Thursday, December 1, 2011

Preparing to Prepare: Advent Reflection 2011

          Preparing to come into the Promised Land is never without struggle. Like the Israelites in the story of the Exodus, Christians today look forward to reaching the final destination, eternal life with God. Enslaved by the Egyptians, the Israelites cried out to the Lord to be freed from bondage. Today, we too find ourselves enslaved by a culture which fails to recognize God as our sovereign creator. Forced to work continuously, worship of God was extinguished from the Israelite culture.  Likewise, the pace of society and expectations of relentless academic, athletic, career and even leisure activities also prevent us from honoring God and placing worship as a priority in our lives.        

Four hundred years after fleeing to Egypt the Israelites found themselves no longer welcome immigrants, but a nation of inferior aliens. Christians in the United States today are facing a similar dilemma. Did God ignore their plight for centuries, or did it take God’s chosen people that long to turn back to Him and pray for salvation? The Israelites didn’t want to leave Egypt; they just wanted their circumstances in Egypt to improve. Life in Egypt, for better or worse, was all they’d ever known. They didn’t want the freedom to worship their God; they just didn’t want to be enslaved. God offered them an Exodus, the Promised Land, but they didn’t want to go. The plagues were just as much for the Israelites as for the Egyptians: if we want to worship idols, God will graciously step out of the picture and allow us to load up.  

It took ten plagues, the finality of the Passover blood covering the doorposts of their homes, and the parting of the Red Sea to get the Israelites up and moving. Once their doorposts had been marked with the blood of the Passover lamb, there was no returning to Egypt. They were marked as God’s chosen people, set apart for the Lord. They had no option but to follow and trust. It took them forty years to get the hang of it, and still they baulked when it came time to enter the Promised Land. How soon we forget the miraculous deeds God has done.

For God’s chosen people, the journey to the Promised Land would be difficult. They would have to renounce all of their idols, the gods they could touch and see. They would have to trust that God would provide for their needs each day- no stock piling allowed. They would face unfamiliar territory with only the assurance that the intangible, ever-present God of their fathers was with them.      

Once again I find myself standing at the dawning of the Advent Season, wondering if I, like the Israelites, am unprepared to make the journey. Blood lines among God’s children run deep. I too fear change. Change, like the plagues, is constantly knocking at my door. Like the Israelites woke one morning to find themselves wading through a kitchen full of frogs, almost drowning in the idols they’d coveted, the culture I walk through every day is inundated with the false gods of materialism, sexuality and greed. It takes just a few minutes of exposure to any sort of media to realize God has graciously stepped out of the way and is allowing us to feast on every sort of idol. In hindsight, a frog in my cheerios might be easier to distinguish than the subtle yet prevalent barrage of immorality my family faces every day.        

Maybe the idols I cling to the most are the beliefs that life, relationships and family should meet my expectations. Perfect families, friends, careers and experiences only exist in heaven. Down here, life is difficult and clinging to hopes of perfection prevent me from trusting and following God. Inequities, illnesses, frailties and even outright failures all force me to rely on God and God alone. It is these imperfections, the twists in turns in my path I fear most.

The season of Advent beckons us to prepare for the coming of the Lord. The very thought of how to make room in my schedule for Sabbath rest is anxiety producing. The ultimate irony being that God gave us Sabbath rest and the seasons of Advent and Lent as gifts to free us from this cultural bondage, yet often they feel as if they are just additional  chores added to our ever expanding “to do” lists. We lack peace and cry out for relief from stress while shunning the opportunity to rest with the Lord in worship.

Advent is the season to prepare to come into full occupancy of the Promised Land. Although we generally focus on the destination  - Mary and Joseph in the manger - the reality of the journey toward Advent began much earlier and followed a path full of unknown obstacles.  Like Mary and Joseph on the path to Bethlehem, all we really know for sure is that God is with us. Idols we have clung to along the way need to be released.  We must let go of our stock piles and trust in God alone.

I pray in gratitude this Advent season for each of you and your families. The shining examples of faith each of you has shared with me are beckons along my path. The light of Christ shining through each of you affords me the courage to carry, knowing I am not alone on the journey. May God bless each of you this Advent season with the joy of resting safely in His presence.