Monday, December 3, 2012

Malls, Unicorns, and a Liturgical Season for Hipsters: Week 1 Advent Reflections

I know that I should not be surprised by this, but I was.

This past October, my wife and I took our kids to the new play yard at the local mall. We had been more or less trapped indoors due to the immense rainfall related to Superstorm Sandy and, to put it mildly, our kids needed to burn off energy. Actually, WE needed them to burn off the energy.

After we had carted our mini-circus into the last-place-on-earth I want to spend a Saturday afternoon, I immediately noticed the awkward array of seasonal decorations. Halloween and Christmas decor intermingled throughout this local temple of consumer America. Ads for costume sales right next to Kris Kringle. Festive lights nearby jack-o-lanterns and black cats. Cheery cliches buttressed with trick-or-treat necessities.

It was not even Halloween and the advertisers and marketing specialists were pushing Christmas into October. So what we were left with was a mix between joy to the world and Friday the 13th. Hope and fear were strung up together.

I love the recent tweet by @occupyadvent, which was accompanied by the photo above:








This tweet suggests, then, that celebrating Christmas in October is ludicrous.

We are a culture that does not like to wait, especially at Christmas. Yet that's precisely what the liturgical season of Advent calls for- waiting. We are invited to rest in anticipation and expectation.

This week in high school Sunday School, what we call "Cafe Eucharistia," I invited youth to contemplate a few songs that move against the grain of the usual holiday cheer that creeps up earlier and earlier. We considered contemporary ballads by a few artists who challenge corporate Christmas and instead invite waiting, longing, hoping, and praying for the world around us to be different.

First up on this Cafe Eucharistia playlist was Sufjan Stevens', "Christmas Unicorn." The uncovnentional song-writer and performer underscores the ridulously fantastic symbols and traditions wrapped up in Christmas, most of which have little to nothing to do with the sacred season and holy mystery of the incarnation. The youth agreed, we often bypass Advent because unicorns appear so much cooler :

"For I make no full apology/ for the category I reside/ I'm a mythical mess with a treasury chest/ I'm a construct of your mind/ Oh I'm hysterically American/I've a credit card on my wrist/ And I have no home nor field to roam/ I will curse you with my kiss."

Second track: Over the Rhine's "New Redemption Song," ironically sung as the offertory yesterday morning. Per the usual haunting melody of OtR, we were invited to recollect the longing for deliverance present in the first Advent as it meets us in our own present-day quests for rescue and redemption. As one of the youth remarked, "we want to be made better."

"Lord, we need a new redemption day / All our worries keep getting in the way/ Won't you help us please, help us find the words to pray / to bring redemption day, to bring redemption day."

After youth were invited to pen their own Advent-themed lyrics and/or illustrate seasonal album covers, we opened up to two of the first prophetic holiday jingles from the gospel of Luke. They noticed that these songs would not exactly top the iTunes charts for most downloaded.

"[God] has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly/ he has filled the hungry with good things / and sent the rich away empty/ he has helped his servant Israel / in rememberence of his mercy / according to the promise he made to our ancestors / to Abraham and to his descendants forever" (Lk. 1:52-55)

"By the tender mercy of our God/ the dawn from on high will break upon us / to give light to those who sit in / darkness and in the shadow of death / to guide our feet into the way of peace" (Lk. 1:78-79).

Those first awakened by the Advent of the Messiah, like Mary and Zechariah, conspired through song for the overturning of all that had oppressed the people of God. They knew a new redemption day had come and so voiced new redemptive songs of hope and promise.

But these songs were so poignant because they had waited so long...

But we don't like to wait. I don't like to wait. Yet Advent is a season of waiting; when Christians world-wide hold in tension the present with promise. Advent is when the church universal draws from the incarnated hope of the past as we wait for and live into the promised hope of the future- when Christ will come and make all things new and right.

Until then, we wait. We pray. We expect. We dream. We anticipate. We hope.

We sit with and practice the presence of God alongside those who maybe have waited for too long for some good news to come. We look for opportunities to serve with and advocate on behalf of all those who have been shoved aside by the powerful and the privileged.

We may even write and sing a few songs of our own in light of these experiences.

Still- we wait.

But we need not fear. Because Christmas has nothing to do with Halloween.

So maybe we should not string up their decorations together.

Living Into Advent: Thoughts to Ponder

What are you waiting for this Advent? What experiences in your own life, your community or neighborhood, even in the world, are you waiting to be different, better, and made right?

What would it look like for Jesus to enter into this experience or condition? Is it possible that the presence of God in Christis already there? If so, how?

Consider ways you can embody the hope of Advent and the promise of Christ to someone else this season? How can you love and serve others not only this Advent and Christmas, but also everyday?

***Another great song is on Fiction Familiy's Holiday EP, "Damaged."