Sunday, November 28, 2010

Thoughts on Advent (waiting)

Everyone is just waiting.
Waiting for the fish to bite
Or waiting for wind to fly a kite.
Or waiting around for Friday night
Or waiting perhaps for their Uncle Jake
Or a pot to boil or a better break
Or a string of pearls or a pair of pants
Or a wig with curls or another chance.
Everyone is just waiting.
But somehow...
You will escape all that waiting and staying
And find the bright places where boom bands are playing.
-Dr. Seuss

Although I like what the good doctor is getting at here in this exerpt from Oh the Places You'll Go, I wonder if there might be some value in an Advent kind of waiting. Advent is defined somewhere as "waiting (especially for a momentous occasion)." Is there a kind of good, healthy, helpful waiting? Or, as Seuss eludes, is waiting more a kind of not being content and present to the moment? Is waiting antithetical to Carpe Diem?

I know for me, I like and maybe even need seasons of waiting. The waiting is often better than the actual moment. We have all experienced PCD (Post Christmas Depression) - the inevitable letdown after the big day. And maybe that is good, healthy and in its right place. Maybe Advent-Christmas is just a shadow of our greatest hungering and thirsting for that great, momentous occasion when God will so incarnate himself in the cosmos that all things will be make right and beautiful. When all our greatest "hopes and fears through all the years will rest in him" fully and for all eternity. 

We experience glimpses and foretastes of the coming season, the coming kingdom - when we experience the Christmas magic of peace on earth and goodwill toward men and women. When there is that joy to the world because the Lord has come. 

"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice, for they shall be filled." -Jesus

C.S. Lewis says that if we find a desire that no earthly thing can satisfy, one can only conclude that we were made for a different kind of world. As we hope and long and hunger and thirst and let ourselves get too excited and giddy and eat too much and as we inevitably get disappointed by the anticlimax, the quarrels, the stress, the materialism, etc... Let us put our ultimate hope in the final putting-right momentous occasion of Jesus' return. Do you remember how in the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Narnia is cursed with years when it is always winter and never Christmas. But when Aslan returns Christmas comes, the snows thaw and Spring and life come! 

I'll end this with a quote from my 4/y/o son. This morning we were sitting during a worship gathering and he whispered in my ear, "In the daytime the angels are too big to see, but in the nighttime we can see them because they are not too big or too small." I have no idea what he meant, where he got that idea, or why I even share it with you now, except that it somehow rang true. God is working and playing in this world and with our eyes wide open in the light of the day, maybe God, and God's angels are somehow too big to see. Let us slow down, dim the lights, light a candle, light a Christmas tree and experience the miracle again of the angel coming at night saying, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you..."

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Dreaming of a Quaker Christmas?

Does it seem like Christmas keeps coming earlier every year? It’s like thanksgiving just gets glossed right over – at least in the stores. And after-Thanksgiving-Day-Shopping has become like a holiday in itself. You might remember a few years ago around this time a Wal-Mart employee was trampled to death in a “blitz” of shoppers out to snatch up the limited deals. I can remember a few Christmases back having a conversation with a few different people about how some stores weren’t celebrating Christmas but a more generic, politically correct, “holiday.” Some of my friends were upset and were “fighting back” by refusing to say, “happy holidays” and instead wishing their tellers a, “Merry Christmas.” I remember wondering if my friends had missed the point a little. Why should I be upset if Wal-Mart isn’t promoting consumerism in the name of Christ? Why would I want to wish someone merry Christmas with a “gotcha” attitude? It just takes all the fun out of it.

Quakers have a unique historical perspective here. This is what George Fox writes in his journal, “When 0the time called Christmas came, while others were feasting and sporting themselves I looked out for poor widows from house to house, and gave them some money.” Friends, in the beginning of their movement, had this sense that all days were holy and sacred and that Christ’s present reality existed 365 days a year. To recognize one day as special, they believed, demonstrated a belief that the other 364 days were somehow less holy. Many chose not to celebrate.

That being said – I love Christmas. I mostly love the simple things like the sights and the smells. The smell of noble firs and cedar boughs, cinnamon candles, apple pies, and crisp air. The sights of Christmas trees, snowflakes in the streetlights, and children bundled so tightly they can barely move. But believe it or not, the thing I love most about Christmas is the waiting. I know that might seem strange. It’s strange to me especially because I’m not usually the most patient person. Waiting in the checkout line in the grocery store can just about give me hives. But yes, I love the waiting. My brother Jesse would often spoil the Christmas surprise by walking into the living room and nonchalantly announcing, “We’re getting a Nintendo this year.” I would be devastated. While most kids would shake, poke, and peak into the box, I was content to just be giddy with the anticipation.

Christians for centuries have celebrated a time called Advent - the four week preceding Christmas. It means the “waiting.” The celebration of advent is a call for a kind of anticipatory waiting, a reflection of the beauty and mystery of the incarnation. Just ponder this for a moment - the fullness of God’s divinity somehow resided in the finiteness and messiness of humanity. But as remarkable as it is that Jesus is Godlike, I think it’s even more of a wonder that God is Christlike (and in Him there is no unChristlikeness at all). When we wonder what God is like, we look to Christ. When we wonder how God feels about us, our neighbor, and this world, we look to Christ. I am going to borrow a few reflections concerning incarnation from Frost and Hirsch’s book The Shaping of Things to Come.

First, the incarnation brings a profound identification with the entire human race. God takes upon himself all the emotions, temptations, struggles, and doubts that any person experiences. God, through Christ, understands our experience and even sympathizes with us. Jesus became that he might redeem.

Second, the incarnation bring locality. Someone once said, “If you want to make something real, you have to make it local.” Jesus makes the presence of God real to us by dwelling among us. He took residence in time and space, had real human interactions, and completely felt and experienced the human condition.

So, in thinking about the ways of Christ, I wonder what it means for us to be incarnational in our approach as Christ followers. I think it means that we can no longer stand aloof and indifferent to the experiences and lives of others - we actually need to identify with them. I am convinced this can be done in thoughtful and generous ways without compromising the gospel itself. Also, we may need to find more intentional, creative, and natural ways to be a real and abiding incarnational presence. This means that we are no longer satisfied to let people come to us, we seek to be a presence in our neighborhoods, communities, schools, and places of work. The message translation of John 11:14 says, “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.” If this was true about Jesus, then we too are invited to practice the spiritual discipline of presence and identification. Where might you find ways to incarnate yourself this Christmas season and beyond? A community service project, an arts and crafts group, sports club, common interest group, or a parents group? Jesus identified and practiced presence so that his redemptive purposes could be completed. As Christ Followers we should constantly wrestle with the question - how can I be different in important ways, but not so different that I make no difference at all?

Though many of the early Quakers did not celebrate Christmas or other holidays, I wonder how we could distinctly express our hope and love for God in another way this Holiday season. My hope is that we might embody charity, peace, presence, hospitality, and grace. But how? Would you consider hosting a neighborhood Christmas party, or inviting someone over who is usually alone on Christmas? Would you consider simplifying this year so that you might give a gift to someone in desperate need? Would you be willing to serve a meal at the Boise Rescue Mission? Or perhaps you might practice being incarnational by simply looking your teller in the eye, smiling, and saying, “Merry Christmas.”

(First Printed in the BFC Newsletter - December 2009)