Advent 2021.4 – Aiming for Surrender

Thinking more about the “themes” of the weeks of Advent (hope, peace, joy, and love), it seems to me that there’s a challenging and counter-intuitive aspect to all of these.

It’s all well and good to reflect on these ideas and concepts. They are aspirational, and you could do a lot worse than to try and live them out on a given day or week.

But for me, I’ve found that it’s really difficult for me to “try” to be loving, peaceful, joyful, and hopeful. In fact, the more I try to be any of these things, the more I can end up bearing down and gritting my teeth, determined as hell to be loving, etc.

Then, when I come up against someone who is really a challenge to love (because I always do), I end up losing my temper (which I sometimes do), or maybe at best “loving them” while I’m hoping that they feel guilty for how much love I’m showing them (sarcasm intended, and yes I usually end up doing this as well).

Does it really work this way?

It’s really difficult for me to “aim” at love, joy, hope, and peace.

Luckily, I’ve found a better way.

I don’t aim at these values; I aim at surrender.

For me to have a little Advent in my life, I need to surrender my agenda, my will, my way, my plans, even what I think to be true of myself and the world.

I surrender all of this, and I subject myself to the Lord of Advent, to Jesus and His Spirit, and allow myself to be formed, led, and shaped into someone who can actually be a bit more loving, joyful, hopeful, and peaceful.

It’s HIS job to shape me. It’s my job to surrender.

Advent 2021.3 – Opposites

Depending on what Christian tradition you grew up in, each week in Advent represents something different. Mostly I grew up with some version of: Hope, Peace, Joy, Love (four weeks).

These are all “warm, fuzzy” words. Everyone nods their heads and says, “Yeah, those are great ideas.”

But an examination of my own life would show that actually trying to live these out is another thing altogether.

It’s actually pretty difficult to try to make words and concepts like hope, peace, joy, and love some kind of guiding lights and principles for living.

So much so that it’s tempting to dismiss them as impossible, impractical, and out of touch with reality.

But think about the opposites.

What if Advent was about preparing for a Kingdom of despair and cynicism (for hope), strife and war (for peace), bitterness and anxiety (for joy), and fear and hatred (for love)?

Just listing those out is a wake-up call for me, because well, I find myself easily slipping into those attitudes on a daily basis.

What’s more, sometimes it seems like the voices of the culture around me (coming from all sides of the political aisle) actually encourages and endorses those “Advent opposites.”

But for me the idea of living in despair, strife, bitterness, anxiety, fear, etc. is really not a life a want.

So today—again—I’ll choose the Advent of Jesus. The Advent of the Kingdom of Heaven, the Advent of the Kingdom of God.

Advent 2021.2 – Recognize Your Need

I Need Advent

Advent reminds me that there’s another kingdom at work in the world, beyond what I see and experience on a day-to-day level. Beyond the greed, anger, divisive behavior, beyond the obsessive consumerism, beyond the shallow superficiality of our culture.

Recently, I was sitting in the Nike store on Chicago’s Michigan Avenue, watching all manner of people as they tried on the latest offerings of stylish sneakers and athletic clothing.

As I sat, I found myself gradually more and more “off-center” and slightly sideways.

Why was everyone so desperate to have these on their feet? Why were they spending so much money on them, and just a few weeks from Christmas?

The more I watched, the more indignant I started to become, and the more bitter I became about the state of our society.

And then it hit me: This is why we need Advent.

But not how you think.

No, unfortunately, the thought hit much, much harder than judgment on this consumeristic culture. It hit harder than watching people filling themselves up with the badges of identification and affluence.

Nope. Way harder.

Because what actually hit was, “I need Advent because I am sitting in judgment of all of these people.”

That’s pride.

As far as I can tell, this Kingdom to which I aspire is not one of judgment and separation, but one of humility, unity, and acceptance.

Who appointed me the spiritual judge of the Nike store?

What made me think I knew the story of any of these individuals?

I sat, stewing in my pride and arrogance, and unknowingly confessing my own need for the Coming Kingdom, the “In-Breaking” of God’s rule and reign through the God-Man, Jesus.

(P.S. Things seem to work out about better when I start with my own brokenness, rather than ruminating on the possibility of others’ weaknesses.)

Advent 2021.1 – Submit to the Process

We believe it begins today.

