I don’t know about you, but I love Christmas music. And I’m definitely not a purist when it comes to when one is allowed to listen. I’ve been known to listen to Christmas music all during the season of Advent. I’ve been known to even begin listening to Christmas music before Thanksgiving (I just told my students recently it was because there were no good turkey songs). I can even tell that I am truly getting into the spirit of the season when I bust out the Carpenter’s Christmas album. For me it truly is the most wonderful time of the year…and yet for some. Well they struggle with this season more than any other. Often times issues of grief or family drama or financial stress become even more prevalent during holiday seasons. For some this season even becomes the least wonderful time of the year. In a season that is meant to be marked by joy, peace, love, and hope, some find themselves struggling to find these very things in the midst of all the other issues that become more transparent as the holidays take hold.
And on some level I think it all hinges on that last aspect of the Advent practice…hope. The season of Advent, for those who aren’t aware, begins this Sunday and marks the beginning of the church year. Advent is the four Sundays leading up to Christmas and it is both a celebration of the initial coming of Christ and an anticipation of His return. And yet, we so often struggle with finding hope in the midst of this season. Many find themselves placing their hopes in things like the economy, politicians, national defense, etc. and as they often discover; this is no place for hope. When it comes to Advent, our hope takes on an incredible shape. Hear these words from the prophet Isaiah, “He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.” – Isaiah 2:4 The Advent hope of Christ return almost seems too wonderful when we read it in the context of our current situation, but this is what true hope should look like.
In a world of shopping malls, black Friday sales, twitter feuds, international diplomatic escalation, racial unrest, cancer, and the like we struggle to take comfort in the story that Advent ushers in. Sometimes it is too much to find ourselves marveling at the story of a young Jewish mother giving birth to a son in the midst of a small town in Judea. Sometimes we struggle to find hope in the shepherd’s vision or the Magi’s quest or the angel’s songs. These stories are too wonderful and too far removed from our present situation for us to take hold of hope in the midst of a competing narrative. Perhaps what is needed is for us to look forward to the coming Advent that will take hold of the broken systems of this world and redeem them. The hope of Isaiah the prophet becomes realized in the words of John the apostle in that concluding hope of scripture. “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” – Revelation 21:4 May we come to find ourselves caught up in THIS wonderful season and hopeful promise as we anticipate the Advent of Christ once again.
This morning as I was pouring over my Twitter feed I noticed something aside from all of the tweeted pleas of school cancellations. I have a lot of cynical voices pouring into my life. Granted, most days I will read a lot of these updates, resonate with them and go on with my day, but today was different. Often times I can get behind the cynicism of the people I follow because I find myself to be cynical as well. After all, I am part of the generation raised on X-Files…”Trust no one”. And I like to think of myself as part of the “mosaic” or “millennial” generation of the church that is seeking change for the good of the Kingdom. But it seems to me that often this “change” that is being spoken of is being ushered in all wrong. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t always like some of the main stream methods of doing church or interpreting the Bible or even how Christianity is depicted to the masses, but is cynicism the only way?
In his letter to the church in Ephesus the apostle Paul writes, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” – Ephesians 4:29. I have always loved this verse. And for the longest time I thought it referred to “coarse joking” or “harsh language”, but I think I have found that it really applies more to the disease of cynicism running rampant in some of the young leading voices in the world today. The word the writer uses for unwholesome is sapros. And it most commonly is defined as being rotten or putrid, but it can also mean corrupted by age or worn out. My problem with cynical talk is it is corrupted…worn out. Anyone can be cynical. Really! There is even a school of philosophy (and I know I am going to oversymplify this so forgive me all of my philosophical and theological brethren) called deconstructionism. And the gist of it is to tear down existing paradigms to get down to the root of what is being espoused. But the problem is they rarely have a better alternative.
And I think that is my problem with cynicism in general. It is very easy to tear down existing systems and paradigms. It takes a lot more creativity and work to provide a better alternative. But isn’t that what we are called to do. What comes out of our mouths is meant to be helpful and to build others up around us. Not alienate and destroy them. And that really is what the Kingdom of God is all about. Maybe if we learn to take on speech that is reflective of a hopeful eternal kingdom we would begin to see fruits in a new way. Jesus put it this way, “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.” (Matthew 13:31-32) This is the fruit of Kingdom speech and life.
So I say Death to Cynicism. May our speech, posts, tweets, texts, etc. reflect the hope to which we have been called. And may we speak life into those around us for the sake of Christ who gave his life for us!
Once upon a time this morning…
At least that’s how I would like for it to begin. As is sometimes the case my daughter and I began the breaking of the day with the viewing of a Disney Princess movie. However today was unlike any other because she had made up her mind that she wanted to watch it differently. She did not want to watch all of the adversity and drama, but rather skip to the very end when the bad guy is beat (Mother Gothel) and Rapunzel and Eugene get to live happily ever after. She said the bad person would give her nightmares (although this has never happened) and she just wanted to see her “get beat”. And of course I found an excellent opportunity to argue with my 3-yr-old about the reward of seeing adversity overcome and the persistence to chase after your dreams whatever hardships come your way, but I got the feeling it was falling on deft ears. Yet I think we all kind of share my daughter’s sentiments. We all want a happy ending and if it’s all the same we would like a happy beginning and middle as well. The problem is this isn’t really life.
One of my favorite versus of scripture to see quoted is Jeremiah 29:11. And a lot of people quote it, “ For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” And this is great. It speaks of hope, “a future”…in essence a happy ending. But if you’ve ever read the rest of the book of Jeremiah you realize that this verse is the exception rather than the rule. You see, Jeremiah’s prophecy to Judah was of destruction. Babylon is coming and they are going to destroy you. Life for you will literally become hell on earth. And yet in the midst of all of this there is this silver lining. God promises that even though all of this tragedy is coming there way that he will never forsake them. So it kind of looks weird when we live off of the promise alone and don’t understand the circumstances out of which it was spoken.
Life is hard. Look around you. There are people dying from cancer, war, disease, hunger, etc. every day. There is poverty, violence, oppression, slavery, injustice like there has never been before. And yet, God has not abandoned us. He is actually with us in the midst of all of this. I read a quote today from Dr. King’s sermon A Tough Mind and a Tender Heart , “God is neither hardhearted nor soft-minded. He is tough-minded enough to transcend the world; He is tenderhearted enough to live in it. He does not leave us alone in our agonies and struggles. He seeks us in dark places and suffers with us and for us in our tragic prodigality.” That is the God in the midst with us. Powerful enough to give us a hope and a future and compassionate enough to walk through the tragic with us.
I hope for a happy ending. I hope for a happy beginning and middle as well. But I take comfort in the fact that even if the beginning and middle are rife with life’s difficulties that I have a God who walks with me in order to bring me into His glorious future.