12-6-15--2 Advent C


Readings For 2 Advent C

I confess to being a recovering Advent grinch.  I, along with most other Episcopal clergy I know, and some other die-hards, look at all the Christmas trees, lights, and decorations going up the day after Thanksgiving and think (and sometimes say,) “What is this abomination?  It is NOT EVEN ADVENT YET.  Don’t these people know that there is an ENTIRE SEASON BEFORE Christmas, a season of quiet reflection and preparation for the coming of our Lord, and that Christmas actually STARTS on December 25 and lasts for TWELVE DAYS?  What is wrong with them?!”

Those are the rantings of an Advent Grinch.  The recovering part is that I’ve come to accept things I cannot change—that our culture’s celebration of Christmas lasts from the day after Thanksgiving to December 25.  They don’t know about Advent, and if they have some vague idea of 12 days of Christmas they probably think they begin December 13.  But what’s brought me a great deal of peace is that I’ve realized that our culture’s celebration of Christmas and our Christian celebration of the most central, mind-blowing mystery of our faith: the Incarnation of the eternal Word of God in a tiny human infant 2,000 years ago—are two completely different things.  Our Christmas and the cultural celebration of Christmas have about as much to do with each other as the resurrection of Christ and the Easter bunny.

I’ve known for a long time that the spirit of Advent runs counter to the spirit of our culture’s celebration of Christmas—I like to think of Advent as the spiritual antidote to the “Christmas Crazies.”  Church publishing put out a poster a few years ago that said something along the lines of “Stop.  Reflect.  Breathe.  It’s Advent.”  I’ve known that Advent was the time when our counter-cultural calling as Christians was most evident—just when our culture is asking us to run around like chickens with our heads cut off and be merry and tinsel-bright while doing it, we go dark, take flowers off the altar, where solemn blue and purple, and sing in a minor key.

But what I’ve come to realize is that our Christian celebration of Christmas is actually counter-cultural as well.  And not just because we blast our carols and leave up our lights and tree until January 6.  You see, our Christmas is about something entirely different from the world’s Christmas.  The world’s Christmas is about stuff.  It’s about excess and consumption and keeping up—scratch that—out-doing the Joneses.  It’s about obligation and appearances—for adults.  For kids it’s just about stuff, and magic dust.  In a way, what Vince calls the “Coca-Cola Santa Claus” has come to represent all of that.  Exhaustion and appearances for grown-ups, magic and stuff for kids.

But we know, we know like the who’s down in Whoville “Christmas can’t be bought in a store, Christmas you see means a little bit more.”  The Spirit of Christmas is kindness, generosity, self-giving love, moderation and proportionality—not too much, not too little, but enough, enough for everyone.  St. Nicholas—a 4th century bishop from Greece, embodied this spirit of love and generosity better than anyone.  Giving away his inheritance, bringing gifts secretly to those most in need so that he wouldn’t even get the credit—St. Nick was the real deal.  And I think that the spirit of St. Nicholas, and the real spirit of Christmas, are not non-existent in our broader culture’s celebration of Christmas.  Like the Monty Python and the Holy Grail’s plague victim “not dead yet!”  But they can’t be taken for granted either.  There is a war for Christmas—and it’s not about whether Starbuck’s writes “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays” on their cups.  That doesn’t matter.  What matters is that the spirit of kindness, generosity, self-giving love is at the center of Christmas, instead of stuff, exhaustion, and appearances.

You see the spirit of Advent is about grace—God’s grace, God’s love and forgiveness and healing and mercy, falling down on us like rain, coming to us not because we deserved it, not because we worked so hard and had the poster-perfect Christmas celebration, but because we need it.  Because we need it so very desperately.  Because we need God-with-us, God as close as a breath and a touch, God as close as a newborn baby held to its mother’s breast.  We need it so very much.  And Advent, with all its firey prophets, is about grace as well.  Advent is about making room for that grace—at the busiest, most crazy-making time of year.  Making room.  Making the high places low, and the low places high.

You see, that’s what grace does.  It makes the high places low, the low places high, the rough places smooth.  It brings balance, evenness, peace, hope, and even joy.  There are high places in our lives and in our world.  There are places where we get ahead of ourselves, want too much, work too much, and there are people and parts of the world, our part included, that have too much.  And there are places that have too little—not enough to survive, to feed and clothe and educate their children.  There are people in that situation in our very community.  There are low places in our lives as well—despair, grief, hopelessness.  The low places—spiritually, economically, need to be lifted up, and the high places brought down.  This is the job of prophets like John the Baptist and St. Nick—to announce and denounce, to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.  This is what grace does—makes the way smooth.

I’d like to offer you an invitation—don’t become an Advent Grinch.  But become an Advent and Christmas prophet.  Find a low place—in your heart, in someone else’s life, materially or spiritually—and do what you can to lift it up, to offer God’s grace and light and love and hope.  If you need a little help just re-read our first reading from Baruch.  And find a high place—this will probably be in your own life because it’s hard to impose on others, unless you feel called to be a Salvation Army Bell-ringer!  Find a high place and take it down a few notches.  Replace false Christmas with real Christmas.   It doesn’t have to be loud and in-your-face—remember, the bringing of the Kingdom of God is a super-secret, covert operation.  Take St. Nick as your model.  Drink deeply from the ever-flowing stream of grace—and offer that life-giving drink to others.


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-c 2015 The Rev. Amy Denney Zuniga

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