Saturday, January 7, 2017

How comfortable is Advent/Christmas supposed to be. . .

Advent begins the Christmas/Epiphany cycle with the call to repentance.  John's arrival on the scene did not come as the comforting voice to suggest that sin really is not such a big deal, that judgment is not something we need concern ourselves over, or that death is normal and natural.  No, the voice of one crying in the wilderness arises from out of nowhere to unsettle the comfortable world that has made its peace with sin and death.  Long ago and far away and as near as a month ago, Advent's voice is not sweet nor soothing but a shocking call to wake up to a reality that will not go away with wishful thinking.

Like the prophets of old, the arrival of a strange voice calling for repentance and renewal is hardly a comforting occasion.  It is the unmistakable acknowledgement that the present way we are living is at odds with God's creative will and purpose, that sin is real and has consequences, and that one cannot make peace with death -- it must be killed!  It is the acknowledgement that we have been too comfortable with sin and too cozy with death and the world itself has become too homey for a people meant for so much more.

Sometimes we go through Advent and Christmas having given into the sweet and saccharine idea that the Church exists to comfort a world and its people into believing but there is something entirely uncomfortable about talking about the forbidden subject of sin and insisting that death is still the enemy of life.  The language of Scripture and the lessons of Advent do not give us false comfort in our sins or that death is normal or natural. 

I will admit that I am tempted and I am sure every pastor is tempted to think that we can coax people into the faith --  the occasional attenders and those new to church.  If we are just nice enough or welcoming enough or sweet enough in the way we tell the story of Jesus' birth, then they will come back and they will believe.  We can save the hard talk of sin and its death until later.... much later.  But this is such a lie -- although a tempting one, it is a false and illusive dream.

The promise of Advent and its fulfillment in the Christmas story are not means to avoid the unpleasant truth of sin and its death but the only way to confront them without losing hope and giving into despair.  Repentance is not the bad news that can wait for later.  It is the shape of life for those who know sin, who feel its guilt and shame, and who desire to be set free from its curse.  It is the lens through which life is seen so that death may not have its last word over us.

If you got through Advent and Christmas without hearing the call to repent, you did not hear the whole story.  But do not fear. In Epiphany the Lord will call His disciples to drop everything and follow Him, to trust what they minds cannot comprehend and their eyes do not see, to meet the Kingdom that comes not of wishes and dreams but a God in flesh to suffer and die.  Epiphany points to the Lamb of God who comes not to make us feel better but to take away the sin of the world.  That is what the Advent prophet proclaimed, that is the reason for the Boy born of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin, and the miracles of word and deed that proclaimed Him Messiah.

But if you did hear the call to repent in Advent and to kneel before the Christ in confession and faith, then Epiphany will find you well prepared to meet the ever growing revelation of who Jesus is and what He has come to do.

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