The days are surely coming, says Jeremiah, and we look forward to the coming fulfillment of that promise every year at about this time, every year, we look forward to the coming of the King of Kings.
I’m not so certain, however, that anticipation is as easy as it once was. We asked Caitlyn to put on some music last night to go with dinner and she asked why she couldn’t put on the album she was listening to at that moment, the Pentatonix Christmas album and I said no and she replied “why not? Thanksgiving is over, it’s Christmas now!”
It’s Christmas now.
It is November now, ladies and gentlemen, it is not yet Christmas.
And yet all the harbingers are there. Hallmark has cluttered the aisles in drug and department stores with their cardboard displays; music is creeping in, not full blown happy holidays all the time but more and more.
Even at the Carnahan house we will be breaking out the Christmas Stuff this afternoon because at the top of the Christmas stuff is the advent stuff.
But it all seems so rushed. But that is the pace at which we live nowadays. Almost as soon as we are finished with the orgy of consumption that Christmas has become they will start the countdown until the next one.
We were talking to Steve yesterday afternoon about how Thanksgiving is more what Christmas used to be, mostly family getting together, less emphasis on the huge pile of toys and more emphasis on the huge up-welling of love and togetherness. Unfortunately, even Thanksgiving has become a competition, who has the most guests, who serves the current “wow” turkey, deep fried, that is so last millennia, we’re all dry brining these days.
It’s the celebrity chefs, I think, they’re always trying to stay “cutting edge” when what we all really want is not an hour’s dissertation on the benefits of cider in your brine but instead a turkey on the table that is tasty without being the center of attention. The center of attention is, of course, the green bean casserole (all hail the green bean casserole!).
But the theme of the season seems to be rushing to get us in a particular mood, rushing to get us to a particular day, rushing, rushing, rushing, all the time rushing.
But the day will come when it comes. This year it is a Friday, last year it was a Thursday, next year it will be a Saturday.
It is always the 25th so why is there such a rush to make us think that it isn’t so much a day as it is an entire month, or an entire season?
You know what’s weird? The season of Christmas is actually the time after Christmas? Until Epiphany, it is still Christmas but by that time, since we have been convinced to move things up, to not wait for things but to grasp them right away, by the time it is actually Christmas, and then the day after, we are all a little tired of the carols and the cookies and are ready to get our houses back, reclaim our living rooms and get back to normal.
It is so extended, so rushed, that we actually get tired of the season when God gives to us our greatest gift, greater than a PlayStation, greater than an x-box, greater by far than silver or gold and yet by the time the 26th rolls around, it is time to shove that stuff back into a box and get back to our lives.
Once we celebrate the coming of Jesus, it’s as if we shove Him back into a box as well, until Easter, until he becomes important again by having a bunch of merchandise to move in His holy and precious name.
Trust me, this is not a call for us to buck the trend that has swept over the world, to stand on the shore and try and hold back the tide of consumerism with a broom.
But at some point we have to wonder what kind of faith do we confirm our people into these days? After all it is not as if culture were something exterior to us that happens while we are looking the other way, the dominant culture in this place is us, it is what we say it is and how we act is either a ratification of the culture in the world, or a challenge to it.
So what is it going to be?
I think that maybe we are too like the people in the Gospel this morning, confused by the signs and the signals, too enraptured with the academic exercise of trying to decipher them, too focused on the sign pointing to Jesus that we overlook the child in the manger entirely, too stuck in the season to spend any time actually being in the season.
What is it that we pass along in times like these? How do we tell the stories of gatherings more centered on family than on cell phones and call of duty without sounding like a bunch of out of touch old fogies? How do we reclaim Christmas from the mall and bring it back to the cattle stall if only for an hour a day?
Maybe that’s the way. Maybe not wholesale repudiation of the consumerist quagmire but instead a subtle but meaningful reclaiming of a single hour of each day in which we pretend that it is the Christmas we’d all like to have, the one centered around Christ and around one another?
Jesus was a challenge to the world around Him. With every step He took he called into question the assumptions of the day, questioning the unquestioned, stirring the waters, pointing at a fig tree and calling it a prophecy.
What if, before or after dinner, or before or after breakfast if that works better for you, you gather your family, your loved ones, even if you have to call them on the phone, and what if you just talked about the things that are important to you, praying a little when it feels right, laughing when it feels right, crying if that is what is needful. Like the dinner table of old, long gone out of fashion in the hurry, hurry of the modern day, what if we created a space for Christ to enter into our day and held on fast to that time and made it precious?
Not stepping out of the stream of culture, just riding a calming eddy for an hour in order to allow ourselves to settle, to find some quiet into which the Spirit might speak, to bring Christ into our midst in the hope that He might stay there.
Isn’t that what we want for our kids, for each other, some space where we are alive in Christ and Christ is alive in us and we are not bombarded by the noise outside but comforted by the sound of each other’s voices, brought back into the fold by the sound of Jesus speaking in our midst and using us to do it?
The thing is, and this is certain, it won’t just happen. We cannot just wait for that time to come about, like asking a million monkeys with typewriters to randomly write a Shakespeare sonnet it is wishing on a star instead of following one.
We follow the star of Christ in order to hear that we are loved, to hear that we have value and that our lives mean something and so speaking that reality into being is calling upon and harnessing the power of the one who is coming.
He is coming. When there is space for Him in our lives then He is coming. When there is space for Him in our schedule, He is coming. Not just a day on a calendar, not just a season of the retail year but something we can summon up and bring into our lives so that we need never get tired of the tidal wave of commercialism, we can simply let it wash over us and pass harmlessly away leaving out faith untouched.
Isn’t that the kind of thing we’d like to pass on? A present Christ and not Christ as just another present among many?
The people gathered here today have not been tasked with memorizing the Bible or even memorizing passages from it. All of my reading in brain development speaks to the difficulties that poses to the adolescent mind and so far more than that we have been reading the scriptures, and other materials, and trying to find how we can tell our stories, how we can find our stories so that we can tell them, and then learning to see the Bible, not as a set of instructions that command us, but as the love story God is telling us and how we can find ourselves written into its pages and see that the love story is written about us, we are its object.
They have been learning to have that hour of openness, that hour of speaking their lives into the world honestly, having the vocabulary and the confidence to be authentic in their faith and in their living.
We should give them the opportunity to do so. Not as a command performance but as a conversation, I think we could all use a little practice in telling our stories, especially our faith stories, plus it won’t make them feel like it’s a test that they have to pass.
This is the first Sunday in Advent, the time when anticipation begins to gnaw at us because we know that he is coming. Let us also embrace the notion that they too are coming to us, firm in the faith in which they were baptized. Let us make space for them to speak and to listen and to become with us, the Children of God.