And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake. Matthew 13:37
During my wife's first pregnancy with our now 5 year old Bixler I came to think of the Season of Advent as the time of Holy Wait. Cara was four months pregnant at Christmas time and I will never forget seeing her stand in front of the congregation preaching the song of Mary from the first chapter of Luke proclaiming the good news that "We are all pregnant with the possibility of birthing new life into the world…" That Advent Season of 2008 became for me, the first of any kind of actual waiting. For the first time in my life I found myself in a time between the times / the now and not yet. Life was about to change forever and in hindsight I had no idea what that change would feel or look like just that it would have everything to do with a baby I would call my own. Those four weeks of Advent I learned how to invest my hope of the mystery of the promises ahead.
When all three of our children were born our expectations were filled: three beautiful healthy children. However, it is closer to my experience of the gospel that expectations serve to only drive us deeper into the mystery until we are scratching our heads thinking, "But I was hoping it would happen like this…" That was certainly the case for the prophet who upon returning to his beloved Jerusalem found it wanting to say the least. Everything was a mess and the conditions left him crying out that God would tear open the heavens and come down.
All week long I have been busy at work preparing the church for this season of Holy Wait. And in the midst of worship and sermon preparations I was caught in the rabbit hole of #blacklivesmatter on twitter when I came upon this photo which has captured my attention now for the better part of the week. I am struck by how the Advent tension for Ferguson is going to be much more akin to that post exilic experience of the prophet than the Advent tension that most middle class congregations (ours included) have named in recent years which is to say the tension between the coming Christ Child and mass consumerism. Flipping through my past few years of Advent sermons that is exactly what I find - some well intentioned messages urging the congregation to spend less give more / fast from the Black Friday sales / Remember Christmas is not your birthday. Those are important and relevant Advent themes to be sure, but I'm not sure they are the most important thing this year.
This year on the cusp of Advent a city in our nation is on fire and it is a tell tale sign that we are obsessed with mass consumerism when entire news networks seem to be more outraged at the turned over cars and burning businesses than at the systemic racism that brought us to this point. I'm not saying that the vandalism is right, but what I am saying is that the vandalism doesn't undo their justified anger that Michael Brown's death was the last straw after years systemic racism and violence against a community's young black men from the police. This white mother of two young black boys says what I am trying to say much better and with much greater authority. So please take the time to read her thoughts here. What I can say is this: as her boys grow older she will be afraid every time they leave the house. As my white son grows older I will never share her fears because no one will ever look at him and fear simply because of the color of his skin.
As I have read countless blogs and news reports and viewed hundreds of photos from the events in Ferguson and as I see the photos in the Gazette of Western Michigan University students, black and white, weeping at Tuesday's silent protest my heart is heavy. And this Advent I join with the prophet shouting to God that he would tear open the heavens and come down. The photo posted above will be my Advent worship point of focus. The irony of armed police officers under the banner of "Seasons Greetings" speaks so directly to Advent's tension. During the next four weeks we will prepare our hearts for the coming of the Christ Child who will usher the peaceful Kingdom of God in on his shoulders and will inaugurate it's reign on earth when he grows to be the crucified and resurrected one. During the next four weeks we will prepare our hearts for the giver of love in the midst of a broken and seemingly loveless world.
I continue to be hopeful that we will remember Christmas is not our birthday and in remembering be compelled to spend more and give less but those practices I will never again preach as spiritual disciplines: those are just logical choices to make for a community of people who follow Jesus. What I am learning is that the Advent discipline is to invest our hope in the equitable and just Kingdom wrapped up in the bundle that will be the Christ Child born once again into the world on Christmas morning. The Advent disciplines will be in turning our attention to they ways we benefit from systemic racism and the ways we can work to undo it. The Advent disciplines will be in paying attention to the brokenness and lovelessness at hand when the words "Merry Christmas" are spoken. The Advent discipline will be in paying attention to all the places tension exist as the Kingdom of God makes its way fully here on earth as it already is in heaven. We will gather in worship for our first Advent worship experience and sing the hymn "Come Thou Long Expected Jesus" and then read the words, "Oh that you would tear open the heavens and come down."
In your worship what hopes will you be investing in that longing for Jesus to come? Where will your heart be when you beg God to tear open the heavens? May God give you the strength and the discipline to wait because as the prophet knew, the holy is in the waiting.
Come Lord Jesus, come.