(At least as best I can tell-I’ve been known to get these liturgical dates comically wrong.)

But let’s assume that it does.

Advent = “Breaking in.” Just what is it that is breaking in?

A person. A Kingdom.

Maybe. it’s like this: A Kingdom that is fully embodied in a person.

Interesting to think about.

Also interesting to think about that it’s a season of Advent, a season of breaking in.

As in, it’s not just a moment.

It’s a process.

Thinking this morning about how much that says about this God. If He is all powerful, why not just snap His fingers (Thanos, anyone?) and make it happen?

“Process” seems all to human. Why submit to a process, when you have all the power of the universe at your command?

Maybe it’s because “submitting” to an all-to-human concept (“process”, “time”, etc.) is exactly what it means to be “God.”

God submits, because God is god. To be “God” means to empty yourself, to serve. To surrender the trappings of power and to enter in.

This is not how I think, not how I instinctively exist in the world.

I desire to ascend (or at least, I want to).

I want to rise up and accumulate all the “things”—wisdom, knowledge, status, respect, money, authority…

The list goes on and on.

And I as I try to rise up on the escalator, God takes the service elevator down to the bottom, ending up in human skin, a fragile, vulnerable child.

Kneeling before all of us, and asking, “How can I help?”

Hurry Up… and Stop

Advent starts tomorrow.

Maybe your “Christmas season” started at 4:30am on Friday morning; maybe it started online on Thursday night.

Maybe you are already running at 150 miles and hour.

Maybe you are already stressed out due to family tensions and too-many-parties.

But maybe it doesn’t have to be that way.

Here’s a reminder: Advent is about waiting. 

If you don’t come from a liturgical background (I don’t, by the way), you may not realize that Christmas actually begins on December 25 and lasts for 12 days (hence the annoying song). The season that leads up to December 25 is called “Advent”, which literally means “the coming into being.”

If you follow the Christian calendar, Advent is a period of time reflect on the significance of the arrival of Jesus Christ into the world.

(Which is kind of a big deal…)

So maybe your holiday season has already begun with a frenetic—even pathological—tone. However, it does not need to remain that way.

After all, it doesn’t take a ton of effort to engage in some moments of reflection and thoughtful contemplation this season.

So here’s my question/challenge: What will you do over the next 25 days to slow down, to reflect, to rise above (or stay below, as the case may be) the Christmas (not Advent) madness? 

What if you set aside 10-20 minutes in the morning to reflect and stay silent (or maybe even begin a practice of centering prayer)?

What if you lit a candle each evening at dinner to remind yourself of this light that is “coming into the world”? (see John 1)?

What if you went through a book of Advent reflections?

What if you chose to read through a Gospel (or 2 even) during this season?

Christians are fond of saying, “Jesus is the reason for the season”, but most of us really don’t do anything to actually act like it. We tend to go about our business in much the same way as the rest of the world.

Could this December be different?

As We Come To It …

I won’t be posting on Christmas Day, and as we all get ready for the last push to get Christmas gatherings prepared, gifts bought, parties prepared for, here’s a note about peace from Brennan Manning…

When we are in right relationship with Jesus, we are in the peace of Christ. Except for grave, conscious, deliberate infidelity, which must be recognized and repented of, the present or absence of feelings of peace is the normal ebb and flow of the spiritual life. When things are plain and ordinary, when we live on the plateaus and in the valleys (which is where most of the Christian life takes place) and not on the mountaintops of peak religious experiences, this is no reason to blame ourselves, to think that our relationship with God is collapsing, or to echo Magdalene’s cry in the garden, ‘Where has beloved gone?’ Frustration, irritation, fatigue and so forth may temporarily unsettle us, but they cannot rob us of living in the peace of Christ Jesus. As the playwright Ionesco once declared in the middle of a depression: ‘Nothing discourages me, not even discouragement’ (from Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas).

Peace—real peace—to all of you over these next few beautiful days.

 

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Advent Poem

Pause and reflect —
One moment only,
In the torrid  burning of our time,
And consider this:

We are not the lists we keep,
– Gifts to buy,
– Things to do,
– Things we’ve won,
– Loves we’ve lost,
–  Even the things we’ve done.

No, none of these will do —
We are babes, merely in waiting
For something to be formed,
For love-to-come
In the Advent of us all.