United Methodist Bishop, William Boyd Grove, former pastor of Bethel Park UMC just outside of Pittsburgh suggested that there are certain words that deserve to interrupt all other words and conversation. Words like “The house is on fire!” or “The war is over!” or “Your hostage brother has been released!” These are, in his provocative words, “startling, interrupting proclamations that change everything. If the house is on fire, you run! If the war is over, you dance! If your hostage brother is released, you leave everything and go to meet him!” During Advent we prepare ourselves for another set of words that change everything: “Jesus Christ has come and is coming back!”
God sometimes whispers and oftentimes shouts these words to us in every candle and carol, every card and crèche. For me I hear them most often in the voices of the weary and poor, but I must admit that sometimes I am not ready to hear these words that cause all others to cease. I am just too busy or overwhelmed by life. That is why Advent season precedes Christmas, to help us all get prepared, to enable us to hear God’s voice of hope. This wonder of Advent, as poet Elizabeth Jennings puts it, is this: “… It is a mystery/How God took time/ and entered history.” It is a grand mystery that gives us hope, hope in a God that loves us so much that He came to be one of us.
Oh, how we need hope. With loved ones absent from the Thanksgiving table last week and the terrible truth that their absences won’t be less gaping in four short weeks, but actually worse, and with worries on the battlefronts of the world: recession, unemployment, domestic violence, terror, poverty, debt, and ill health, we know all too well the need for a friendly God, a benevolent Jesus, a comforting Holy Spirit.
You may be where a lot of people are right now after learning the truth that Thanksgiving celebrations are terribly efficient ways for families to spread germs and vermin across the miles. Who knows who passed the bug around first, but I know that there are plenty of people who caught something over the past weekend. “What a horrible time to be sick!” is what many have been thinking. But truthfully there couldn’t be a better time. Nothing quite like illness makes us pause and reflect.
Advent season isn’t an illness, but it can inoculate us with just the right soul-saving amount of reflection that may help us survive the holidays. Maybe if we paused before we said things we wouldn’t have such a tough time having worshipful Advent seasons. One guy went up to a woman that he though he recognized and said, “You look like Helen Black.” Her response, “I don’t look so good in brown either!” Another miscommunication occurred as I heard about one church that invited a guest preacher at the beginning of Advent. In the bulletin was this announcement: “The church is glad to have with us today as our guest minister the Reverend Shirley Green who has Mr. Green with her. After the service we request that all remain in the sanctuary for the Hanging of the Greens.”
Many churches begin Advent season with a “Hanging of the Greens” service. Others are hard at work on special music or projects. Chrismon trees and poinsettias will grace sanctuaries all over Christendom, but more important than the preparation of our homes and houses of worship will be the preparation of our hearts. Therefore, here’s another but more appropriate Advent bulletin blooper: “The Word made flesh and swelling among us.” May the Word swell and dwell in your life this Advent season! Those who have ears to hear, let them hear!