31 Maple Street
Bristol, Connecticut USA
December 3, 2023
Rev. Kristen J. Kleiman
Santa in the Macy’s Day parade got 31 floats, 11 marching bands, 25 sets of performers, 29 clown crews, 25 balloons, and 6 balloonicles to prepare the way for him on Thanksgiving Day. (And in case you don’t know what a balloonicle is, because I didn’t, it’s a balloon on a bicycle.)
That’s quite an entourage. Jesus, on the other hand, Jesus, the long awaited Messiah, got a man dressed in camel hair with a leather belt. Jesus, the Light of the world, got a man who lived in the wilderness and ate locusts and honey. Jesus, God’s love in human form, got a man who told anyone who would listen, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” (Matthew 3:2)
No floats filled with children and singing Sesame Street characters. No mammoth balloons of Snoopy or Sponge Bob Square Pants. No marching bands playing a jazzy version of a Christmas carol. No, John the Baptist, this wild man, living in the wild desert was the one who “came as a witness to testify to the light”. (John 1:7)
And that seems like it should make no sense at all. Why would God send such a strange witness? Why would God invite the people out into the wilderness?
Because God’s people needed to turn from their old ways so that they could embrace the new that God was doing, so they could embrace the true light that was coming into the world.
We can all get stuck in a rut, doing the same old, same old. Not even thinking about the meaning behind our traditions and practices. In a podcast for “An Advent Observed”, Mary Shore shares about how God’s people were “tithing mint and dill and cumin but neglecting the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith.” (An Advent Observed, December 18, 2022)
God’s people were following “the rules”. Except, they were only following the rules that were easiest for them, the rules that didn’t require much personal sacrifice or change. God’s people were focused on their prayers looking right and their conduct looking right, and they had forgotten about being in “right” relationship to God.
Heal people, yes, but only heal them on the right days and in the right way according to tradition and scripture. Include people, certainly, if they are the right kind of people, our kind of people, people who look like us, speak like us, believe like us. Have compassion on people, goodness yes, have mercy, kindness and compassion for others when they are following the rules, blameless and upright according to the standards of society, and appropriately grateful.
God’s people were in a rut. God’s people were stuck in a way of life, a way of faith that was empty, that was just an endless list of rules and to do’s, that lacked heart and faith and a real connection with God, a real connection that led to life and light, joy and hope and peace.
God’s people needed to turn from their old ways so they could embrace the new that God was doing, so they could embrace the true light that was coming into the world. God’s people needed to leave behind the status quo, the everyday routine, and go out into the wilderness, out into the new so they could see, so they could know, so they could embrace the light of the world.
We, too, can get into a rut of faith. We can go through the motions, doing the same old same old every year: lighting the Advent candles, decorating our church and homes, listening to Christmas carols and music. We can do all of these things and find that instead of preparing our hearts for Jesus, all of this activity just leaves us feeling frazzled, overwhelmed, and exhausted, which is not the life we seek, nor at all the life Jesus offers.
Advent offers us the opportunity for a reset. Advent offers us the hope that we can leave behind the same old same old and truly prepare our hearts for the light of the world.
Advent is very counter-cultural because Advent invites us to take a different journey through December. Advent invites us to find moments of quiet. Advent invites us to wait, to notice, to watch. Advent invites us to be patient. Advent invites us to be more fully aware of God.
Busy is not the way of Advent. More to do’s is not the way to connect more deeply with God. Over scheduled is not the way to prepare for the Light of the world.
Advent invites us to embrace hope, to have hope, to live in the hope, that our lives and the world will be different, that God’s plan of wholeness and peace is an expected promise and not just a nice thing that may or may not happen.
Advent invites us to live in peace – and not just peace with a small group of people who agree with us. Advent invites us to prepare our hearts for the Prince of Peace by being peace, by praying for those whose political views are quite different from our own, by spending time with people who might not be our favorite people and seeing them through the eyes of God’s love, seeing them as God’s beloved.
Advent invites us to love and that might be the hardest work of all. Advent invites us to put away the old ways of only being kind to those who are kind to us, the old ways of caring for only those who seem worthy to us, the old ways of looking right and being right, instead of doing the kind and compassionate and right thing.
Advent, preparing for the light of the world, requires a change of life, a change of heart. It would be much easier if all we needed to do to prepare for Jesus, the Light of the World, was to pick up a few gifts, bake a few cookies, and listen to the ever present Christmas music.
That’s not the Advent journey God is calling us to though. God is calling us out into the wilderness; God is calling us out into the new; God is calling us to prepare our hearts for a new life, a new life with Jesus, one in which hope, peace, love, and joy abound.