First Sunday of Advent, November 28, 2010
Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. Matthew 24:42
So, tell me, are you ready for Christmas? The ads are pushing gift-giving, the carols are blaring from the radio, the decorations have been up in the stores since Halloween, and many communities have already had their Christmas parades. What? Oh, yeah. Right! It’s Advent. Here I was already hawking Christmas like I’d been drugged by the prevailing culture.
Seriously folks, ask people when Jesus is coming, and they’re as likely to say December 25th as they are the rapture or 2012. We know the day, we know the hour, and we have the crÃ¨che and holiday dinner plans to prove it. Right now, a lot of people will be shifting from the busy to the frantic mode as holiday plans kick into high gear. There are presents to buy, decorations to drag out, menus to plan, and travel itineraries to outline. Jesus may get his hour and a half on Christmas Eve, but Santa will likely rule Christmas morning. Come on pastor, why can’t we sing “Joy to the World” this Sunday? They’ve been playing it on the radio since November 1.
Yes, dear friends, as you look across the gathered assembly this Sunday, you will likely see the tired, bleary faces of “Black Friday” survivors–pocketbooks empty, suffering from credit card elbow from swiping that card, and lamenting the fact that the last Xbox was lifted from the shelf right before their very eyes. Many of the faithful will be looking toward Christmas, hoping for a “nice” message, eager to be led to the manger, yet staring vacantly beyond you with looks of glassy-eyed consumer compliance. So here you stand with a collection of wild and wooly, image-rich texts guaranteed to “stir things up” if proclaimed faithfully and fully.
Advent is about many things. It is about being awake and vigilant in the midst of a world that would have us lulled into complacency. It is about watching, about looking for signs of God’s activity in the world in the person and message of Jesus Christ. It is about waiting, about holding the gospel in a dangerous tension between world and word, and about bearing a wild and grace-filled countercultural message in imperfect human hands. It is, in fact, more than a little about stewardship.
The challenge lies in effectively communicating the importance of being stewards of this season to a people so accustomed to rushing through it to get to the liturgical dessert of Christmas. More than simply avoiding Christmas hymns and arguing over whether to buy a Scotch Pine or a Douglas Fir, being a steward of Advent involves a serious tweaking of one’s mindset. Instead of the expected ethos of instant gratification, we must cultivate the witness behind the “W” words: “Wake,” “Watch,” and “Wait.”
The texts for these four weeks lead us deeper into an examination of the function of time and of how God is at work in our world. We are told that “…salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near” (Romans 13:11b-12a). We are urged to be awake and live honorably in the world. We are to live as God’s people, doing God’s work and not allowing ourselves to be consumed by the ways of the world. This is a radical, countercultural message that strips the cultural holiday season of all things cute, sentimental, and commercial. We as God’s people are challenged to live into our baptismal identity, to be the church, and to be awake and alive, renewed and refreshed.
Instead of the latest toy or newest electronic gadget that will soon break and be cast aside, we are stewards of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh that transcends time, always fresh, new, and unexpected. Let us live into that reality with all its mystery, wonder, and discomfort.
Look for the unexpected: watch, wait, and most of all be awake. Christ is coming. Christ is here. Christ is loose and on the move in the world. Thanks be to God.