Reflections on how Christians help each other to grow and mature in loving God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love their neighbor as themselves.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Resist the Rush to Christmas

Advent is the lens through which the Church sees, celebrates and understands Christmas. When we seriously encounter the Christ revealed in Advent we find a Christ who will not be domesticated. He is not a soft and cuddly baby. He is an eschatological prophet, messiah and Lord. He is “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6). He is “Alpha and Omega … who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty” (Revelation 1:8). He is “The Lord is our Righteousness” (Jeremiah 33:16).

Advent helps the church to see who Jesus really is. He is the prophet who is baptized by John whose mission and message is

“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

He is anointed by the Holy Spirit to
“bring good news to the poor, …
proclaim release to the captives and
recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19).

Advent begins by looking to the future and the coming day of the Lord when Christ will come again to judge the living and the dead. It reminds and encourages us to repent and prepare for that day when the great banquet of Christ will begin. Worship, prayer, and reflection during the weeks of Advent help to orient Christians to the future and the life into which Christ calls us. David Lowes Watson beautifully describes this Advent orientation:

“In plain words, it means that God’s redemption of planet Earth is more, much more, than the salvation of individuals. It means that God’s salvation in Christ cannot and must not be reduced to piecemeal soteriological transactions. Any attempt on the part of individual Christians to announce that they are saved is altogether premature. Christians know they are going to be saved; they know they are being saved; and in one sense, a very limited sense, they have a foretaste of their salvation. But the fullness of God’s salvation, the culmination of God’s saving-righteousness, the new heavens and the new earth, all of these lie in the future. No one has that fullness; not yet.

“And when, by contrast, even a cursory thought is given to the countless millions in the world who are hungry, who are suffering, who languish under injustice, or are ravaged by war, the prospect of anyone celebrating personal salvation becomes even less tolerable. In fact, it borders on the obscene. There are still too many of Christ’s little ones who are hungry, too many who lack clothes, too many whoa re sick and in prison. There are still too many empty places at the parousia banquet table. The appropriate attitude for guests who have already arrived, therefore, is to nibble on the appetizers (the ‘firstfruits’), and anticipate the feast which is to come. To sit down and begin to eat would be an unpardonable lapse of good manners, especially since the host is out looking for the missing guests, and could certainly use some help” (God Does Not Foreclose: The Universal Promise of Salvation, page 65).

This is a helpful and much needed reminder to Christians and congregations to resist the rush to Christmas. Let’s resist the market-driven culture of consumption and self-indulgence. Let’s stop to pray, worship, repent, and come to the Lord’s table to be fed and filled with the grace the compels us into the world to be his witnesses. Rather than simply being a reflection of the surrounding culture, albeit with a veneer of religion, let the church be a sign community of the coming reign of God. Then we will be ready to truly celebrate the Christmas that is centered in Christ in all of its radical fullness.

Here’s another song by Bob Dylan that is will help us reflect on the meaning of this season and help us begin another liturgical year: When He Returns


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