I don't know why we have only one day to give thanks, But while we are here we might as well start. We all have many thank-yous in many different lengths, And every one comes straight from our heart.
We thank you for our food, and that we have a bite to eat. We thank you for our family and meeting here together, We thank you for pies and cakes, for a treat, And thank you for the climate and having good weather.
We know people all over the world don't have good things, They don't have food, shelter, or really much to do. We should be thankful we have that stuff, and lots of other piles of things. And we should be thankful for you.
I have come up with my spiritual discipline for this Advent - I am going to walk slower.
Everywhere I go, my steps will be at a slower tempo than my default pace. I'll be sauntering places, or perhaps moseying. (I may even stroll from time to time, or maybe amble.) I have already been practicing, and let me tell you it is going to require an intentional effort to slow my steps every time I walk anywhere. Apparently, I am a pretty fast walker most of the time ... I'm just sayin.
A couple of questions that are probably wandering through your mind - "Why? is one. And "how is that a spiritual discipline?" may be another.
Why? Because I think Advent needs intentional spiritual disciplines just like Lent does. The event for which we prepare during this season is so enormous, so earth-shatteringly powerful, that our preparations for it need structure, intentionality, and purpose.
And how is walking slower a spiritual discipline? Put simply, it gives me practice with waiting. When I walk slowly toward my destination, I must resist the urge to speed up so as to arrive there sooner. Knowing that I could get there quicker and then purposefully delaying my arrival requires patience and a willingness to endure.
The side effect of walking slow is that I get more time to enjoy the way. "Just kickin' down the cobblestones" is a great way of "feelin' groovy," and time is relative, as we all know. Moving faster speeds time up, and moving slowly or stopping altogether stretches time out. Walking slowly, therefore, actually creates more time for my day!
If you've read my last two posts on Advent, you know that I'm a big advocate of truly using the season as a time to prepare for Christmas, and not to rush the miracle. The decorations, the songs, the parties, the lights - all of these are preparatory for the celebration. These preparations are in and of themselves celebrations, of course. But they lead us to the BIG one - the birth of Christ.
So this Advent season, should you find yourself walking somewhere with me, I will beg your indulgence to slow down a bit and linger a bit as we perambulate along. Practice waiting - walk slow.
There are at least two ways to say “What are you waiting for?” depending on how you emphasize the syllables. The most common way to say it is to emphasize the syllable “wait” – the resulting expression is intended to impel someone to act, to stop standing around and do something.
But if you emphasize the “are,” the expression has an entirely different meaning. “What are you waiting for?” Expressed this way, the expression is one of expectation. It infers the waiting, and prompts us to think about for what, exactly, we wait.
This question is going to frame my Advent season. What exactly are we expecting to happen? If Advent is a season of preparation for Christmas, for what are we preparing, exactly? What hopes do we have this season?
Am I hoping that nobody sets the Advent wreath on fire this year? Am I hoping that all of the strands of lights in the sanctuary actually light up? Am I hoping that the remodeling project gets done on time and under budget? Am I hoping that all of our Advent activities come off smoothly?
Or am I hoping that a righteous Branch will spring up for David that will execute justice and righteousness in the land? (Jeremiah 33:15) Or am I hoping for a refiner’s fire to purify our offerings in righteousness? (Malachi 3:3) Or am I hoping for the boots of the tramping warriors and the garments rolled in blood to be burned by the coming Prince of Peace? (Isaiah 9:5)
What are we waiting for? What does the birth of Christ truly mean? The season of Advent is the gift God has given us to reflect on these questions.
I’d like to take a moment and discuss a religio-cultural war in our world, an insidious plot that is threatening to erode the very foundations of the faith. This conspiracy is so deep that NO ONE is talking about it, and only the most intuitive and discerning persons, such as myself, have noticed it. The rest of you who are blind to this war are obviously yourselves unwitting pawns in its prosecution.
I am speaking today, of course, of the WAR ON ADVENT currently being waged by Christians all over our nation!
Those who have master-minded this deviancy are so clever, they manufactured an entire other controversy to distract an unwitting nation from their true agenda. That’s right, the so-called “Christmas Controversy” is nothing but an elaborate smoke screen. It is a “green-and-red herring,” if you will. And it is working!
You see, in fighting against the straw man argument that Christmas is under attack, the anti-Adventers have recruited untold dozens to do their bidding. All of the belligerent calls to wish people “Merry Christmas” no matter what – all of the militant radio stations who begin bombarding us with Christmas music in the middle of October – all of the radical stores setting out their Christmas wares BEFORE Reformation day – it’s all working just as they planned it!
