A Crack in the Pavement of the Status Quo

The author David Dark, in his book titled, “Everyday Apocalypse” offers this helpful insight:

“Apocalyptic literature cracks the pavement of the status quo.  It is the place where the future pushes into the present.  It’s the breaking in of another dimension, a new wine for which our old wineskins are unprepared” (p. 12).

I wonder if that isn’t a penetrating insight, not only about apocalyptic literature, but about Advent itself – it “cracks the pavement of the status quo.”  There’s something on the horizon, this literature says, something breaking into our ordinary world that needs to be looked for, paid attention to, and be invited in. If you think about it in that way, then maybe we can better understand why it is that we start every liturgical year, with these apocalyptic teachings of Jesus, not to remind us of doom and gloom, but to invite us to pay attention, to reflect on how God is coming into the world, and how are lives might be different and changed in the here and now.

This of course, is the exact opposite of what our culture is urgently telling us to do, which is to get busy in the marathon of shopping and social engagements which leave us depleted and exhausted by Christmas Day. It is hard to believe that stores are now opening on Thanksgiving Day.

Perhaps you saw the outrageous incident on the news where at a Los Angeles Wal-Mart, a woman used pepper spray to get an edge on shoppers in a rush for Xbox game consoles.  And while we may criticize the commercialization of Black Friday, it is interesting to note that some of the people are waiting for hours in line on Black Friday because they can’t afford to buy what they need at full price, and these teaser sales are incredibly helpful to them.  The people standing in line on Black Friday are not usually the wealthy or the well off. It is those with far less income than we have who are most often forced to stand in those lines.

What are we to do?  Can we even celebrate Advent in a culture so out of tune with the liturgical year?  Is it even remotely possible in the month of December to give ourselves time to notice the “cracks in the pavement of the status quo,” to apprehend the ways that God’s future kingdom is “pushing into the present?”

Well, yes, of course it is, but it will require us to make some choices about what we will give our attention to in the days ahead.  It takes faithful effort to avoid rushing towards Christmas. And so I would like to authorize an official slowdown for ourselves in the next four weeks. I invite you to make a deliberate, counterculture decision to spend a few minutes each day in quiet, to create space for Christ to come into your life in a new way. Take a ten-minute break a couple of times a day while you are at work and simply go outside and breathe. When your boss asks you what you think you are doing, just answer, “My priest has authorized this.”  Our health and our future require a more contemplative way of being and seeing.  Find a way each day to slow down and be quiet.  Notice the cracks in the pavement of the status quo.

Listen to the full sermon here.

A Prayer for Advent

A Pastoral Prayer for Advent.

Blessed are you, O Lord Most High, God of all creation: in the darkness and in the light. Blessed are you as we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ. In this time of waiting we again watch for the signs of your coming. In this changing and broken world where all is not peaceful, we watch for the signs of your coming.

In this world where children are hungry and ancient hatreds continue to fuel division and suffering, we watch for the signs of peace, we pray for courage to embrace our enemies, and we pray for an end to warfare. In this community of faith, where we have known the inspiration of worship and the warm acceptance of friends, we wait for the day when all peoples will be reconciled to one another. In this parish where we have witnessed and experienced loss and brokenness, loneliness and sorrow, we wait for your coming with healing in your wings, especially upon those who are walking the journey of grief.  Give them faith to believe that the lives of those they love but see no longer have changed, not ended. 

O Lord, help us to see that this season of Advent is not only about waiting, but also about offering ourselves to be your light in the world; to pray for those unable to pray, to offer ourselves as answers to their prayers.  Inspire and move us to take the light of our compassion to the world; to come alongside those who are suffering in body, mind, or spirit that we might be Christ for them. 

Help us to move beyond our current mindset, our current ways of seeing, that we may  behold with wonder the many ways you are present in our lives and in our world.  Through ancient prophecies, hymns, and songs of praise, help us to celebrate this season of Advent as the momentous reality it proclaims: Your coming into our midst, sharing our human nature, not only in the past but as a constant possibility in the here and now. We offer our prayers to you in the name of Jesus, the glorious Son of God, the reason for Advent and Christmas, the source of our joy and our strength, now and forevermore. 

For Those Who Are Not Yet Here

Lately, at Church of the Holy Comforter, we’ve been exploring possibilites for improvements to our main sanctuary built in the early 1960’s.  Three central goals have emerged:

  1. To Unify the Assembly (to emphasize a community gathered rather than audience observing participants)
  2. To Illuminate our Sacred Space (more natural as well as digital light to uncover the beauty of holiness)
  3. To Install a New Digital Organ (more fully enhance congregational singing and the ministry of music)

It has been encouraging to see between 35 and 40 people attend each of our recent “Listening Sessions” to consider possibilities for further improvements to our liturgical space at Holy Comforter. There have been a lot of informal conversations in the Narthex between liturgies, and at various committee and ministry meetings over the last several weeks. The process of “listening together” continues, and I believe from this process, a unifying sense of direction will emerge as the Vestry seeks to provide needed leadership in the coming year.

One of the important questions to ask when we consider investing in our physical plant is how such investments relate to achieving God’s mission in the here and now. The Gospel calls us to be passionate about a very few core values and flexible on everything else. What are those things that truly matter, and what are those things that don’t? It is clear that love of God, of neighbor, and of our deepest selves held priority for Jesus and his disciples. Compassion, forgiveness, speaking for those who have no voice, and being generous with our resources were also among the core values Jesus illuminated with his unique life and teaching. This Gospel challenge resonates strongly with our own Baptismal Covenant in The Book of Common Prayer (page 304-305).

In a world where everything is changing so rapidly, core values such as the ones outlined in the Baptismal Covenant might serve as helpful benchmarks for us in all areas of Christian life. This is particularly true when we are called to be good stewards of God’s money as we renovate or build church structures flexible enough to adapt to the needs of today’s world and beyond. In the final analysis they remind us that the church’s “customers” are not singularly our parishioners, the clergy, or even the diocese . . . our “customers” include those who are seeking a way of life that helps make sense of the challenging world we live in–those who need to hear and see the Good News of Jesus Christ lived out in a welcoming and inspiring way.

How can our sanctuary space communicate the transforming message of Jesus in this welcoming and inspiring way?  What architectural or liturgical improvements will be the most inviting to those potentially interested in our community, yet also preserve a sense of mystery that lifts up the centrality of BaptismEucharist, God’s voice speaking through Scripture, and the Community gathered as partners in God’s mission?  What will I sacrifice for those who are not yet here?

That last question might be one to add to our listening process as we discern the good steps God may be calling us to pursue in the months ahead. If there is a “wideness in God’s mercy,” perhaps our sacred space can help make that truth become more visible and experiential to all who enter.

We give you thanks, O God, for the gifts of your people, and for the work of many hands, which have beautified this place and furnished it for the celebration of your holy mysteries. Accept and bless all we have done, and grant that in these earthly things we may behold the order and beauty of things heavenly; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

(Book of Common Prayer, p. 573)