What's the word Advent really mean to us? Check the definition and the word that stands out for me: "Arrival." Pastors love to ask which arrival's more anticipated Santa Claus or Jesus. And then it's consumer Christmas versus the birth of the Prince of Peace, like that's the only question that really matters. With or without a preacher-led guilt trip we're still waiting for an arrival.
But what or who do we wait for? Are we waiting for a miracle to change us and everything around us? Is our "waiting for" a passive activity; yet another spectator event where we just sit in the audience helpless to do anything to influence the outcome? As I was growing up my experience of church was just that... passive. Over the years, whether Catholic or Protestant, it seemed more a tradition of helplessness. The more devout I was the more the world seemed to get worse. And the layers of bureaucracy? It was easy to conclude my participation didn't matter much at all. Still somehow I knew I needed to stick with it. As I grew in knowledge and experience, I began to question things. As the world got more complicated parking in a pew, singing songs and saying prayers, dropping my weekly offering in the plate, and sharing communion with what felt like strangers wasn't near good enough.
In his book "Beyond Resistance" John Dorhauer leads us on a journey through a faith tradition that for many of us has lost much of its meaning. In chapter 8, he discusses a very un-church like faith experience called ReImagine. Not that any one example's the cure all for every church at the crossroads. Still, the questions I asked back in the 1980's are no longer a minority point of view. People who're waiting the arrival of something a whole lot more meaningful than Santa Claus or their pay check are no longer willing to sit around and wait for church to figure it out for them. Men and women are taking the initiative and creating authentic expressions of Good News. And they're doing it in very unchurchlike ways. Still, Dorhauer says movements like ReImagine are Good News for the church, "ReImagine is faith-based," he tells us, "...built to explore how the details of Jesus' life are made (real in the life of) the whole person." Jesus came to show us the way to the Creator God. After a long time of malaise, there's a new movement to renew a living God for this age. These men and women seek authentic answers and actions to fulfill the deeper needs for meaning in theirs and their children's lives. And their gonna find the answers with or without the church.
But it's not all bad news for Lake Edge. Look at what we've done already to redirect our steps towards a "ReImagine" kind of generation. We've reached beyond our doors with as much hands-on work for the common good as we do charitable work. We've established an economic justice covenant and declared a new mission to stand with our neighborhood and public school children in need. As a new administration in Washington is poised to renew attacks on public education, we're suddenly in the vanguard to support equitable public education for all children. In building relationships of this kind we declare our Jesus not only has arrived, he's relevant, and ready to join diverse people for the common good. But our work doesn't just extend outside these walls. Look! (point to the new children's area widening welcome in our sanctuary) With our latest change in our worship space, we carry through on the vision that "widening our welcome" in worship is also Good News to everyone longing for a place where both they and their children matter.
But not just for others, this "arrival's" exactly what we've been waiting for. This past week a movie opened in theatre's with this same title. "Arrival" is a thinking person's science-fiction film. It's more about vision, seeking, and time than it is about aliens. Without ruining it for those who haven't see it, there's a central tension in what's anticipated to be "arriving" that all of us should bear in mind in our real world. While the question: "What do the aliens want?" is asked over and over, and the answer sought desperately by the humans, the real story's our inherent distrust and fear of each other. In the end the greatest threat to human kind aren't the mysterious visitors, but the other earthlings. The aliens presence simply confirm our hostility to each other.
It's our season of arrival. Jesus tells us in Matthew that we can't phone in our faith. And faith isn't just about our church or our group, as if no other group or expression matter. "...about the day (of God's return) no one knows...not even Me (says Jesus)." One my seminary professors says Bible stories like this that go all "end of the world" get everyone distracted. So many of us are arrogant enough to think we can figure out when Jesus will return, when Jesus himself says right here even he doesn't know. But that doesn't stop us from fussing and agitating our lives, as if the act of fretting alone will somehow change things. Jesus is speaking constantly, yet so many can't hear because one thing or another distracts them from listening and putting their energies to work where it can do the most good.
Church, join with me. First, get out of our own way. Our distrust and fear are far greater enemies than any other person, place, or thing. Jesus arrived and will keep arriving. What effort will we make to meet him?
"Arrival" is the key to this season before Christmas. How will we seek the One who once again demands our attention? When he calls will be see him or will we get distracted by everything else in our way? In the Gospel all Jesus examples point toward the need to prepare. He readily admits there are things in this world we should prepare for. But we should also keep an equally careful eye on preparing for the world to come. In the movie "Arrival" the aliens make their appearance in a spectacular way but then things slow down. This is when humans are pressed to commit and patiently figure things out. But time can be an enemy. Those in it for the long haul get rewarded. Jesus too appeared in a spectacular moment and then for two-thousand plus years we've slid back into the business of living. What matters isn't so much the arrival, but the effort needed to understand its meaning and live it.
Does Jesus' arrival matter to us? This next year will test us in ways we haven't been tested before. We'll need every one of us patiently working together to "ReImagine" a living God with us. Christ has arrived. It's time to join with him.