Advent 2017

“Pilaf, do you want to go for a walk?”  I posed the question to our dog recently right after I had pushed the button on my iphone to check the time.  To my surprise I got two responses to my question.  Pilaf got up and came toward me wagging her tail and at the same time Siri’s voice issued forth from the iphone with the answer:  “I try to be satisfied with what I have.”

It was a rare, reflective moment for Siri.  I’m not used to her commenting on such weighty matters as her philosophy of life.  She is not a big one for working with existential questions.  But here she was letting me know about a key part of her way of being.  “I try to be satisfied with what I have.”  In other words, “It’s up to you, Dave.   You can take me on that walk or leave me here on the nightstand.  If you take me, I can measure the number of steps you take on the walk, count the calories that you have burned, tell you how much travel time is involved in the various routes you might take to get back to your house and let you know that someone is trying to reach you by phone or text or email.  But whatever you decide is fine, because I try to be satisfied with what I have.”

One could hear Siri’s response in a couple of ways. There is a bit of pathos and resignation in her answer and yet also a hint of contentment. In fact, when I heard her say it, my inner Bible concordance kicked in and several verses came to mind:

“I have learned to be content with whatever I have.” – St. Paul

“So do not worry about tomorrow for tomorrow will bring worries of its own.  Today’s trouble is enough for today.” – Jesus

I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me. But I have calmedand quieted my soul like a weaned child with its mother.” – David, (Ps 131)

“I try to be satisfied with what I have.” Is it slavery or light-heartedness? Of course in Siri’s case it is neither.  It’s merely the result of some programmer’s decision.  I imagine that she is programmed to respond to the question “Do you want…?” with an answer about being content.  She doesn’t really have the capacity to want anything.

But we do; and trying to be satisfied with what we have, trying to live in the moment, trying to let the day’s own trouble be enough for the day, is no easy feat for us.  Each day presents us with a huge list of wants.  Some of them are simply about survival and the dailyness of our existence.  Yet many of those wants spring from things that are too heavy for us to carry or too far away from us to grasp.  Wanting to alleviate the suffering of a loved one being treated for cancer, or end the rancor in Washington DC, or solve the national crisis of opioid addiction, or mend the broken relationship that you helped to destroy, usually just delivers us into a state of heavy-heartedness and despair.  The last thing we are in this state is satisfied, and trying to work harder at being satisfied just heightens our angst.  The burdens of past regrets and future anxieties are just too heavy to bear.

In the midst of this kind of heavy-hearted dissatisfaction and emptiness, I know of only one source of comfort.  When things are too heavy for me to hold, I need to know that I am being held.  I need to know that I belong to a story that is bigger than the one I am currently writing.  I need to know that I belong to God.  It’s then that I can move into the present and learn about satisfaction and letting the day’s own trouble be enough for the day.  Another word for this is hope, and the season of Advent is primarily about training us to live into hope.
This Advent we will be exploring the words of an Old Testament prophet who was about the work of inviting his people to live into hope. 

The words of Isaiah 40 are addressed to folks who were bouncing back and forth between past regrets and future anxieties and they, like us, needed to know that they were being held.  Isaiah’s message of comfort in this chapter is one that never grows old because we never stop needing to hear it.  We never stop needing to be reminded that we are being held by the One who made us for no other purpose than relationship with himself.

Dave Rohrer, 12/3/2017

Advent 2016

Before our daughter was in Kindergarten she attended a Christian preschool near our home.    Each year at Christmas-time the children would put on a program for the parents, grandparents, and younger siblings.  It was one of those annual “photo-op” experiences where we would enjoy our children as they sang for us and showed us their Christmas crafts.

One year during the presentation the children sang a song that had the lyric: Advent is a time for waiting, not a time for celebrating.

 I cannot remember the tune of the song, and I am probably the only one in my family who remembers hearing it sung.  I suppose I remember it because at the time it struck me funny to hear this admonition about ecclesiastical protocol melodiously announced through the voices of three and four year olds who probably had little or no idea about the meaning of what they were singing.   It was sort of humorous to hear these children dutifully advising their parents not to fall prey to the secular culture’s profane practice of celebrating Christmas before its time.

There are many Christian traditions where it is all but anathema to sing a Christmas carol in worship prior to Christmas Eve.  Like the rigid Sabbath practices of some denominations, this admonition about Advent being a time for waiting rather than celebrating felt a bit like religious finger wagging warning us not to offend God.  In my mind it was yet another example of how we Christians can, in an effort to get it “right”, make a mess of things and end up getting it wrong.  In the attempt to call us all to think about something bigger than shopping, sleigh bells, Santa Claus and snow, we were told what not to do rather than called to contemplate and anticipate the advent of a reality that is “abundantly far more than we can ask for or imagine.”

The Advent invitation to wait for the Lord and watch for God’s appearing is not to consign ourselves to a place of joyless darkness where we stop all activity, shiver in the cold of a “bleak mid-winter,” and contemplate how bad things are.  Advent is indeed about waiting, but it is also about celebrating, because it is about an active and expectant waiting.  In Advent we do not wait for an unknown; we wait for something about which we are certain.  We rise to our tip toes in anticipation and strain to see that speck of light on the horizon, that dimly burning wick, which provides the spark that ignites the light that cannot be extinguished by darkness.  The waiting we do at Advent is like waiting for the dawn.  We know it is going to come, but it always seems to take a little longer to get here than what we might desire.

Advent teaches us how to endure the wait.  It teaches us how to joyously anticipate the fulfillment of God’s promise.  The stories that frame our Advent sermon series this year are about folks who are waiting actively.  They show us how to make ourselves ready for God’s revelation of himself in our world.  As we sit with Zechariah, Mary, the Shepherds, the Magi, and Simeon this Advent and Christmas Season, they can become ourteachers.  From them we can learn how to watch and listen for the persistent invitations to life that God is sending our way.  Advent is indeed a time for waiting, but it is also a season of celebrating.  So get to your tip toes and look through the darkness for that speck of light.  Or as the Psalmist sings, “Be strong, let your hearts take courage and wait for the Lord.”

Dave Rohrer, 11/27/2016