Friday, November 25, 2011

Anxious Advent

I’m having a bit of an impatient and anxious entry in to Advent.

There really is no way to separate the ideas of "waiting" or “preparation” from this season.  There are good reasons for this, of course.  We live in a world that is overfull with harried hurrying; self-righteousness busyness; and increasingly interrupted opportunities for simply listening, paying attention and praying.  This is something I've written about and preached about every Advent since I've been ordained (and a few times in between).  I think most pastors end up drawing from this well at some point or another.  I believe in this message.  It's an important one.  It goes along with "taking one day at a time," "trusting the process," etc.  I believe this.  I know it to be true.

And yet, there is a side of all of this that has been feeling less and less true.  There is real and legitimate urgency in these days.  We are treating those things we know almost like secrets; afraid to say what we see for fear of looking foolish or being controversial.  Our economic systems are falling apart.  We know it.  Those whose jobs count on votes or reducing economic anxiety in order that we'll buy or purchase more are wrong. 

Climate change is real and we have crossed the line past where environmental collapses can be prevented.  The state forester is saying one third of our Washington State trees areat risk of dying because it no longer gets cold enough during winter to kill some of the insects that threaten these trees.  Those involved in estimating the insurance industry’s risk recognize that they no longer can because weather events have become so severe in the last few years as to make previous models barely usable.

The church, our beloved church, has frequently seemed to be spinning its wheels, too.  It's almost as though we keep smoothing out the ice with the hope it’ll give us traction. 
  • ·      We want community and peacefulness so badly that we aren't as honest as we need to be with each other.
  •      The lack of all kinds of diversity in our churches is not OK.  In age diversity, inparticular, we're failing. 
  •      We want to grow but are frequently afraid to do anything that remotely looks like evangelism and seem embarrassed to be people of faith.  There is a huge difference between "shoving our beliefs down someone's throat" and, for example, talking about how our faith and church make our lives better; even make us happy. 
  •      There are frequently undercurrents of tension between clergy and lay members of our congregations.  In times when the resources of energy and money are diminished – and the status of the church or those related to it is, too – there is an emerging culture of blame and guilt inserting itself in to these relationships.

And, well, we’ve known these days have long been coming.  We have long been warned our economic system wasn't sustainable.  The warnings of environmental collapse have been coming for more than 50 years.  There has never been a time in my ministry that there weren't voices speaking to the days we're facing in the Church.  There are really no surprises here, at all.  Maybe we didn’t believe them or maybe we’d heard these things so many times they seemed more like fiction than truth.  Maybe we just assumed that, in these last moments, we would somehow figure it all out and everything would be worked out.  Maybe because it was we just didn’t want to admit we’d been wrong.  We knew these days were coming.  We were told to prepare for them.  We waited for them.

Now comes the annual waiting and preparing season of Advent.  Even though the idea of waiting is important, it’s also dangerous because not everything should be waited on.  As far as preparing?  It doesn’t matter how much we prepare for something if we don’t recognize when those preparations need to be utilized.  Sometimes it seems as though we in the church have taken the “waiting” and “preparing” in the story of Christ’s birth and combined it with a brand new period of “waiting” and “preparing” so that all we are doing is “waiting” and “preparing.”  Yes, it is important to be prayerful, centered and peaceful.  No doubt.  These practices are an important check in a world that is not full of these things.

However, the Advent story is not just about waiting and preparing for what’s coming but God’s invitation to join in holy work, now.  We sing “Come, O Long-Expected Jesus” but the Christ we know has already come and invited us to join together and set people free.  We have already heard those angels on high and the cry of the shepherds for jubilee.  As climate change has an increasing effect, it is more than midwinter that’s looking bleak.  For God’s sake, a silent night is never a holy night when it is the cries for economic justice that are silenced or drowned out by commercial after commercial that con us in to believing that going in to debt is somehow an investment in our happiness.  And, finally, the faithful will not come unless we begin to be more faithful to the movement-building Christ who lives among us than we are to our sometimes seemingly propped up traditions, buildings and institutional life.

As I write this, folks who are part of the Occupy movements are getting lambasted for the drug usage and unemployed in their camps when, in reality, these camps are sometimes the only places where those addicted to drugs and the unemployed homeless were able to find some sort of shelter and community.  As I write this (the day after Thanksgiving), news is coming across the wire of 24 people being injuredtoday in shopping related violenceacross the country (my guess is no one will call for an end to Black Friday because of violence at shopping sites).  As I write this, the oyster beds of the Pacific Northwest are in danger because the oceans have become increasingly unable to support life.

So, I’m having a bit of an impatient and anxious entry into Advent.  I would be lying if I said I was exactly clear what to do but I think we may have wrung out all the grace from waiting and preparing that we could.