I spent part of this first weekend of Advent putting up a big, pink Christmas tree that Melissa picked out as a wonderfully playful addition to the mid-century modern look of our still new-to-us home. As a young priest, I embraced the role of the Advent curmudgeon with gusto and resisted Christmas creep with the best arguments a newly minted theology degree could muster. That young priest would be scandalized at how this new bishop has gone soft – living proof of that fact is that this big pink tree pours on enough fun to coax a smile out of even an old liturgical soul like me.
Ironically enough, that pink tree is a helpful reminder of what Advent is all about. During these brief weeks, we are confronted with soaring prophecies that promise justice and new life to people who were living through their darkest hours. We hear Jesus and John the Baptist tell of God’s final judgement, a terrifying prospect to those who desperately cling to their own power and comfort, but the best good news for all who are poor, broken, afraid, weary, and oppressed. As we behold these visions, we are forced to stand still, remembering that justice, mercy, and liberation are wrought by God’s mighty power, not our own anxious efforts. The scriptural fireworks display we are treated to during the Sundays of Advent are a reminder that God is God and we are not. God is the agent of justice, joy, mercy, love, and liberation. Our job is to get on board with what God is up to.
Even though seven feet of Christmas has already arrived in the Loya living room, I need Advent this year more than ever. The past calendar year has given us so many heartbreaking reminders of how broken, divided, and enslaved by sin and death our world still is. I need to hear Isaiah’s bold and brazen promise of God’s mercy in the face of Israel’s darkest moment. I need to hear John the Baptist’s wild warnings to those who are too pleased with their own power and privilege. I need the prayer book’s ancient collects to urge me to cast away the works of darkness, and to give me voice to cry out: “Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us. . .” Things are tough all over, beloved, but Advent calls us once again to stop, to wake up, to watch and work and cry out for the day when God’s unrelenting faithfulness transforms the nightmare this old world can so often be into the dream of God’s love, God’s life, and God’s joy, which lights up our dark world just as sure as a pink tree is lighting up my west metro home and my own weary spirit.