Waiting for Advent

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This morning I got in my car to run 8 hours of errands for my church.  My IPod happened to be in my wife’s car so I went looking for a radio station.  The first one I found was a generic pop station that plays current hits.

To my absolute surprise, they were playing Christmas music.  So I went looking for another station.  Later in the day I found myself at a Starbucks, killing time between errands and to my surprise they were playing Christmas music too.

It is November 10th, 17 whole days before Thanksgiving and a month and 16 days before Christmas.

And it isn’t just the music.  The Holiday displays are out and not only in big box stores but in grocery stores as well.  More than that, we are starting the Christmas Culture War earlier than ever and this year the battle happens to be over coffee cups.  More than that, I found that Netflix has debuted all their Christmas content all ready.

There was a day not long ago when I wrote a rather cheesy editorial for my high school paper about how Christmas is now a month long and begins the day after Thanksgiving.  My classmates ridiculed me, saying their family didn’t start Christmas until a couple weeks into December.  They further thought it was weird that anybody would think to celebrate it earlier than that.  Wishful thinking though that was they were wrong then and are super wrong now.

I know enough to know what Starbucks, the grocery stores and that secular radio station are thinking.  They can make more money if they begin the “Christmas spirit” early.  More people will flock to their station and they will capitalize on a niche crowd, making more ad revenue.

After all, American Christmas is all about money.

And American Christmas is far removed from traditional Christian Christmas.

Traditional Christmas was precluded by four weeks of despondency, a time called “Advent.”  Advent is to Christmas what Lent is to Easter.  It is a time of stepping back from the world and taking a good hard look at it, reminding ourselves again that this is still a dying world that desperately awaits the life that comes with Jesus’ second coming.

Advent isn’t really the season of shepherds and wise men.  They are for the 12 Days of Christmas and Epiphany.  Instead Advent is the season of the Old Testament prophets whose poetry and prose describe a broken world desperately awaiting the messiah.

In Advent we join Jeremiah on the mountaintop over a ransacked Jerusalem, crying our chapters of lament.  This is why this season is a time for sad and desperate songs like, “Come, O Come Emmanuel” and “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus.”

We sing these songs during the four darkest weeks of the year as we cry and fast and pray and contemplate.

Then, on the darkest day of the year (or what turned out being 4 days after it) we suddenly gather together in the Mass, bringing our observations of brokenness into the sanctuary with us.  And then Christ comes!  After four weeks of mourning and fasting, joy fills the world because though the darkness seemed to win, light now streams forth from a manger!  And light will stream forth again in the eastern sky when Jesus returns.

We use Advent to wait for Christmas.  However, lately it feels like I am using Christmas to wait for Advent.  After all, our broken world thinks it needs more Christmas spirit, more snow filled holidays and more songs about silent nights, frosty snowmen and red nosed reindeer.  What we actually need is prayer, fasting, crying and lamenting.  We need more embraces of our dark and broken world and more longing for a savior who is coming.

For this reason I close with one of the most unsung Advent songs, written by my favorite, Charles Wesley.  Enjoy!

Lo! he comes, with clouds descending,
once for our salvation slain;
thousand thousand saints attending
swell the triumph of his train:
Alleluia! alleluia! alleluia!
Christ the Lord returns to reign.

Every eye shall now behold him,
robed in dreadful majesty;
those who set at nought and sold him,
pierced, and nailed him to the tree,
deeply wailing, deeply wailing, deeply wailing,
shall the true Messiah see.

Those dear tokens of his passion
still his dazzling body bears,
cause of endless exultation
to his ransomed worshipers;
with what rapture, with what rapture, with what rapture
gaze we on those glorious scars!

Now redemption, long expected,
see in solemn pomp appear;
all his saints, by man rejected,
now shall meet him in the air:
Alleluia! alleluia! alleluia!
See the day of God appear!

Yea, amen! let all adore thee,
high on thine eternal throne;
Savior, take the power and glory;
claim the kingdom for thine own:
Alleluia! alleluia! alleluia!
Thou shalt reign, and thou alone.

