Whoa! It’s Advent already!
Happy New Year (the church calendar began anew this past Sunday)!
I first ran into Advent … head on, as it were … when I was 21 years old and serving as the lay minister of a tiny United Methodist Church in Crawford, MS. I had no training, just the fearlessness of youth when you don’t know enough even to say “No.” I was asked to take on the job so this country church wouldn’t have to close. There was nobody else. So I said those fateful words: No Problem! Well, obviously the problem was that I had no idea what I was doing.
Each Sunday I had to preach twice at 11:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m. Since the same people attended both services, I had to have two sermons. And when I looked up the biblical lessons assigned for those Sundays in Advent only weeks after I’d begun the job, they turned out to be about The Second Coming of Christ (as we called it in Mississippi in 1971). What the h……….???!?! I expected them to be about Christmas. So I was shocked to have to try to make sense of why these stories were about the return of Jesus at the end of time, rather that Jesus showing up the first time in the manger.
Years later I discovered that both of these sets of readings shared a motivation to shake us up, to challenge our expectations about what God is like, what the story of Jesus is about, what it means to be a follower of Christ, where we think the world is going, what we think matters most. And they certainly had accomplished that!
My experience gave me a lasting appreciation, as I grew up and later joined the Episcopal Church, for the importance of Advent and it’s themes of expectation, anticipation. The significance of the prophets’ longing for a Savior, John the Baptist leaping in his mother’s womb at the news of Jesus’ forthcoming birth, and much of Jesus’ own ministry is to challenge us to look at our own lives and ask questions like:
- What are you hoping for?
- What are you longing for?
- What really matters to you most?
- What fulfills you in the deepest way?
- Where do you think your life is taking you?
As it turns out, no one was quite expecting what they got in Jesus — he was too poor, too lower class, lacking too much in connections and power, to be “the Savior of the world” — at least as people had long expected the Messiah to be.
Each Advent, I recall the Gospel lesson from Mark this past Sunday, and Jesus’ words that ring with challenge for me now, just as they must have to his first hearers: “Stay awake!” Pay attention. For God is at work around you already in ways that you are not yet willing to see. When God came in Jesus the first time, and when God creates the heavens and earth anew “at the end of time,” it probably won’t be what we expect — it’s probably not what we’re waiting for when we check the mail, or the stock market, or the newspaper headlines, or even the unfulfilled longings of “our selves, our souls and bodies.”
And so each fall season, I find myself being challenged anew, as I have come to hear the question that Advent poses for me: “What are you waiting for?”No comments