Week of the First Sunday of Advent
Advent Evening Prayer via Zoom on Wednesday, December 1
Join us for Advent Evening Prayer via Zoom this coming Wednesday, December 1, when the Rev. Dr. Lowell Almen, former Secretary of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, will offer reflections on hopefulness. A Zoom link will be distributed via Constant Contact. The bulletin is below:
“On Waiting and Christ’s Coming”
Dear Friends in Christ:
Advent, the word, derives from Latin and simply means “to come.” Advent, the liturgical season, relates to the coming of the Lord. In this four-week season, we hear biblical stories that attest to the first advent, the first coming of Christ, the word made flesh born to Mary, Jesus of Nazareth. But some of the appointed scriptural passages for this season additionally point to a coming advent at an undisclosed future time when Christ promises to come again to complete in a second advent what was begun in the first. In this season, we also are attentive to the ways in which God in Christ comes to us even now in our present days in the power of the Holy Spirit working amidst the means of grace, namely, the proclamation of the gospel, baptism, eucharist, confession and forgiveness and the holy conversations among us that proclaim the gospel of grace.
What each advent – the past, present, and future coming of the holy one – holds in common is the theme of waiting, of watching. Waiting and watching are comparatively passive modes of activity. There is nothing we can in fact do to hasten the day or the occasions of Christ’s coming. Here’s a passage from a sermon by Martin Luther for the First Sunday of Advent in 1522 which drives home the point that Christ’s coming to us is the result of God’s sovereign action and not our doing.
“Christ comes, comes to you. Yea, verily, you go not to him, neither do you fetch him. Christ is too high for you, and too far away. All your wealth and wit, your toil and labor, will not bring you near him, lest you pride yourself that your merit and worthiness have brought Christ to you. Dear friend, all your merit and worthiness are smitten down, and there is on your side nothing but sheer undeserving and unworthiness, and on Christ’s side is pure grace and mercy. Here come together humanity in our poverty and the Lord in unsearchable riches. Therefore learn here from the Gospel what happens when God begins to build us into the likeness of Christ, and what is the beginning of saintliness. There is no other beginning than that your king comes to you, and begins the work in you. You do not seek Christ, Christ seeks you; you do not find Christ, he finds you; your faith comes from him, not from yourself, and where he does not come, you must stay outside; and where there is no Gospel, there is no God, but sheer sin and destruction. Therefore ask not where to begin a godly life; there is no beginning but where Christ comes and is proclaimed.”
Luther’s words hit the nail on the head and Luther’s wisdom bids us, then, to wait and watch for those graced occasions when Christ comes to us unbidden as an unmerited gift, a surprise. The liturgical season of Advent is thus all about cultivating this spirit of watchfulness, which invites us to slow down and put aside our frantic busyness.
Yet, such slowing down, such cultivation of a posture comparatively passive receptivity, is the exact opposite of what our secular culture and its ways compel us to do in the weeks preceding Christmas. I write this message on so-called Cyber Monday, a day confected to devote time and energy and money to purchases online. This comes on the heels of so-called Black Friday, when we were bidden to enter the physical temples of consumerism to make our purchases in person, arguably an offering to material idols venerated in our current society. Then we have Giving Tuesday when we are exhorted to make donations to charitable organizations, a laudable directive, but one which nonetheless also contributes to the busyness of these days. The inundation of emails generated by profit and non-profit organizations concerning these secular holy days has been remarkable, each an attempt to goad us into further, frantic activity. Thus, the weeks of Advent, inviting less activity, compete with some of the busiest weeks of the year in our secular routines as another calendar year draws to a close.
Such busyness can be spiritually devastating in drawing our energies and attention away from the more receptive stances of waiting and watching. It may be that such busyness will cause us to miss the many and various ways that Christ already comes to us even now in the ordinary events of our ordinary lives, rooted in the means of grace. Thus, I invite you to claim the counter-cultural aspects of this season of Advent and to lay down some of the many extra items on your seasonal “to do” lists. Perhaps that’s easier said than done, but it can be a compelling thing indeed to claim in practical, routine ways that “less is more.”
That said, our more receptive states of waiting and watching will also not induce Christ to come the more to us! God in Christ still comes when God in Christ wills it. Moreover, God in Christ is more powerful than our busyness and to do lists and the distractions they can cause. Thus, it may be that God in Christ will find you, will come to you, will catch you off guard in graced ways, even amidst your distractions and busyness. Thanks be to God for such surprising gifts that come from outside of ourselves and our routines, graces that break through our defensive postures and reach our deep places for gospel healing and hopefulness and wholeness in God.
May it be so for you, and thus, we still pray, Come, Lord Jesus.
Pastor Jonathan Linman