Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Advent Conspiracy

Thanks to Kate Huey, Heifer Project International, and The Advent Conspiracy for resources in writing the sermon.

Seriously, folks. Heifer Project, Advent Conspiracy, and Living Water International. Get on board.

Luke 21:25-36

"There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see 'the Son of Man coming in a cloud' with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near."
Then he told them a parable: "Look at the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
"Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man."

This is the Word of the Lord.

“Are we there yet?”

It's a pretty universally accepted truth that if you put kids in a car and go on a journey of any length at all, that question (or one of its variations) will be asked about a hundred times per hour per child. The excitement of going someplace, the anticipation of what awaits, and the tedium of long car rides are a pretty bad mix, so it's no wonder so many cars and SUVs come equipped with DVD players.

Now, as a child I'm sure I asked that question a lot when we went places, but I don't remember that. What I do remember is, when we were headed to one set of grandparents or the other, looking for landmarks that would tell me that we were almost there. When we went to Huntsville to see Grandma Hazel, my mom's mom, there would come a point after we passed the Jetplex that you could see, off in the distance, the very tip of a Saturn V rocket. The bigger and closer the rocket got the closer we were to Hazel & Hunt's.

When we went to Tuscaloosa, to my dad's parents' house, my landmark was the “Burger In A Hurry” at the corner of University Boulevard and 15th Street, it was a small building with a v-shaped roof and a big sign promising fifteen-cent hamburgers. That's where we turned, so I knew we were getting close to Hilda and Red's.

Though I may have asked, “are we there yet? How much longer?” and things like that, in fact when I looked at the signs around me, be it the jetplex or the rockets in Huntsville or the miles of kudzu and the long-since-closed burger joint in Tuscaloosa, I knew we were almost there.

This is the first Sunday in Advent, and the first Sunday in the liturgical church year. The Thanksgiving turkey is almost digested, we've just about rested up from Black Friday, and we're entering in to a wonderful season of building anticipation, waiting for the birth of our Savior and King! The Wise Men are scanning the heavens, the shepherds are moving their flocks through the fields, the angels are tuning their harps.

Yet we start this season of new beginnings with a discussion about the end of time – the words of a Savior not very far from the whip, the crown of thorns, and the nails. Because Advent is not just about Christ who has come, but Christ who will come again.

It's a strange mixture, isn't it? The wise men, the manger, the tree and the ornaments, the gifts and the kids who wake before the sun is up to see what Santa's brought them, peace on earth and goodwill toward humankind – and are we there yet?

Signs in the heavens and distress among nations, fear and foreboding and a roaring, unsettled sea, horsemen and trumpets and bowls and a great, final Resurrection, where every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord – are we there yet? How much farther?

Could it be that the message of Advent is not so much one of two arrivals, one past and one future, or of a great and glorious beginning and a cataclysmic and permanent ending, as it is about one thing: “God's passion, God's dream, for a transformed earth,” (to quote Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan)? I'm not suggesting just a transformed planet, some political Nirvana where wars have ceased and harmony prevails. This is what Crossan and Borg seem to envision in their book “The First Christmas.” Rather, I am speaking of a world full of transformed people whose needs have been met by God's people, and whose lives are defined and founded upon that Christ who has come, who has died, who has risen, and who will come again.

Are we there yet?

Crossan and Borg suggest that Advent is a season of repentant preparation – not “repentance” in the sense of being sorry you did something, confessing and promising to not do it again, as we seem to view it so often, but “repentance” in the original and correct sense of the word, where we change something. Where we work to make what is into what should be, yes, personally, but also in a larger sense – in the lives and experiences of those around us and by extension everyone on earth.

When did the Christmas season become a time of stress and traffic jams, of holiday jingles playing and commercials running even before Halloween, of searching store after store for whatever the television tells us is this year's hottest gift, of endless shopping lists and Black Friday predawn sales, where all we're left with on December 26th is exhaustion and credit card bills and a stack of gifts to return?

I want to suggest to you this morning that Advent is not about commerce, but about worship: “It starts with Jesus. It ends with Jesus.” Is this not the approach God had in mind for Christmas? “A season where we are called to put down our burdens and lift a song up to our God. ...a season where love wins, peace reigns, and a king is celebrated with each breath.”

Are we there yet? I can't speak for you, of course, but for me the answer is “no.”
Can we get there from here? Yes!

I always hesitate when I am about to talk about meeting needs in society and in the world, because I don't want to preach an unbalanced message. In the same way that the Gospel is not just about our personal salvation and our personal growth and personal relationship with the Triune God, the Gospel isn't just about feeding the hungry and clothing the naked and speaking out for the marginalized. However, in a very real sense, what we believe internally, how we conduct our prayer life and direct our study of Scripture is both shown in, and informed by, our outward actions. People not only see what we believe in how we act, but the things we participate in with our time, our talent, and our treasure – whether positive or negative activities – impact how we pray, what we study, and even how we think about God. One always feeds the other.

With all of that said, a few years back, a few churches got together and started a worldwide movement that has come to be called the “Advent Conspiracy.” The idea behind it is pretty simple: to go against the Christmas season stress and hype, and to restore something of the joy and adventure of the Advent season.

They asked the members of their congregation to buy just one less gift during the holiday season, and to give the money not spent on a shirt or a tie or a DVD player or an X-Box or a Tickle Me Elmo to an organization like Living Water International or the Heifer Project, or to a local shelter or food ministry.

Americans spend about $450 billion on Christmas every year... but $10 can provide clean water for a child for a lifetime, and a hundred dollars gives a family clean water for a generation. $20 can buy a flock of geese for a family, $120 buys a goat.

I want to invite you to join me in a conspiracy – an Advent Conspiracy. There are people you know who will be happier to get a card saying that a gift was given in their honor than they will with anything you could buy them. And in that space we create by giving a gift instead of simply buying a present, where we help a person or family we'll never meet to have a better life, in that space is where we can begin to fully worship this amazing Christ of Advent, who for us and for our salvation came to earth, lived, died, and rose, and comes again.

Thanks be to God.

1 comment:

  1. I reminded myself that Advent is twice as long as Christmas.

    My pastor works hard, I know, but I wish we'd had this sermon today at my church. Who couldn't use this reminder? It hit the mark.