Intention is not enough

Every year I think about what I probably should do during advent and every year I don’t do it. I know that advent is not about getting ready for Jesus’s birth, that has already happened and I wasn’t there. Arguably it is about getting ready for the second coming of Christ, but it seems somewhat false to put a bunch of energy into something I sincerely doubt will happen on December 25, 2020 or on any December 25 in my lifetime. So as we begin yet another advent I am, once again, left with my knowledge of what advent is about and reminded of the paradox that exists in the gospels, which is, Jesus has already given us what we need to be in relationship with God and at the same time we are asked to wait in hope and prepare for when God’s realm will be fully established. So is advent about preparing or waiting? And if we already have what we need then why do we need to prepare? What do we need to prepare for? Should we have an emergency party kit in the closet or will Jesus just whip up some wine when the time comes? Also, if Jesus gave us what we need to do all of this then why is there still so much work to do? Well, the fact is that what he gave us did not come assembled and the directions are about as clear as ikea directions; every once in a while the pictures make sense, but most of the time you have no idea what you’re doing. 

Almost every year I dig out our advent wreath, which is a cheap, fake evergreen wreath I bought at JoAnn’s Fabrics a bunch of years back in an after christmas sale and I put the candles in it and light it every evening. I don’t pray anything, I don’t light it as our family gathers around the table for dinner, I just light it. Why? Well, why not? That is what we are supposed to do isn’t it? I even know what it is all supposed to mean, but that doesn’t change the hollowness of the whole experience for me and it doesn’t help me feel any closer to God; but yet, I still feel a pull to do it.  

I’m sure that the pull to do something is the Holy Spirit, pushing me, pushing all of us, to follow the directions, the blue prints, the plans left to us by Jesus and I think that many of us recognize that the plans he gave us are actually pretty simple; but when push comes to shove, we just don’t know what to do with them; so we go through the motions, year after year, stumbling our way through life without really knowing what to do. We occasionally get excited and try new things, hoping that this year will be the year that everything falls into place, but inevitably it eventually falls flat and we are left feeling just as empty and lost as before and I can’t help but ask myself why? Why can’t I get it right? Well, I suspect that I can’t get it right because I am making it about me and my insecurities as a person. Going through the motions, following the liturgical calendar and doing all the annual rituals are only a part of what being a person of faith requires. 

We are really good at the community part of faith. We gather regularly to worship and we do the annual rituals, such as lighting the advent wreath; and we are pretty good at loving our neighbor, at least most of the time; but the part that we are not great at, the part that evades us the most, is loving God. When you love someone or something, you pay attention to it, but how much attention do we pay to God? How much time do we spend trying to understand the blue prints Jesus left us? When I get out our advent wreath every year, I always do it with the intention that it will somehow help me be closer to God, but I rarely take any steps to ensure that it does. Advent is about preparing ourselves here (points to heart), it is about reminding ourselves that God is here and that it is not enough to just go to church and love our neighbor; we also need to accept God’s love for us. I didn’t really know what accepting God’s love means until a few months ago. I was speaking with my spiritual director a few months ago and during our conversation I was talking about the sense of relief I felt because of a decision I had recently made. As I reflected on the event it occurred to me that God had likely been pushing me to make a change for quite some time, but I had not been listening; and as I talked about the situation everything fell into place and at that moment, I understood it all. I understood the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross; I understood the love of God. God had been pushing me, for most of a year, to let Jesus carry the weight in my life and I was ignoring that push. I was ignoring that push because I was focused on me and not God. I understand that the reason we need to cultivate our relationship with God is because by trusting in God’s willingness to carry our burdens we will then have the emotional capacity to do the same. As we move into advent we need to pay attention, we need to pay attention to the deeper meanings of our relationship with God; we need to pay attention to the deeper meaning of Hope; we need to pay attention to God’s call for a deeper relationship; and we need to actively foster that relationship, not just go through the motions; but how do we do that? There are two vital components to fostering a relationship with God, the first is scripture and the second is listening. It is through scripture that we receive what we need from Jesus and it is through listening that we will receive both God’s call and life giving grace. Amen.