First Presbyterian in Lafayette, Louisiana
November 24, 2010 – Advent 1
Today is the beginning of something new, or at least it could be. Today is the beginning of Advent, the Season of preparation leading up to the celebration of the birth of Jesus, the Christ. Of course the average person on the street or even in the pews of most congregations does not usually think about or talk about Advent except for when we light the candles on the wreath. Think about it. When was the last time you said, “Happy Advent!”
Then again, is that even appropriate? Advent is a time of getting ready, anticipation, and stress. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Stress can be a good thing. It indicates how important an activity is to you. It reminds you what you care about. Maybe we should say, “Anxious Advent!” just to see who is paying attention.
I can recall those days of retail, working in the Ruby Tuesday’s restaurant in the mall. I used to wear a Santa’s hat to let people know where I stood on the, “Happy Holidays vs. Merry Christmas” issue. Still, I tried to be respectful of others. Apparently the folks at American Family Radio feel that they have had some impact on national marketing campaigns, stating that during the past few years of their protest the market share of nationally advertised companies that use the word “Christmas” in their marketing has risen from around 30% to about 80%.
That is nice, but somehow I do not think that marketing is the answer. I don’t think that increased production and sales of mass produced and outsourced goods does much to proclaim the kingdom that Jesus came to announce. I think we need something much more subversive, something that wakes us up and reminds us what we are preparing for and moving toward. I think we need something that is more of a conspiracy.
Now, in legal terms, a conspiracy means that two or more people agree to commit unlawful acts with at least one combined effort to further a particular agenda. Although I am not advocating anyone to break the law, I am asking you to break with tradition, commit acts that might make others uncomfortable, and to blatantly disregard the culture of consumerism in favor of the economy of the Kingdom of God.
That’s what this Advent Conspiracy thing is about. It started in 2006 with five pastors who decided to make Christmas a revolutionary event by encouraging their faith communities to Worship Fully, Spend Less, Give More and Love All. That’s all there is to it. They founded a non-profit group to provide a website and share resources. They took on a project to provide clean well water for developing nations, and they left it open for the Holy Spirit of God to move in and through the Body of Christ, which is the church!
You will be seeing suggestions for how to respond to this invitation through the bulletin and newsletter, and if you really want to see how far the rabbit hole goes we will have a meeting for conspirators to share and collaborate on Sundays at 9:30a.m.
The jumping off point is “Worship Fully,” and I think it connects with the anxiety of Advent and the strangely unfulfilled hope that we celebrate and proclaim. Isaiah reminds us that God alone is the source of salvation. Paul reminds us to be governed by agape, not will-you-be-my-valentine, mushy, comfortable love, but tough love. Love that is its own reward. Love that demands and commands our attention. He tells us to wake up and smell the Advent candles because something is burning!
Jesus tells us to stay awake. Jesus reminds us that he will be coming back, and his return will be a complete interruption. One is standing in the field and the other is simply not there anymore. Now, I want to step back here and acknowledge the discomfort of this passage. For the first 1700 years of Christianity, the idea of a moment in time when Jesus came to take the good guys home was not a matter of doctrine. Maybe it was just assumed. We don’t know. It did not become an issue until the time of the enlightenment and the development of critical methods of thinking. The official stance of the PC(USA) on this idea is that Christ will return at a time we have no way of knowing. We assume this will be the end of time, and that God will judge, redeem, and restore whom God wills to. We do not believe in a time of tribulation or other tests and trials beyond the ones we face every day. We believe that Christ is coming to make all things new, once and for all.
We also believe that we live in the mean time – the time in between. We believe that God has not left us alone, and that through Jesus we may come to know and live in God’s presence here and now. That reminds me of one of the videos on the Advent Conspiracy website. A man from Liberia was talking about the gift of fresh water to his village. He said very clearly, “You have brought heaven to earth, here and now.”
I imagine that is what you will see if you come to help hand out Christmas baskets for needy families with C.U.P.S. in the next few weeks. Did you know that we have produced around 400 baskets for men, women, boys, and girls who would not have a Christmas present if it were not for you? Over the past three months, the upper room in our Education Building has become a vital center of collaboration and conspiracy. While others have eaten, worked in fields, and slept, elves from across denominations have put in over 60 hours of labor a week.
I think that is what the Advent Conspiracy folks are talking about when they advocate “Worshiping Fully.” They are not concerned with showing up at a particular time and place to perform a particular set of actions that someone else is telling you to do by way of a bulletin. They are reminding us to do as Paul has said and “put on Christ” in a way that is demonstrative and obvious.
I think that still leaves some ambiguity about how to worship fully, and I don’t think the question of how to worship fully can be answered in here. It can only be answered out there. It can only be answered by asking the question, “Does this glorify God?” Without asking that question regularly, we become like a character in a film who is trapped in a dream, and the only way out is to love as we have been loved. We have to wake up. We have to become more than who we are by living the law of love, and sometimes that means breaking the laws of tradition. For we may not know what hour Jesus is coming, but we know what time it is. We know that we have something to look forward to and to hope for, and we know that we have something to live for today as well.
The Kingdom of God has come and is yet to be. We live in it when we embrace the ambiguity of waiting, expecting, hoping, and working toward the goal of a better world. The church is the unique witness of God’s presence to the world, but if we do not demonstrate it, we may never see it. May God be praised with our voices, our thoughts, and the actions of our days. Amen.