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The Rev. Dr. Scott Black Johnston The Rev. Dr. Scott Black Johnston

The Rev. Dr. Scott Black Johnston is senior pastor of Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church in New York, NY.

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Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church, New York, NY

Dr. Scott Black Johnston: Needing Advent

December 10, 2011

Last year Tommy Hilfiger began running an ad on television, and occasionally in taxicabs, that earwigged me every time.

Maybe you saw it, too. Members of an eclectic family gather for a feast. (All of them, of course, are wearing Hilfiger clothes.)  Happy music is playing. No one seems stressed out. Not a bit. Instead, these handsome people, chic and aloof in their sunglasses, are way too cool to be anxious.

When wild stuff happens, they stay amazingly composed. In one version, a young girl drives away in an old station wagon, dragging the family feast behind. But it doesn't mess with their ultra-calm.

In the closing shot, one fellow looks into the camera, raises an eyebrow and with a sly smile asks, "Don'cha just love the holidays?"

The first couple of times through, I liked these ads. The scenes are eye-catching and funny - a mini-farce acted out by pretty hipsters. The message seems harmless: "Don't get too stressed out by the holidays. Drink wine. Wear Tommy Hilfiger. Be cool."

It makes sense. The holidays arestressful. Our families are less than perfect. Nobody really has a Norman Rockwell Christmas.

So, why not camp it up, and drink it up, and salute the absurdity of it all? Surely that's better than a family fracas: hurt feelings, slammed doors, tears shed?

There's just one problem. That isn't real either! It is laced with just as much denial as a glowing portrait of a perfect family gathered around the perfect tree. Both sorts of denial are, I believe, equally corrosive. Both are inadequate. Both will let you down when the going really gets rough.

This past week has been a tough one. I have been listening to some mightily difficult stories - people dealing with fractured marriages and ailing parents and struggling children. Like every other leader of a nonprofit under the sun, I have looked at our books and wrung my hands over tight finances. I have wept on learning that one of my parishioners, a true pillar of the church and a dear friend of mine, was discovered dead in her apartment yesterday morning.

Honestly, none of these things - real things, real struggles - can be covered up with a good pair of sunglasses or by pretending that everything is really fine.

That's why I am looking forward to Sunday.

At their core, Advent and Christmas tell the story of God's arrival. Every hymn, every carol and every scriptural text in this season point toward the One who refuses to be aloof and distant - the One who chose (who still chooses) to enter into the mess of life with us.

I am clinging to that news. It's better than Hilfiger. It's better even than Rockwell.

[Taken with permission from Scott's blog, Sharp About Your Prayers.]

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