it.
But it’s all rooted in hope. Not the kind of hope that looks away from pain to some fairy-tale future. But hope that says even in the uncertainty of our lives, that there is something new coming…indeed, a new heaven and a new earth inaugurated by this peasant king. Indeed, this child – who we claim to be the Messiah – comes and walks in the challenges and ordinariness of our lives, and in that reveals that God is indeed with us.
If this is true, then we are about to embark on the Advent-iest of Advents. The brokenness of the world is laid out before us in bold strokes. The sense of waiting, anticipation, and longing are ever-present to all of us. Maybe we *feel* the need for salvation – setting things aright – more than we ever have as a community. If this is true, and if the stories we tell about a Savior at Christmastime are true, then we are about to experience a powerful manifestation of this familiar Christmas story. We will more deeply know what salvation looks like, what discipleship means, what this newborn King is really here to do. This Advent is sooooo pregnant with meaning and purpose….IF we prepare.
In this most unique of Advent and Christmas seasons, I wish you God’s abundant blessings as we begin our journey to the manger, to worship the one born king of angels.