Sunday, December 17, 2006,12:08 AM
Third Sunday of Advent - Reflections
“Hallelujah. Holy shit. Where's the Tylenol?” – Clark Griswold, