So here we are at the end of a year that has captured our imagination if by no other means than the fear and spectacle of it all. Not only have our thoughts and feelings been driven by the political circus of this year, so have some of our actions. It has demanded our attention, but now it is Advent. It is time to redirect our attention to where it belongs.
To me it really does feel like I need to have the powers exorcised from my life. Even now, a headline, a social media comment, or even just the mention of a candidate or issue can draw me back in to participating in a story that is not Our Story. It is a whole structure of assumptions, convictions and even acts of worship.
However, it is the calling of the Church to be a people who are called out from the Empire, whose citizenship in this world is not our primary citizenship, and whose lives are shaped by the worship and love of God alone. Our Story is full of tales of God delivering us from the Empire time and time again. So as we move through Advent together, it is my hope that some of these advent practices would point our attention and our hopes back toward God as our first love, so that we might know we are the beloved and hopefully even be a little salt and light to the world.
1) Praying. It is a good time to pick up a new habit or ritual of prayer. Any kind of prayer will do, whether praying intercessory prayers for others, practicing Lectio Divina, making a habit of centering prayer or meditation, its all good. The one thing that all kinds of prayer have in common is that it puts our attention back on God. Right now, we are so inundated with so much information about what we should and should not be worried about that we need to make giving God our attention a regular habit. I might suggest that this Advent is a good time to add on a simple request for God help us, deliver us from evil, purge us, heal us, bring us home, or make us holy. However you want to phrase it, it is good to ask God to help us be God’s people first and foremost.
2) Fasting. Fasting is a great as an act of repentance because when we are left with our hungers unmet, even if for a short while, it tends to bring parts of ourselves to the surface we may not always want to attend to. This year they may be some wisdom in other kinds of fasting. We have so much of our time and attention to fracas, it may be a good idea to take our nose out of it for a bit. This could be refraining from TV, news outlets and/ or social media. It could mean finding gentle ways of exiting political discussions. Paying attention to the news and discussing politics is important, just like eating food is important. However, a break in the pattern will help us see the world differently, most importantly as people who are deeply loved by God.
3) Hear The Story. Again, there are a lot of ways to do this: Bible study, Scriptural meditation, maybe even just paying better attention in church. But its hard to go wrong with just picking up a Bible and reading it. Don’t know where to start? Let me recommend Genesis, the Gospel of Matthew, or Exodus. This is Our Story, it is the narrative we return to again and again to know who are are and to discern where God is leading us. Without it we would be adrift. If you have a good dose of Scripture in your diet already, consider reading the lives of historical saints to see how they embodied The Story and how they came to see themselves, above all, as God’s beloved.
4) Do Acts of Love. We might also say, do “Good Works,” “give alms to the poor”, or practice compassion. Immersing ourselves in politics often damages our ability to empathize with others. As Christians we have a particular call to find Christ in the poor and the oppressed. So much of our spirituality as Christians is not just something that happens inside us, but also between us. So if a particular occasion comes to mind in which you did not treat someone well, it is a good time to try to make amends. Look for occasions to actively practice compassion…. this is not just about feeling sorry for someone or some group, it is about concrete expressions of love and compassion. Do whatever you can, even if it is not perfect. We will learn more about God’s love compassion as we go along. Its not just about solving issues like poverty, abuse, racism or addiction, (which is certainly what we hope and work for), its also about us participating directly in the love of God by loving others. The more compassion we show, the more we can be convinced just how much God loves us. And that means we will have more love and compassion to give.
5) Wait. Whether you have had great expectations for the coming year or find yourself terrified, remember that our hope is ultimately in God. Whatever happens next, it will not give meaning to all history. We need to lift our eyes beyond the horizon of history and see the One who will have the final say, the One who drapes time across eternity. For a moment, just pause. Put off your sene of victory or your fears. If you can’t, because perhaps your fears are too great, then sit with them and unapologetically long for and desire God’s presence and reign. If your life is fairly comfortable, take steps to places where people have to wait. Consider taking the bus somewhere and arrive at the bus-stop early. Expect God to be on the bus. Look for God when you get on. Arrive anywhere early, for that matter, and don’t fill the time with your gadgets or technology. Perhaps its a good time to dig out photos from when your were pregnant and remember what it was like to start “nesting.” Have you been putting off a trip to the DMV? It might be good to stand in some long lines. Or perhaps you can just sit quietly at home, be bored, and allow yourself to long for the restoration of creation. Or perhaps you can ask God to reveal opportunities to wait with others whose lives are not as stable, in a hospice, a homeless shelter, a domestic abuse shelter, any where people are longing for the reign of God. How does God want you, us, to embody the kingdom today. If your life is perhaps not as comfortable, look for opportunities to share your story of longing and of waiting. Maybe take another chance and ask God and the Church to provide someone to wait with you and be present with you. Let your longing out. It is time. We need to share this.
6) Repent. We have just spent months detailing whats wrong and evil with the other half of America. how many times have we let the “Powers” that be take over our voice or attitude on FaceBook. How deeply have we let the culture War rhetoric frame the world for us instead of the love and justice of God? If we want the “Powers that Be” to lose their control of us, we have to turn away from them. The willingness to turn the examining eye inward in light of all of these practices, and to ask the Spirit of God to show you where you need to change, might be hard, or even terrifying. But this is one of the things that makes the difference between prophets and hypocrites… the willingness to let the kingdom be born in us. Our exemplar Mary, who as a young teenage girls said a bold yes, (read her “yes” here) and let God be born in her. How might we follow her example and let be God be born in us? What in me must change? It is really only terrifying when we lose sight of the relentless love of God and that is what these practices are all meant to help us see..
May Advent be a reminder that neither creation nor redemption was our idea. From the beginning this Story has been authored by God who loves us and has meant for creation to work well together for God’s glory. And though at times we may seem determine to work against what God intended, this is still God’s world and God is still moving towards us. God’s love is as tender as it is relentless. God is both Holy and merciful. God brings justice and God brings grace. …And God is coming, even as we speak, even as we learn to wait. Let us wait, and let us do so together and in love.
For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known. But now these three remain, faith, hope, love, but the greatest of these is love. 1 Corinthians 13
ALMIGHTY GOD, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen. BCP