You see, in our effort to counter-attack the entirely make-believe attack on Christmas, we have started celebrating it earlier and earlier, and with more and more fervor. And the Advent-haters love it! Turns out that by early December we’re so sick and tired of the whole yuletide schtick that we just kind of coast through the rest of the time until New Year’s Eve, when we just get wasted and forget what the big deal was all about in the first place.
And what, pray tell, has happened to the season of Advent in the meantime? EXACTLY! We haven’t given it a second thought. Shoot, we haven’t even given it a first thought, truthfully. No prophecies, no waiting patiently for the Lord, no building of expectancy, no time of reflection and renewal. We go straight from Halloween Candy to Christmas Candy, with a brief stopover for pumpkin pie on the last Thursday in November.
Advent is a one candle per week deal, baby! You don’t light them all up at once! One candle for hope … wait a week … one candle for peace … wait a week … on candle for joy … wait a week … one candle for love … wait some more time … then … BAM! Christ shows up in one final candle lit on the wreath. And then you get part of that light onto the littler version of that final candle that you hold in your hand until the room is filled up with everyone’s little bit of Christ’s light and because you have waited for it ….
…because you have waited for it for those long, dark evenings … because you have waited for it over those four sacred weeks … because you have waited for it in prayer and patient anticipation …
…it is a miracle.
What are you waiting for? Truly - do we even know? I believe that there is a reason to wait, and that learning to wait may be one of the most difficult, and the most rewarding, skills we could master. You know that cheesy Christmas t-shirt theology about the "Reason for the Season." Well, there is a reason for the Advent season, as well.
He has only had four autumns in his life, and I do not know anything about the first three.
What I know is that this autumn…
He learned about how fun it is jumping in a big pile of leaves. He learned about grabbing up a big handful of them and tossing them up into the air. He learned about burying your big brother in leaves and waiting for him to jump out. He learned about picking up a bunch and rubbing them in your big sister’s hair. He learned about the rustling sound they make when you run through them.
This was his fourth autumn, and I do not know what will happen for his fifth… …or his sixth. …or any of the rest.
All I know is that this autumn, we played in the leaves.
Our yard is under a blanket. The oak tree out front has let go, and now leaves cover every inch of the yard. This weekend I’ll head out with rake in hand and create enormous piles that the kids will run and jump into a hundred times before we eventually bag them all up and send them away. Next spring, that very same tree will bud tender green shoots that will soon become the leaves my kids will jump into next fall. And so it goes.
A problem with “go and make disciples” as a sole mission for the church is that it is linear, not cyclical. A linear orientation cannot be forced into a reality that is inherently cyclical, that waxes and wanes over time.
The church growth movement illustrated this reality. When the church’s mission was minimized to just increasing numbers, the systemic anxiety increased dramatically. The only direction acceptable was “up,” and the season was most definitely “down.” But rather than acknowledge this as a season and look ahead into God’s preferred future, the church as a system kind of panicked and couldn’t get unstuck from the present.
If you think about it, a whole lot of faith is cyclical. The daily cycle of rising, doing our day, and sleeping again – the weekly cycle of worship, work/school/home, Sabbath rest, and back to worship again – the yearly cycle of Advent to Easter through the year back to Advent. Personally, we cycle in our relationship with God, sometimes growing closer day by day and sometimes experiencing those dark nights of the soul when we feel utterly lost and alone.
Salvation is not a march in a straight line from point alpha to point omega, so why should the church’s mission be? The idea that all the church is supposed to be doing is adding numbers to the list underestimates the mission we are truly supposed to be on. Plus, if all we are supposed to be doing is adding people to our list, how will we know when we are done?
If we think in cycles, we don’t even have to ask ourselves that question. We will be done when God completes us. Our task is simply to be present in the seasons of faith and avail ourselves to what God is doing in the world.
It is November, and we do not lament the leaves’ departure from the tree and frantically scramble to prevent them from falling, then try to invent ways to get younger leaves to attach to the baring branches. We do no such things, because we know it is just a season, and it will run its course, yielding to a new season in time.
But in the meantime we respond appropriately to the current season, and work diligently as that season dictates we should. I’m not advocating passive ambivalence; discipleship is hard work, no matter the season. If I may paraphrase Scripture, there is a time to rake leaves, a time to shovel snow, a time to buy mulch, and a time to pull weeds.
Seems to me the trick for the church is to discern the season and what type of work needs to be done in it, knowing that it will cycle away at some point in God’s timing and a new season will begin.