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A Sermon Somewhere: Shopping on Black Friday

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There is an old preacher’s joke that goes, “I don’t know where but there is a sermon in there somewhere.”  This series builds off of that by trying to find the sermons hiding beneath our everyday experiences.  .  .and failing miserably.

I have never gone shopping on Black Friday.  In fact, I don’t recall ever leaving the house on Black Friday, except maybe to go for a run in the wilderness and not the wilderness of shopping carts, frantic grandmas, speeding suburbans, and angry house moms that is known as “the Costco parking lot.”  Instead for me, the “black” in Black Friday has always described the other side of my eyelids, which is what I spend most Black Fridays staring at.

But then it happened yesterday.  While watching one of three football games at my in-law’s place, Fred Meyer played an ad about 1,248 times that advertised a 40 inch television for $150.

The first 652 times I completely ignored the ad, but on that magical 653rd time, my father in law repeated, “$150 for a TV is not bad.”

Now my wife and I own one television.  It is 26 inches wide and has deplorable speakers.  We bought it for $450 right after we got married and it has served us nicely, except once or twice a year the remote randomly stops working.  The first time we went for months without using the remote before we randomly discovered that if you unplug the television, wait a few seconds and plug it back in, the remote works again.

Still, my wife and I have been dreaming about a new television, one where maybe the remote works ALL of the time and with better volume.

So, I looked up from my book and said, “What brand was it?”

They replied all at once:  “Surely you are not going try to get one tomorrow?  You would have to camp out in front of Fred Meyer now and even then you probably won’t get one.”

“Well it might be fun,” I mused, while I found the ad online, an ad that boasted, “Only 10 per store!  Sale starts at 5am!”

“Looks like a good deal and even if I didn’t get one the experience would give me great sermon material.”

After all, most congregants can’t relate to stories about sleeping all day on Black Friday and then waking up to do a 10 mile long run in the wilderness.  But standing in line waiting for a TV, throwing elbows, tackling toddlers and yelling, “Haha!  I got one!” when you laid fingers on the prize is a sermon worth preaching.

I mused over it for a few hours.  5AM is early but I have done it before for far less noble reasons than buying a television.  We did need a new one and did not have more than $200 to pay for it.  A new television for our family room would mean we could move the old one to our bedroom.  Having a television in your bedroom is one of those defining staples that you have finally arrived at the swanky middle class life.

But 5am was early.  And who would want to wake up at that time for a television?  But it wasn’t for the television.  It was for the story.  I could regale my wonderful friends with the epic tale.  They would all laugh and shake their heads at me.  I would tell it at weddings and funerals and special occasions like Easter.

“This sunrise service reminds me of another time I woke up before sunrise but to get a television.  .  .”

“Then as my hand landed on the prize of the television I realized all that work to get out of bed was worth it.  .  .just like our dear, deceased Mary is now laying hold of her prize in heaven.”

“Just like I woke up at 5am to get my wife a television, you should keep your marital vows pure by going the extra mile for each other.”

There is no limit to what this story could do.

But 5AM is so early, especially after a day full of eating high calorie foods and watching football littered with Fred Meyer commercials.

So I finally asked my wife, “Is it worth it?”

“We do need a new TV, but we just don’t have $150 to buy one right now,” she replied.

Good.  That was it.  It was settled.  I was not waking up at 5am, even if the story would be epic.

But then my mother-in-law said, “If you get one, I will pay for it.”

Well, now it wasn’t settled.

I mulled it over for a few more hours and well into the night, even after going to bed.  In the end, for no discernible reason, I did not set my alarm.  I woke up around 7:30 when my infant son woke up screaming and my toddler daughter pounced on the bed.  It was a good moment, a wonderful family gathering full of smiles and giggles and my angry wife muttering curses at the three of us as she tried to fall back to sleep.

So can I tell a story about that time I didn’t wake up at 5am to brave the cruel crowds and cold rain to buy a television?

I don’t know where, but there has to be a sermon in there somewhere.