In the chaos of the horrible terrorist attacks in India in these past days, as that was just beginning, a sign for a life insurance company was hanging from a storefront which after the name of the company read, "peace of mind, guaranteed."
As I said, it was deeply ironic. This is the actual sea we swim in. One in which we have learned the illusion that we can actually buy things such as security, safety, relationships, peace of mind. We enter the season of Advent today; the beginning of the church year. And as we do I mourn, as I do each year, the fact that we, for the most part ignore it. Instead, we as Christians, have sold out to the season of the masses, the consumeristic Christmas. Advent is designed to be a season of waiting, of watching, of preparing, of slowing down. It is, as is often the point of our faith, the very opposite of what the world sees these days as. These are the days of the frenetic, of 4 a.m. sales, with people camping out in order to get that great deal on a gift that will be forgotten completely long before we repeat this season, it is the season of literal deadly stampedes in the stores which should make us wonder about our focus. It is so off balance, that as Christians, we are actually not supposed to party right now, or celebrate Christmas, because Christmas has not yet come. Christmas is a season too, but instead of celebrating it we often also follow the societal herd. Our Christmas trees our out on the curb before noon on the 26th, a tribute to the selling out to the Hallmark Christmas season, our Advent, signifying the end or that celebration, when in fact, Christmas is just beginning. For me this is always, each year the iconic, incarnated picture which states clearly, we have forgotten Christ, just as he is arriving. On January 6th, the Epiphany, the Magi will arrive at the side of the baby Jesus, and this, in fact, is one of the holiest of days, and yet it is virtually lost in the new years resolutions and the hangover of an overindulgent Christmas and New Year celebration. But I am not cynical.
As we enter this Advent, the lines are longer at the food lines, than in the lines at the mall. That is a switch this year indeed. It was a change foisted on us by the downturn in an economy that thrives on just this scenario, but if there is a silver lining perhaps that is it; perspective. And that is just what Advent is supposed to give us each year. In some of the monasteries, it is custom each year to count their shoes, to inventory what they had accumulated in the past year, and to rid themselves of the excess. In many ways, Advent is such an invitation and event for us. We might do well to take it; to actually step back and take stock.
In these times it would be so very natural to contract, to retreat into a scarcity that rather scoffs at the reality, that even in these times we are among the very wealthiest people on the face of this planet.
We should take this inventory individually but also collectively. Many, in these times, have suggested that the church will suffer greatly in our pledge drives due to this downturn, and that may be true. IF it is, it will break all of the records and statistics we have. In the course of every recession the church has at least held its own, and even in the depression, giving continued to far exceed the losses that were experienced.
Here is what is shown in the numbers. People continue to find the will and the means to give, when they believe in the purpose and mission of what it is they are giving too. I was sent a link to a great video that I would direct everyone to! It is entitled Advent Conspiracy, and it sums up what I am trying to say better than I could ever say it. I commend it to you, and I also commend to you a holy and observed Advent.