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    Dec 04, 2016

    Reflection and Joyful Expectation

    Reflection and Joyful Expectation

    Speaker: The Rev. Becky Crites

    Category: Advent

    Keywords: advent, coming, preparing, repentence, waiting

    This Advent ponder in your heart the way in which Jesus, the Messiah, came and comes to us and so saves. But don’t shackle yourself to a purity of Advent that denies God’s being with us now – for knowing God is a joyful experience.

    “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” These words are not the common greeting of this time of year, but we in the Episcopal Church are used to hearing these words in Advent. Those steeped in our tradition expect to hear about John the Baptist every second Sunday of Advent.

    Advent we say is a time of waiting and preparing for the ways in which Jesus comes. Before we ever venture into the stories of his first coming, we hear about the second coming and of John preparing us for Jesus’ coming into his mission. No wonder those coming from non-liturgical traditions are taken aback by our lack of Christmas themed Sundays in December! In Advent we are preparing for new ways for Jesus to come into our lives. Each season of our life requires us to think anew about our life. And so to prepare for a new and fresh understanding of the incarnation of God requires some mindful prayer and preparation of our hearts and minds, especially in this crazy way we “do” Christmas.

    It is good to slow down and experience advent in a time of fast paced living and instant communication. So keeping advent traditions is helpful to our spiritual life. But advent doesn’t mean we are held to those traditions we have set in stone in our church. We have a false purity of Advent based in rules that make any appearance of Christmas before Dec 25th almost a sin. Yet the attractiveness of the joy of the season causes us to tweak that idea with Christmas symbols repurposed - “Advent" Wreaths, pageants, Greening of the walls, and Chrismon trees. Christmas music is perhaps the only really holdout, although some of us find ways to tweak this as well!

    A friend of mine told me the story of the church where she served fresh out of seminary. The priest was adamant about Christmas hymns staying out of the Sundays of Advent. Yet one day she rode with him to a meeting and when he started his car - the Christmas station was blaring on his car radio and he sang along!

    Last week in chapel, I had us sing Joy to the World, even though we were talking about Advent. Rather than breaking a rule, however, I was actually embracing the season of Advent. For even though this hymn is in the Christmas section of our hymnal, Isaac Watts wrote it about the future coming of Jesus not that past event of his first coming. When you know this you readily see those same words we associate with Jesus’ birth do indeed speak to his future coming. Joy to the World, my friends, is actually an Advent hymn. But to many this is solely a Christmas hymn and therefore is a no-no in Advent.

    Losing, or changing, the original context of things is just something we do. But sometimes this causes a loss of cultic memory that we later find needs to be restored. And such restoration is needed for the season of Advent, and especially for Christmas. How we hear John’s words - “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near” - is one of those things needing some restoration. In our retelling of John’s story, he has become this angry crazy guy wandering out of the wilderness in a ragged loin cloth with bugs held in his beard by honey, screaming these words of repentance. And maybe he was.

    But what we learn of Jesus, and so of God, is that what we think we know is often too colored by cultural teachings. If we hold the cross before us, then we learn that repentance and the judgment of God is based not in punishment but in love.

    The Greek word for repentance, metanoia, means a turning around, a turning to another direction, a new understanding that causes a change of perception and direction of thought. This suggests dramatic change. When set in the context of our relationship with God, than repentance is about those times when we come to a realization that our current life needs a readjustment; a turning to God and to the person God calls us to be. It’s not to say “we’re sorry” and promise to do better. We all remember those times as a child when our parent or a teacher says, “Say you’re sorry to so and so.” And we have to suppress a sarcastic “I’m sorry” reply. The repentance John sets the people who have come to hear him, and before us today, is to shed the values, the mindset, the pressure of being as the world says to be and walk closer to the person that God created us to be.

    This Advent, ponder in your heart a repentance that is not based in harsh judgment or punishment, but based instead in a change of perspective on who and whose you are. We are all created to be joyful, loving beings. And each of us holds within us God’s deepest desires for us to fully be who we are as God’s believed. Jesuits would say our deepest desires are actually God’s desires for us; God’s unique calling to us. And when we act against our deepest desires it brings us internal conflict and a walk along a pathway away from God. And so to repent is in fact a turning of our truest selves to God. Sometimes this turning does indeed bring some judgement upon us. But this doesn’t mean that judgement is always harsh or punitive. More often than not, the repentance we need is found in the joy of discovering God’s way for us and of God being with us. Which is exactly the Christmas Story – God comes to be with us.

    My friends, my brothers and sisters in Christ, this Advent, play Christmas music, decorate your home whenever you want. Don’t shackle yourself to a purity of Advent that denies God’s being with us now – for knowing God is a joyful experience. And next week, as we watch a Christmas pageant and green the church, let’s do so in the joy of the season that recognizes God is with us now and anticipate God’s next coming, so we can embrace the radicalness of that first Nativity. For God’s coming as Jesus makes the world and everything in it a very different place. We may not see it because we see too much what the world tells us to see.

    This advent season explore the way the people of God expected the messiah to come and how he was to be. And then explore the unexpected way he did come: as a very needy little baby completely dependent on others. He cried, he wore diapers, he nursed. And because he was fully human as he grew he must have argued with his parents, didn’t like the food before him, and wanted more freedom from his parents. But then Jesus heard the call of his cousin John, and what had been stirring within him drove him to the river, to change the direction of his life and he discovered God’s deepest desire for him. And he turned toward God and God’s call to him.

    So put on some Christmas music, bathe yourself in the light of candles and Christmas lights, live for a time into that great hymn and let all mortal flesh keep silent. Then ponder in your heart that way in which that Jesus, that Messiah, came and comes to us and so saves. My friends, this is the way that God loves us – by coming to us and experiencing human life in its most humblest and to its fullest. And learns to love that life and then turns and gives up that life so that death is destroyed for us all. And then perhaps, from that exploration you can begin to discover the dream God has for you. And you can find one way you are now living that needs a turning around, however slight or however large it may be, so that you are more aware that you are on the way with Jesus. And in knowing more fully the incarnate God who does indeed walk with you, your life may be filled with that real Christmas joy of God with us. Amen.