|« Alert to Husbands!||Sneezing Is Evil »|
I am excited about Advent this year, not least because I actually know now that there is such a thing as Advent. And all along I thought the church's official position was that no one should be thinking of Christmas until, well, Christmas. Like turning your attention to Christmas right after Thanksgiving is some sign of ubiquitous commercialism undermining the faith. And it might be--it certainly seems that way for my television. But what if this could be a season of quiet anticipation? Of yearning, hearkening, or any of those kinds of words? What if it could be a time for cutting out, rather than piling up distractions--like when we turn down the radio in the car so that we can better see the address we're trying to get to?
I read a bit from an Advent devotional we got as a Christmas present a few years ago. That's about like unwrapping an ornament on Christmas Day--a little too late, but maybe it will enhance the experience next year. Both of us come from families that gave ornaments, which means our children will one day wonder about the logic of our gift giving as well.
As I read I wondered about the possibility of a successful Advent--will Christ appear to us? Maybe we will get well-wishers and do-gooders to say something about loving and giving, but is that meeting Christ? A command to love that is cut off from the source of love is legalism, no matter how sentimental you make it. It dries up about as fast as that Christmas tree.
Why doesn't he come? Some say that he does, but we just don't recognize him. All I know is that there is a growing sense that Christ is showing up in the majority world in ways that we here in America wish for and dread at the same time. He is healing the sick, raising the dead, and rearranging the social order. Why there and not here? Maybe it will happen here once we win the culture wars. Or maybe once we get prayer back in schools. Maybe then.
After reading from this book, I decided to look into the writings of the prophets to get a sense of what this yearning should look like. The prophets saw Christ's coming from such a distance, yet in many respects they saw him more clearly than the crowds that listened to him, the powers and principalities that crucified him, and even at times the apostles who devoted themselves to him. To really yearn properly, to strain toward God until you are off balance (or maybe just a little off), is a prophetic activity. The prophets are the ones who turn hearkening into "Hark!", so to speak.
So I read from Isaiah chapter one. It is not, I would guess, standard Advent reading. God confronts Israel, saying they have cut themselves off from him. Sure, they still have their festivals and rites, but the Lord declares, "I cannot stand the sight of them!" He then promises not to see them and not to hear their prayers. They have done evil things, and he commands them: "Learn to do good. Seek justice. Help the oppressed. Defend the orphan. Fight for the rights of widows."
It may have been in contemplating this scripture that James wrote, "Pure and lasting religion in the sight of God our Father means that we must care for orphans and widows in their troubles, and refuse to let the world corrupt us."
Isaiah is saying that God hid himself from Israel when they refused to see the poor, the marginalized, and the oppressed. They gave a portion of what they had for religious purposes, but somehow separated the spiritual purpose of tithing from the socio-economic purpose. Intact were all the religious festivities and rituals, but care for the poor had been forgotten, and so true worship had become tainted and pure religion contaminated and disjointed.
So it made me think, what if God isn't revealing himself to us in America (at least not like he has revealed himself before or in other places) because we have forgotten the poor? What if it's not as complicated as winning a culture war (or any other war)? What if we can't see God because we have stopped seeing the poor?
In that case, giving would be one way to yearn for Christ's coming. And not just giving of our extra--like the old clothes I don't want anymore. I mean giving to God himself as a spiritual sacrifice. I'm talking about giving our firstfruits to the poor as an act of worship to the Lord. What if what we gave to the poor was better than what we reserved for ourselves? What if seeing the poor led us to see God? Perhaps this is the wisdom that made three kings wise.
A sermon preached at my church last Sunday on loving the unlovable brought up a slew of questions for me. To piggy-back on your questions, what if the problem we have in the US isn’t that we don’t love the poor, orphaned, widowed, etc, but that we don’t even have the tools to do so, if we wanted to, because we don’t access the source? When asked if we considered ourselves loving people, my entire bible study each said no, for various reasons. We mostly said the same thing–"If I tried to love the way I know I should, I’d shrivel up and die. There’s not enough of me to go around to all the places that have need.” The solution posed in the sermon was that we don’t have enough love to give because we haven’t fully opened ourselves to receive love from the ultimate source. Was it John that said, “if you don’t love, you don’t know God."? This bares the question, what does it take to “open oneself” to God enough to receive love from Him–enough for myself and to give to others? Is there a specific act or guideline to follow? Will knowing this really make me a better giver?