Only twenty five days till Christmas and in this brief moment, we will be spending four Sundays in Advent. Advent is a tough season and is easily lost in the busyness of Christmas. Hallmark Channel began two months of Christmas movies on November 1 and Black Friday sales now begin in mid-November, and Cyber Monday is tomorrow. Yet, just as a song proclaims, “we need a little Christmas,” we also need a little Advent, a time to pause, take a breath, and ponder the contrast between our hopes and dreams and the world in which we live.
Advent traditionally was a time of prayer and fasting in which persons lived in the tension of “now, but not yet.” Jesus has come, salvation is real, God’s realm is here; but we must still go to work, struggle to make ends meet, and see headline news reminding us of the threats of ISIS terrorists, Ebola virus, Capitol-hill gridlock, violence in the streets, the killing of young adults, and environmental and economic instability.
We can try to run away from history and responsibility, and many early Christians did just that – with persecution for the faith a daily reality, they imagined that a trumpet would sound, Jesus would come down from the clouds, the Romans be vanquished, and the faithful spirited away to heaven. For two thousand years, some Christians have hoped for the great escape, calculating the signs of the times and poring over esoteric biblical passages, all in expectation of a divine rescue operation that would leave the world in rubble, while they would be safe on high. And their dating has always been wrong! Just this fall, we had another release of the “Left Behind” movie series – giving solace to those who want to escape history and a chuckle at perverse bumper sticker humor that announces, “In case of the Second Coming, this car will be driverless” – and presumably running over anyone in its way.
There is another path, an alternative to ethical and spiritual irresponsibility. It is keeping our eyes open for the signs of the times and then responding. Jesus tells his followers that no one can discern the pivotal moments of history or their own lives; no one knows when God will come to us in the events of our lives and call us to something more than mediocrity, that God will call us to compassion, creativity, and adventure, even if we never leave our living room. Life is precious and we better stay awake to God’s movements in our lives. We don’t want to be caught on the sidelines missing the moment of decision, when one small act can change our lives and the world.
Every president has quotes to remember. Ronald Reagan affirmed, “We can’t help everyone, but everyone can help someone.” Abraham Lincoln said, “In the end, it’s not the years of your life that count, but the life in your years.” And, appropriate to our Lenten season, Barack Obama affirmed, “Change will not happen if we wait for some other person or wait for some other time. We are the ones we have been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.”
That is the spirit of Advent. The signs of the times are all around us. Stay awake, see God’s movements in your life, and then respond. We just may be the change we seek. We may be the answer to someone’s prayer.
Still, we are often paralyzed by a sense of scarcity. We believe that we don’t have enough, we are too young, too old, too worried, too poor, too unpopular. This is probably what the Corinthians felt as their church teetered on destruction – with fighting within and persecution from the outside. Paul must have surprised them, by suggesting an alternative vision.
Listen to these words, addressed to a little congregation in Corinth in Greece, as if they were spoken to us here on Cape Cod. “For in every way you have been enriched by Christ, in speech and knowledge of every kind…you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
This is God’s promise to us –
- You are enriched by Christ.
- You are not lacking in any spiritual gift.
This is addressed, as Paul also intended, to each member of the community – you are gifted – and it was also addressed to the whole community…for this moment in time, Christ is enriching you…for this moment in time you have all the resources you need to face the future in all its hopeful uncertainty.
And, in this Advent season, the greatest gift we have is not our Master Card, VISA, American Express, or internet shopping, or even cards we send to our friends and family – it is, as Paul says in his reflection on the body of Christ in I Corinthians 12, God’s Holy Spirit moving in our lives. While the Holy Spirit will always remain mysterious, this Advent, we can keep awake for the manifestation of the Spirit that is coming to each of us – God’s wisdom speaking in each of us, God’s resources that are coming to all of us, and God’s inner power that is coming to everyone here. God’s Spirit is the transformation we are looking for; God’s Spirit gives us the power to be the change we need to embody in this world and in our families.
Stay awake! You have all the resources you need! You are children of God’s Spirit!