1 Dec 2013
“O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!” (Isa 2:5) In the name …
The last few days have been pretty out of the ordinary, exceptional as a matter of fact. This Thanksgiving was the 150th anniversary of the first official national Thanksgiving Day. It had long been celebrated in New England, but in 1863 President Lincoln decreed it to be a national holiday during some of the darkest days of the Civil War. It brought a bit more light to a nation-divided. Thanksgiving Day’s sesquicentennial anniversary was also the beginning of Hanukah, the Jewish festival of light. The last time this happened was in 1888, but far more extraordinary is that it won’t happen again for almost 80,000 years. The rabbis who worked out this estimate can only offer their best guess because the lunar calendar on which the Jewish feast days are based don’t reach far enough into the future for them to figure out the calculations exactly. As if 80,000 years wasn’t monumental enough, on Thanksgiving Day Comet Ison decided to pass by the sun after traveling from the darkest regions of the solar system where it had sat for the last four and half billion years. It began its spectacular ride toward the light of the sun, to come for a Thanksgiving visit, about a million years ago. From four and half billion years ago to 80,000 years into the future, this 150th anniversary of Thanksgiving Day was to say the least memorable.
When special occurrences like this pop-up on the calendar causing us to think of such huge swaths of time and also of a particularly special moment in time, we can begin to appreciate just a bit better the idea of God’s time and God’s choice to enter our world at one particular moment in Jesus of Nazareth. God dwells in the eternal, it is said. Eternity is free of time. We have no way whatsoever of picturing what this means so I won’t even bother to try, but God also entered into time in Jesus. This means He reached out of eternity to touch us, to be with us. And how do you say that in Hebrew? Immanuel, which is the name of God repeated so frequently during Advent. We can begin to appreciate the wonder of Immanuel, “God with us,” when we try to imagine simultaneously four and half billion years in the past, 80,000 years into the future, and then one particular Thanksgiving Day. This remarkable coincidence gives us an inkling of what Advent is trying to impress upon us as we prepare to celebrate Immanuel, “God with us,” of timelessness and time.
And we have a lot of work to do. We’ve been talking about Thanksgiving Day so let me start there. This is a wholesome holiday. It’s about appreciating what we have and offering thanks for simple treasures like food on the table, a warm and safe place to gather, and family and friends to share the day with. But unless you’re the Detroit Lions, a supermarket or an airline, it’s not a real big money-maker. So what were we bombarded with in the days leading up to Thanksgiving and on Thanksgiving Day itself? Commercial after commercial reminding us that Black Friday sales would start at 8PM on Thanksgiving Day. This forces people to show up and work. This entices people to line up early outside of the stores. And Thanksgiving is rushed or forgotten. Being thankful for what we have and for those around us is an old-fashioned virtue that is abandoned for what money can buy.
And Advent suffers the same fate. As one small example, at the rectory we receive a catalogue in the mail from a chocolate company. Sharon pointed out to me that they used to sell an Advent calendar. On each day of the season you would open up a door and get a little bit closer to Christmas. Now this is how that same calendar is advertised in their catalog: “Open one of the 25 doors on each of the 24 days before Christmas. Behind each door is a gold foiled Dark Horse Chocolates treasure. On the 25th day, Christmas morning, you will find the pony you have always wished for.” Advent is gone. Even the baby Jesus is gone. Now Advent isn’t about Immanuel, “God with us.” It’s about the “pony you have always wished for” on Christmas.
This message is nothing new or surprising to any of us here, but so much money is spent trying to convince us that Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday are the reasons for the season, that even people of faith can start to wonder why we bother with Advent. Why bother waiting and preparing when Christmas is only a credit card away? And I wish the church wouldn’t make it even more difficult. We muddy the waters of Advent by not only talking about the coming of the baby Jesus at Christmas, which everyone in church is thinking about during Advent anyway, but we also throw in the triumphant coming-back of Jesus at the end-time. I know why the church has to do this. The prophecies about the coming of the Messiah are filled with images of conquest, power and heaven on earth. Nations will beat their swords into plowshares, “and neither shall they learn war any more.” This didn’t happen with the birth of Jesus, and it still hasn’t happened. So we postponed all of these victory-stories to His second advent when He comes back at the end of time.
And I think the reason for this double-whammy is that it gets us off the hook. Advent is about preparing now because when Jesus brought God into the world He showed us what we could be. He revealed that God gave up being like God to be born extraordinarily ordinary. And the flip-side of that coin is that the birth of Jesus shows us all what we can be. God can’t force us to not “learn war any more,” but we can choose not to. God can’t force us to be thankful for all that we have and who we have in our lives, but we can choose to be. Maybe the prophecies of Advent were set in motion by Jesus’ coming into the world, but they need to be completed by us. Maybe they’re fulfilled when we decide “to walk in the light of the Lord.” Maybe that’s the power of Immanuel, “God with us.” So let us pray that during Advent we prepare to be more God-like. Then Jesus will have done His part; we will have done ours, and together just maybe we’ll be able to “to walk in the light of the Lord.” Amen.
Fr. Randolph Calvo