"Stand Up, Lean In:" Bishop Reed's 2022 Advent Message
You know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. (Romans 13:11-12)
I blame Amazon Prime. And streaming services. Maybe Keurig coffee makers. I’m old enough to have once pointed an accusing finger at microwave ovens, but why does life have to be so fast?
Even if one moment of stillness and rest is our heart’s desire, as everything increases in speed around us, the invitation to pause…to watch…to wait…to prepare during the season of Advent feels impossible. How out of touch do our clergy sound when they annually call us to keep Advent? How radically countercultural does the Church expect us to be, when it already seems like we are losing ground?
The call to slow down, dim the lights, lessen the noise, decline a few invitations, shut off the screens—it all seems quaint and silly. Until it doesn’t. Until we’re weary of our own weariness, desperate to find a way out of the seasonal madness. And then, by grace, this brief pilgrimage of active inactivity emerges in late November as a sanctuary of sanity. Far from being a withdrawal from “real life,” Advent draws us in and calls us to pursue with boldness and joy the lively and life-giving life that God intends for us.
The Church’s waiting in this season is not empty or listless. It is purposeful. We are not asked to sit on our hands, but charged to lift them up to pray, to receive what is given, and to extend them outward to offer and to give.
Advent is a time and place of refuge and serenity. This truth shines through in the seemingly simple act of lighting a candle and sitting quietly for a few moments. Remember that “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” And it is also true that Advent calls us to prepare. Whether we’re preparing for a baby or a new king, we can expect our world (and our worldview) to be shaken, our wants questioned, our priorities rearranged. To my small grievances and indignations — What do you mean, that package will take three days to get to my doorstep? — Jesus says, “Oh, wake up!” To my smug complacency or weak resignation, Jesus says, “You better get up and get ready!”
These four blessed weeks are both an invitation to watch and wait and a call to prepare. Which one you need more—which one your church family needs more —is a matter for prayer and conversation. Even this act of consideration requires some discipline and a decision to slow down at least enough to catch your breath and have that talk with God and with one another.
As a young priest, I saw myself as a righteous defender at God’s Advent Alamo. I envisioned myself holding the line, guarding the faith against the rising tide of crass commercialism that threatened the Church. I was all for keeping Baby Jesus out of the crèche until the fullness of time and selecting Advent hymns, even though there is not a plethora of great ones, in lieu of singing Christmas carols prematurely. I wanted a Jesse Tree in our narthex, not a Christmas tree during Advent. Much to my surprise though, the culture had already washed over the Church and about 98.6% of the people in my congregations were less than impressed with my liturgical purity. And in my heart of hearts, I really do love much of what the Christmas season brings out in us and in our communities. The holiday hoopla, the feasting, the love of neighbor, the sharp longing for community and meaning, the gift-giving, the peace-making (or at least truce-accepting) in broken relationships, the Christmas lights and Christmas songs—how could I stay a Grinch in such times?
So I changed. While some might say I deserted and went to the other side, I like to think I simply surrendered to all that is inherently good and holy about this time of year, even as I continue struggling with the excess and its wreckage. These days, I try to practice a spiritual judo during Advent, trying to use the overwhelming strength of the “opponent" (say anti-Advent habits) against him.
Exhausted from the rush of the holiday season? Try this ancient practice using four candles and a wreath.
Stressed from hunting down perfect gifts that nobody really wants? Contemplate what giving generously of your time might mean to those who love you.
Determined to mail out Christmas cards in time for the Big Day? Talk about ways to reach those who are alone and to build community.
Facing a full calendar of holiday parties? Consider our longing for real community and imagine what a true feast among friends could be like if we made our tables a little bigger.
Feeling keenly aware of the needs of our neighbors who are without and your own need to respond more generously this time of year? Pay attention to all parts of our community and look for the ways to make a lasting, sustainable difference for good all year long.
Hungry for nourishment of a deeper kind? Click here for an Advent Recipe that is guaranteed to accommodate all your holiday guests' dietary needs.
As members of a sacramentally focused faith tradition grounded in the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, it shouldn’t be that hard for us to map out an Advent pilgrimage that is not disconnected from our normal lives, but woven throughout the details and activity swirling around us. Let us participate in this holy and life-giving season as children and agents of the Kingdom, making sense of it all by viewing our lives in light of the Good News that Christ the Savior is born. Maybe this Advent we can embrace the sacramental power, the inward and spiritual grace, of the outward signs of the holidays, so that they become more truly “holy days.” What holiness of life might we discover when we give in to purposeful watching and waiting? What grace and renewal might we find in gift-giving, generous acts of kindness, candle-lighting and prayers, cards and phone calls and visits?
We are all of us, all the time, observing Advent—living in between what has been and what shall be. The Church is an Advent Church always, and we are in all ways a people of the new creation, a community of hope and expectation. For us, the posture of Advent is to lean in, standing on tiptoe like little children at a Christmas parade. Watch…wait…prepare. Wake up…rise up…lean in.
“Come thou, long-expected Jesus…O come, O come, Emmanuel...” Make our hearts, our homes, our churches, and our communities ready to welcome the Child who is God-with-us.
Love in Him,
Bishop of West Texas