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In my last entry (see December 7) I mused about the "hard" or "dark" side of the American Advent season. I lamented the degeneration of strong words like hope, love, joy and peace into marketing tools to keep the economy strong. I lamented air-brushing the birth of Jesus so that Christmas cards look more like vacation posters than the nitty gritty, earthy, smelly birth that it was in reality. My wife's labor and births of our daughters even in a clinically clean delivery room was messy. How much more for Mary and Joseph bent over in a dark, straw- and dung-filled stable cave!
Yet true biblical lament, in deep trust in God who is always up to something surprising, always gives way to praise. Words like hope, love, joy and peace (symbolized in the candles) can be brushed off, cleansed and polished up. Having become limp and anemic by decades of commercialization, these words grow strong and take life-giving shape in the presence of faith in God.
Behind all "hope" is a person or God who keeps his word. You can't have hope in the words of a wishy-washy, willy-nilly talker. Hope is anchored in promise; in God who has spoken and it will be done. When we lose promise, we lose hope. When we lose hope, we are dead while we live. We live best by God promises, not by some Bible-expert's ingenious "biblical principles." God didn't give principles, he made promises. Therein is our hope.
This season don't be a talker. Be a creator of hope in others by using words to promise something. It doesn't have to be a big or expensive promise (though these things are not bad). Each promise you make to someone extends that person's future with a sense of worth and anticipation. A promise personalizes others while mere gifts commodify others. A word spoken and a word kept is a fruitful tree of life in a barren land strewn with disgarded things.
I halt at my computer. I'm stymied in the presence of the word "love." Like the Bible, the most purchased, yet least read book, love is the most spoken, yet rarely experienced reality this season. Love masquarades this season as sexy, glittery, rare things (like $50 a pound coffee beans).
Love with no mask is wiping the baby's messy behind for the 30th time today; letting the person go ahead of you at the check-out lane; wanting to be with your spouse more than with anyone else even though you've been together almost 40 years; listening intently and with respect to that relative who keeps repeating the same thing; making a call to someone distant and saying, "I just wanted to hear your voice." Love got down on hands and knees and washed the dirty feet of 12 men. Love, while racked with pain and bleeding profusely on a cross, made a promise to a terrorist about the hope of paradise. Love walked out of a tomb-cave on a Sunday morning and said, "I'm here for you."
Joy is knowing that the last word said about us is said by God. Joy is knowing that God's last word will be "Come, enter into the joy of your Lord." Joy is that settled assurance that in the worst and darkest place on earth, evil and sin will not have the final word. God will. Joy is a subterranean layer of reality on which the rough and tumble of life is played out. When tears are in your eyes, they still sparkle even in a pitch-black room because the light comes from within you. You spread joy, not by buying things, but by living well; not by seeking another titillating experience, but by stopping and stooping to help another person in need. Joy is the rhythm of God's heart beating in you. Joy is watching people stand at your grave site and saying to one another, "She is not here; she has risen."
There is a big difference between "Let me give you a piece of my mind" and "Let me give you peace of mind." God links peace of mind with peace with himself, yourself, others and the created world about you. Peace is not unruffled solitude or inner tranquility. Peace is harmony with and in the deepest, closest, life-infested relationships we have. We often feel more comfortable with strangers than with family and close friends. Why? Because there is no investment in them. We mistake the "comfort" for peace. That is a sad mistake. Peace, the Bible word shalom, is a snuggle word; it works best with those nearest. Shalom will experience, even expect anxiety and agitation in its quest to live rightly with God and others and creation. And wouldn't you know it? Those who pursue shalom seem to be at ease with life and with others. God stands guard around their hearts and minds.
Advent. Let's live in such a way this season that we redeem these mighty words with little acts of love.
Labels: Advent 2006