This past Friday my sister in law woke up early to be at a local department store at 2:45 in the morning. She wanted to be part of so called "black Friday," the day after thanksgiving shopping extravaganza that supposedly kicks off the holiday shopping season. She was there with hundreds of others who were hoping to find "great deals" on gifts out of their holiday list.
I personally do not understand it. Why would you get up so early to shop? What kind of deal is worth showing up at a department store at 2:45 in the morning? What does it say about us that this is the way that we kick off the holiday season?
This past Sunday many of my parishioners showed up to church still "high" from a few days of shopping. They spent all weekend listening to Christmas songs, seeing Christmas decorations, and buying Christmas gifts. Many woke up before dawn on Friday to get a great deal and will probably have trouble staying awake for the worship service (if they show up at all).
Instead of the loud crowds, bright decorations, and cheery music they will encounter a quiet atmosphere, purple paraments, and reflective music. They came from a Christmas world into an Advent space. There could not be a bigger contrast and for some a more difficult culture shock!
A sense of culture shock continues with the readings. The gospel has Jesus warning his disciples about the end of things. Creation, nations, and people are all a part of this in-braking, of this transformation, of this end. Jesus tells his disciples to recognize the "signs" and to be "alert." Although all of this sounds scary, disciples of Jesus should not be afraid, instead we should "stand up and raise [our] heads, because [our] redemption is drawing near." (Luke 21:28)
All of this comes together to give us a different view of what is really needed in the world and in each of us. Gifts, spending, and long lines are not needed according to the Advent message. What is needed most is a savior.
In line there are people who are looking for something. Many look forward to this time of the year to get a reprieve from their life. Others are hoping that the gift giving, the music, and the excitement of others will rub off so that they can find the peace that they are looking for. And there are still others on the margins who observe all of this happening wondering if this year will be any different.
In the everyday of life, in the mess of things, in the brokenness of things a savior comes. God knows that in the midst of the celebration there is sadness, pain, and strife. We as people of faith are called to pay attention, and to be alert so that we can be the bearers of the good news.
Are we paying attention to the signs around us that tell us what people are searching for? Are we as people of faith too busy ourselves to recognize our own need for salvation? Are we too caught up in religious things, not noticing the groaning of creation and the silent cries of humanity?
In small ways we are being called to actively rehearse the coming of God in the world. People are obviously hungry for good news, they might not even know of their deep hunger, they might not realize that what they need is not another gift, they might not know the real reason for this time of the year. I commit to look around, to see the signs everywhere, to pay attention, to tell the world that our redemption is drawing near!