Let’s face it! The Season of Advent is out-of-place on the calendar of the world. The Advent hymns sung in Christian worship in the count up to Christmas don’t stand a chance of competing with the holiday music broadcast by media and heard by shoppers in malls. And the Scripture readings lose out to the Hollywood
films and Christmas classics that started to be aired before Black Friday ended.
Let’s admit it! Even we Christians may find Advent worship depressing, with its Old Testament prophets shouting gloom and doom, and the Gospel charge to “be watchful, keep awake!” What a way to spoil the holiday spirit of shopping, decorating, gift wrapping, and visiting or hosting – all the world’s activities happening now in the count up to December 25th .
And yet, that is why the Season of Advent acts like an intruder into our holiday plans, so that when we come to Christmas, it will be the first Christmas all over again, Christmas as God intends it to be.
This is why we listen to the Advent Gospel that describes this four-week lead up to December 25th as being like:
…a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge,
each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch.
In Jesus’ time it was the doorkeeper who stood guard to keep out thieves and intruders, so everyone inside the house could devote their time to going about their everyday work.
In our day the doorkeeper has been replaced with electronic surveillance, which raises the question, “Is your security system set for Advent?” with the settings being the Scriptures and hymns of Advent that serve to keep out intruders intent on robbing us of this time to prepare for a God-intended Christmas.
One setting wards off the intruder called public anger. The spoiler that started in Ferguson, Missouri, as a grand jury’s announcement turned some protesters into looters and fire-bombers and has troubled many. The Advent security system sounds the alarm to channel anger into working to overcome injustices and neighborhood conditions that turn some into poverty-stricken slums that breed a go-nowhere-life that can erupt into violence.
A South Chicago church just issued a huge endowment in $500. checks given to each member to use in any way that will do some good anywhere. Like the household in the Gospel, they are keeping busy doing what a church should do, devoting time and energy to serving those in need, while the thief of partisan politics and uncontrolled anger is kept on the other side of the church’s door.
Another setting wards off the intruder called personal anger. The thief that can break into our homes and our hearts and steal our peace and leave us with nothing but broken relationships that become a family’s legacy, passed on from one generation to another. The thief that is locked out with the Advent prayer: “Come into my heart, Lord Jesus,” and the household chore that has everyone working hard at living by the rule expressed in an old wall hanging: “Christ is the head of this household, the Guest at every meal and the silent Listener to every conversation.”
Still another setting wards off the intruder called hopelessness. The thief that leaves us feeling powerless when hearing about disasters broadcast in daily news that permeates our homes and our minds. The thief that is locked out with the seemingly dark side of the Advent Scriptures and hymns which hold a key called “Watchfulness.” The watchfulness of the ancient Hebrews as they saw their temple destroyed, their families carried off into exile and when home, overrun, first by the Greeks and then the Romans. Through it all their doorkeepers locked out a sense of fatalism with the words: “God will act.”
And so, the Advent call sounds the charges: “Be watchful! Keep awake!” while keeping busy, in the household of church and home.
A joke that made its way through the Vatican had a door keeper call the Pope and report, “Christ has returned.” to which the Pope replied, “For God’s sake, tell everyone to look busy.” (Day1.org for Nov. 30, 2014)
The Advent busyness in the household of church and home, doing whatever keeps us busy being Christ’s household, where, when Dec. 25th comes, it will be Christmas as God intended it to be, a God-with-us Christmas, from cradle to cross to empty tomb.
The Rev Sue Haupert-Johnson, District Superintendent of Methodist Churches in a District of the Florida Conference, reports on congregations that have not forgotten God’s larger plan, and while they wait for its full unfolding, they are keeping busy: “… gathering in those who do not know, or have forgotten, that the God who created them and loves them desperately wants them back in the fold, safe, connected, and whole. Their role as an agent or ambassador of God is at the heart of their very identity, and they take this role very seriously. As one (person) said, ‘I am at work for Jesus Christ in the world, cleverly disguised as a legal secretary.’" (Day1.org for Nov. 30, 2014)
The busyness of folks who have not forgotten they have a role in working to usher in the kingdom of heaven.
Our role, that leaves no time for hopelessness, or personal or public anger, only time to keep working in this household of Christ’s family, in the Advent count up to Christmas, in whatever ways will warrant Paul’s blessing:
I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind-- just as
the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you-- so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift
as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ.
It’s time to set our Advent security system to bring that blessing to our church and our home, for the sake of a world that desperately needs all that God has given and will give, and we will savor at the Advent Table of
Holy Communion. AMEN.