Thursday, December 1, 2016

Advent, we are reminded, is about waiting. Faithful waiting. Keeping hearts and lives chaste in a world of instant gratification and hyper-impatience.  Oddly, it isn't surprising that we aren't good at waiting, but we are very good at being distracted.  Distraction helps us ignore waiting.  There are a lot of theme parks that have discovered that the wait in line is experienced as less long when people are distracted, so various means of entertaining people in line have been developed.  It helps, but no one in line forgets what they're really waiting for: the ride.  We know this since no one chooses to stay in line when they reach the ride.  This same thing isn't true about our lives and world.  The distractions we've adopted work so well that we forget that for which we are waiting.  In essence, we become addicted to the distractions and choose them over or instead of that for which we are created.
A minor, but real Advent experience would be if on December 25 we woke up and discovered that Christmas had been postponed indefinitely.  If by April or June we are still waiting for Christmas then we would qualify as having a hint of understanding about the Biblical experience of Advent of a promise made by God with no set deadline, but also no expiration date.
Of course, Advent for those who call themselves Christian isn't about waiting for the promised Messiah, instead advent for the past two thousand years is really about waiting for the consummation of the kingdom. In the first century there was an expectation that the kingdom was immanent, and as things got worse, especially for the small community of those who were disciples of Jesus.  With two thousand years of waiting we are less certain of the immanence.  Indeed, we may even may think that if current events and attitudes in our world are any indication, then it would appear we have a long wait ahead of us. The posture toward history and the events which may point toward the timing of the eschaton has shifted.
It used to be that, for Christians, war had to be theologically justified and even then it was a moral stretch to do so.  Militant faith was applied to the spiritual world, not one's neighbors or enemies.
It just struck me, however, to consider Advent from a heavenly perspective.  I wonder what God thinks of waiting for us to settle down, to show that we really receive love by demonstrating it, not with the lovable, but the unlovable. That's what Jesus challenged anyone who would be his disciple: love those who do not love you in return, since it's no big deal to love those who love you. Heck, who doesn't do that?
Obviously God doesn't have the same experience of Advent as we do.  We are bound in time, stuck in the present, with a litter of tragedy in our wake and a questionable future around the corner or over the next rise.  God isn't bound in time, therefore waiting isn't an issue.  Still, there are passages that indicate God's patience with the chosen people ran out.  Just read nearly any of the prophets.  And in the Gospels Jesus is recorded as expressing exasperation with the disciples and others who were slow about grasping his kingdom message.
If you're a praying person and furthermore familiar with the Lord's Prayer, then you may recognize the Advent contained therein:  "Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done" and that's not just an eschatological petition since its followed by "on earth as it is in heaven."  In truth, though it is considered a petition, perhaps we might consider it also a promissory statement as well, that perhaps we should move beyond the sound of the words and be a demonstration of the Kingdom ON EARTH as it is demonstrated in heaven.  On this side of the pearly gates, the standard practice of repentance is a good place to start.  Acknowledging one's own failures in faithfulness is a good Advent activity.  Humanity has always been easily duped by its own "better-than-you" aptitude, but it seems lately we are even more eagerly  trigger happy with our index finger as we point out blame and accusation.  Lord knows we have the same damned issues plaguing humanity for centuries, just a new set of people: racism, sexism, beliefism, ageism, nationalism, greed, fear, etc.
And following repentance, we should have a healthy dose of righteous impatience, but impatience for the correct things, like the garbage we have no problem ignoring while we're pointing out everyone else's faults.  When it comes to certain things, patience isn't a virtue we have time for, just as MLK, Jr. advocated in his "Why we can't wait" book.  Some things are way past their spoil date and the fear we harbor in others who are different than us is one of them.   Yet, MLK demonstrated an INCLUSIVE impatience.  He was impatient for everyone to know justice, not only those experiencing the sharp, jagged edge of injustice.
Advent is a season we don't have time for, it seems.  Yet it is a timeless season.  We reluctantly grant it four weeks, but we fill it with a super-size-me Twelve Days of Christmas. It's all quite ironic since those days are meant to follow Christmas Day, not precede it.  We now follow Christmas with a deflating of the season, a collective sigh of relief that all the sugar-coated, hijacked meaning of Christmas is through.
I won't suggest we crater to the strong current of the cultural river, but for me it makes sense to start Advent in August when there's a wasteland of Liturgically ho-hum Sundays.  Then quit the wrangling with folk about not singing Christmas carols during the weeks leading up to Christmas.  It may be good theology, but there are more important battles to fight.
No matter what, though, let's get inclusively impatient with the real challenges. Let's get active with the kingdom work.  Let's quit bickering over the marginal matters and focus on the issues that are genuine.  Otherwise, like the Israel of old, the words of the prophets will no longer be simply an inconvenience.

© 2016 Stephen Carl

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