URGENCY is the tone of the season; Urgency to get gifts bought and wrapped, cards mailed, gatherings planned, baking to be done, decorations put up. Urgency to keep the self-care and sanity strong so as not to be undone by the other urgencies around us. Urgency that we manage the vague or specific loneliness we all feel at this time.
Thinking about Christmas seems to dominate the month of December for many of us. Few of our non-work hours go by without a reference to the upcoming holiday, especially if we turn on a television or radio, drive down a street lit by Santa’s and snow-people, or walk into a retail establishment of any kind.
And the Countdown! Constant reminders of how many days until Christmas, how many shopping hours remain – hurry, hurry or stuff “won’t get done.” Like a child’s Advent Calendar gone ballistic, we are barraged by an unforgiving cultural timetable.
Advent can be a time full of new meaning to discover, and gifts profound and deep, if we are willing to break some rules – such as the “Everything is URGENT” rule.
The most urgent, intense Christmas figure in Scripture, I think, is John the Baptist. We heard his story in last Sunday’s Gospel. (Note: John is the only one in the Bible whose appearance and dress is described in such detail, as well as his diet! In my movie, I would cast Joaquin Phoenix or Johnny Depp in the role…. I’m just saying).
John is a firebrand, a radical rule-breaker who preaches there’s no time to waste repenting of your sins and getting baptized. He calls the Pharisees and Sadducees “a brood of vipers” and says we need to shape up or face “unquenchable fire.”
Not one to mince words.
Contrast John’s urgent message with the urgency of “There are only five Shopping Days ‘till Christmas!” Brings it down a notch, doesn’t it?
The urgency around repentance, I think, is because it’s so easy to get into patterns of behavior or patterns of thinking that diminish us, or even damage ourselves and others. For me, it’s often a free-floating anxiety around a range of topics from my children to my health to my pension fund, comparisons of aspects of my life with others and finding myself wanting, or a heart-stopping lack of gratitude for the gifts of the day. These are things for which I need repentance and forgiveness.
But forgiveness also assumes “amendment of life.” And here comes the regular Frederick Buechener quote:“To repent is to come to your senses…. True repentance spends less time looking at the past and saying ‘I’m sorry,’ than to the future and saying ‘Wow!’”
Lack of hope for the future is a Bigtime Sin, I suggest. We manifest this lack of hope by isolating ourselves from our community, by refusing to see the things in front of us that are wondrous and good, by focusing on what has been lost more than what could – and very well might—be.
Some things never will be the same, so we grieve their loss. This is not to say that the future is barren and automatically second-rate. I’m pretty sure that John the Baptist would point his staff at you if you voiced this opinion, and yell “Repent!”
We will miss Frank this Christmas at St. John’s, of course, but the present moment is the gift that is in our hands right now, waiting to be opened, appreciated, and cherished.
Be patient with your grieving heart no matter what it grieves for; really see the candles and the greens; let the music in; be delighted at the black sheep crawling their way up the aisle at the pageant next week; hear the words of Scripture as if for the first time.
The true urgency here is Showing Up for the Now, in every sense of the word.
See you in church.