Today marks the beginning of the season of Advent, a time of preparation, a
time of going toward the coming again of the Messiah, a time of great
expectation and great anticipation. But exactly what is it that we
anticipate? What are we getting ready for? What do we expect to happen? Do
we anticipate the end of the world, as some religious cults always do at
this time of the year? Are we preparing our hearts and spirits to receive
again the coming the coming of the Christ child into the world? Or are we
preparing for yet another month-long shopping spree that some have called
"economic first-degree murder" - willfully and with malice aforethought
murdering our bank accounts? Or maybe we're getting ready for the seven to
ten pounds the average American will gain during the season (Lord, please
let me be an underachiever this year!)? Or are we preparing for the suicidal
traffic jams at Tanglewood Mall in Roanoke, or the general atmosphere of
surliness and desperation? (A couple of years back I remember hearing on the
local news in West Tennessee that shoppers were actually coming to blows for
the right to buy a Holiday Barbie doll!)
Are we getting ready for the depression, the anxiety, and even the rage that accompanies the secular holiday season? If we allow ourselves to get caught up in the consumer Christmas - and I firmly believe that we in America celebrate two separate events on December 25 - we can easily find that instead of preparing to sing "O Holy Night" we will find ourselves living out one holy nightmare.
For the many who faithfully observe the consumer Christmas, Advent is the inevitable prelude to disappointment. For the majority of these folks, Christmas somehow hardly ever measures up to their fantasies. Even for those who manage to have some of their Christmas wishes fulfilled, the season is over so quickly that the need to make New Year's resolutions to lose those added pounds, bears down on them even before the decorations come down.
But the Advent we celebrate in the church - the one that has nothing at all to do with the number of shopping days left until Xmas - is altogether different. The hanging of the greens, the placement of the poinsettias, the lighting of the first Advent candle - all these invite us to dream dreams of a better world, to allow expectant visions that have nothing to do with sugar-plum fairies to dance in our heads. Advent invites us to fill the cup of today with a full measure of tomorrow. Both the passage from Isaiah and the words from the Gospel of Matthew express the Christian hope for a different, brighter future.
When the prophet Isaiah thought about the advent of God, he envisioned....
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