Thursday, December 9, 2010

Emptying and Inviting

On the first week of advent, in preparation for "arrival," I thought it fitting to commence with a tradition of ... cleaning.

Yes, I know. That is what spring is for. But everywhere I look everyone is encouraging me to accrue, to fill up, to partake. I am supposed to gather up decorations and fill my home and my yard and the office to overflowing. I am supposed to gather ingredients and fill my kitchen (and my belly) with food, food, and more food. I am supposed to buy, buy, and buy some more, gathering up gifts for my family, my friends, and myself. I am supposed to fill my eyes and ears and the very air around me with Christmas programming and Christmas music and Christmas release movies. I am supposed to fill my time with parties and white elephant gift exchanges and maybe some volunteer work and people and, yes, more food and more stuff. And certainly not all of these things are bad by any means.

But part of preparing a place is making room, yes? Part of preparing for "arrival" is creating space, yes? There will be plenty of parties, celebrations, and gifts this year, I'm sure, but it seems appropriate to begin by emptying out and by being quiet.

I was reading in Luke about the preparations the Spirit of God was attending to even before going to Mary to announce his plan. God sent Gabriel to the temple, to the Holy of Holies, to Zachariah to tell him that Elizabeth would bear a son who would prepare the way of the Lord. Zechariah asked for a sign so that he might know that this would truly happen, and Gabriel made him mute. He was unable to speak for the full term of Elizabeth's pregnancy.

He was made to be quiet. And then, when he proclaimed that his son's name would be John, he could speak again, and he filled the air with the sound of his praises.

So, however clumsily, I thought my first experimental tradition would be one of cleaning out and being quiet. As it turned out, it ended up being more of a time of spiritual, emotional, and relational cleaning-out than physical house-cleaning. And the whole experience puts me in mind of fasting. In fact, I unintentionally spent some time fasting. Even beyond food, my covenant group accidentally fasted meeting together and I decided to fast or take a sabbatical from certain forms of ministry. Now that I reflect, I wish it had all been more intentional. Perhaps next year my first week will be cleaning, fasting, and abstaining - emptying out in order to get in touch with my need for God, in order to long for him and for "arrival," in order to seek him. Perhaps in this way I can connect with a people in exile longing for their Messiah.

Which leads me to week two.

So, part of the problem I am having with Christmas and the creation of traditions is the fact that the entire holiday really has absolutely nothing to do with the Jews or their Messiah. Christmas trees and their decorations, lights, the giving of gifts, even this particular time of year - none of it has to do with the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the One who delivered a chosen people from slavery to a Land of Promise, the One who became flesh to offer us a new covenant relationship with Him. Oh, we say it is about Jesus, but really it's just a pagan holiday that we invaded. We invaded, in fact, and confiscated all the contraband and paraphernalia ... and used it to worship our God. Which is kinda creepy, in my book, especially if there is any truth to what this contraband and paraphernalia was made of and used for before we 'christened' it.  It's positively disgusting.  Why would I want to put up a tree with anti-semitic meaning to celebrate the God of the Jews, a family in which I have been grafted?

Now I have to confess that on the second Sunday of advent I did in fact pull up my fake Christmas tree and erect it in the living room, cover it with garlands, and plug in the lights.  I did it because I don't have a tradition to replace it yet...

But it puts me in mind of Hanukkah - a celebration I know next to nothing about - and the lighting of the candles in honor of rededicating the temple.  Rededicating the temple?  Hello, talk about preparing a place!  Why don't Christians practice that?  Why didn't they take a Jewish celebration and adapt it to be a rededication of the temple of our hearts, minds, and bodies, to prepare a place for the Messiah?  My understanding is that, when Christ said, "I am the light of the world" what he was actually saying was, "I am the shamash," the candle used in Hanukkah to light all the other candles.  Why don't we remember that this time of year?

Furthermore, the thing I love about my tree and my decorations is the lights.  I've always loved the lights.  I used to get up even as a small child and sneak into the living room not just to peek at the presents under the tree, but to sit and gaze at the lights.  I could stare at them for hours.  There was something remarkable about seeing the Christmas lights glow in the darkness and peace of night.

What I'm probably getting at is the fact that I'm using the wrong calendar and the wrong holidays to begin with, and I really need to research Hanukkah and make that my celebration instead.  But until then...

Week one was a cleaning out, a fasting, an abstaining, an emptying out in order to get in touch with my need for my Messiah.

Week two, then, was an invitation to light and warmth, to prepare a place to receive fellowship and celebration again.  I brought in lights, music, movies, and meetings.  I hope that these will translate into specific traditions for the future.

As for the rest of advent, well, it appears that this is a discovery process for me more than a set of practices I have already ordained in my heart to do.  So I will read the story of Mary as I progress.

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