An Advent Reading Guide

This past Sunday we greeted the Advent season, the advent of Advent, so to speak.  I was scheduled to preach the sermon on the first Sunday of Advent.  Given the penitential nature of the Advent season, I focused on the Christian’s call to confession and repentance these next four weeks.  In doing so, I acknowledged a few places where the culture offers us anesthetics that would draw us away from Jesus’ emphatic and direct call to spiritual wakefulness.   I acknowledged that one of the places where I have been complicit with our culture’s anesthetics has been news websites.  It’s certainly true that over the past 5-10 years American journalism has deteriorated further and further into partisan battles, political salvos across the aisle, and, worst of all, celebrity gossip.  I can lament the lack of substantive journalism and the criteria for top story choices all day long.  But as a Christian journeying through Advent, my first examination is myself and my habits.

Anytime I see a news story [after some looking] that appears moderately discouraging or depressing, I often make the subconscious choice to click elsewhere.  I want to be informed of domestic and international affairs, but there is a tendency within me to avoid reading tragic stories and articles that speak of deep conflict or suffering.  How un-Christian is that?  Followers of Jesus are called to imitate his incarnation, to be present in the depths of human pain and suffering.  If discipleship to Jesus affects even my navigation habits on news websites [and certainly it does], then I have to confess that I’m no different than news agencies who publish superficial articles as “top stories.”  As a disciple in this Advent season, I have to confess:  I’m guilty of turning away from suffering in our world.  I sin with my mind all too easily:  all it takes is for me to not click a link.  But a sin of omission has been committed nonetheless–an offense that I might not have noticed without the advent of Advent.  

In my desire to see the world sacramentally, I must seek those places in the world that are profoundly un-sacramental, where God is not invoked, revered, or worshipped.  That is the purpose for receiving a priestly blessing after receiving the Eucharist.  We are blessed so that we may enter a world that rejects the eucharistic way of relationships.   We are empowered with grace so that we may speak grace where bitterness and violence are rampant.  The Eucharist should change our vision when we are dispersed at the end of worship.  Having received the body of Christ–the body which was wounded for our sake–how can we avoid looking at the wounded bodies, wounded relationships, and wounded nations in our world?  If it were not for the presence of the Eucharist and the scandalous hope that it brings, it would bring overwhelming despair to look deeply into the suffering of our world each day.  But the mystery of the Eucharist proclaims marvelous hope:  “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.”

The advent of Advent means the advent of hope for a world spiraling in despair.  Even when suffering and despair are increasingly hidden in an entertainment-based culture, still the church of Jesus is called to remember they have been fed with the body and blood of Christ.  In that remembering they receive his power and blessing as they are sent forth to listen to those unheard stories of sadness in our world with an ear of love and comfort.   As I seek difficult and sad stories for Christ’s sake this Advent season, I believe I’ll whisper that hopeful, eucharistic refrain as I read: “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ is coming again.”  I wonder what more I will see?  I wonder how my imagination will change?  At least I’ll be reading differently, thanks to the advent of Advent.

No matter the despair I encounter, how can I ever forget the destination of this Advent journey?  After all, the Advent journey leads to a darkened stable that wasn’t holy until the Lord himself was born there.  So it seems Christians are people who courageously move further into the dark, envisioning that Christ can be born anywhere.   Every darkened stable can be transfigured by Glory Himself.  What do I have to be afraid by moving further into the dark?  Even more–what might I miss if I fail to enter the dark?  The answer is obvious:  Christ Himself, for he will always dwell with those who mourn.  For such as these, Christ is born.  For such as these, Christ is coming again.