Advent’s Inoculation

It’s Cyber-Monday and many of us feel the crunch to get busy with Christmas shopping. Some of us barely survived Black Friday or Rivalry Football games. This is a season of urgency and it should be a season of great pause! How do we handle the onslaught of the holidays? The answer to me is turning them back into what they are meant to be: Holy Days!

United Methodist Bishop, William Boyd Grove, former pastor of Bethel Park UMC just outside of Pittsburgh has 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 is born.”

 God whispers these words to us in every candle and carol, every card and crèche. Most of us are not very ready to hear these words that cause all others to cease. We are just too busy or overwhelmed by life. That is why Advent season precedes Christmas, to help us get prepared, to enable us to hear God’s voice of hope. This mystery 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 whom passed the bug around first, but I know that there are plenty of people who caught something over the 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. 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 in your life this Advent season! Those who have ears to hear, let them hear!

Glad for Advent


CBS News Anchor Dan Rather writes in his book, I Remember, about watching the Flying Valentis while growing up. He writes, “Walking past a vacant lot on our way to school early in the morning, we would come across the Flying Valentis practicing in their long tights and tank tops.” The Flying Valentis were a troupe of circus acrobats who traveled and performed throughout the United States.
“Although we were used to their art,” Rather recalls, “the Flying Valentis never ceased being the wonder of the neighborhood. Every morning it was like getting invited to a great show without having to buy a ticket. They did triple somersaults above their practice nets and caught each other by the forearms while swinging from the trapeze. We’d gasp when they missed connections and fell into their nets.”
From watching this family work out, Rather and his friends discovered that practice meant a lot of hard work. It might have looked like a lot of fun, but it was work. Rather writes, “From this hard-working family with its specialized brand of togetherness, we learned that even life in the limelight was no cakewalk. When we traipsed back from school in the afternoon the Valentis were still swinging away from their nets, and when they returned from a tour looking banged up and limping with limbs in casts we could see that a price had to be paid for fame.” Rather learned a valuable lesson from watching the Flying Valentis, “Their vicissitudes would have been good preparation for survival in the acrobatics of network television.”
Advent is our time of holiday preparation. It is a time when we look back, examining Israel’s expectation of the long-awaited Messiah. It is also a time to look forward to the day when Jesus will return. We do not know when that long anticipated event shall occur, but we try to stay prepared. Like flying a trapeze, Advent/Christmas season often looks like a lot of fun with all of the tinsel and lights. However, without the disciplines of reflection and preparation, this season can make us end up looking as battered as working without a net.
Advent season gives us the spiritual net to help us survive the hurriedness of Christmas. With great panic we can either say that there are only 4 Sundays until Christmas Eve and we’re not ready, or with the right amount of spiritual preparation we can say that we’re looking forward to it. With adequate reflection, we can celebrate this special season with all the wonder and poignancy that it deserves. Don’t miss the net!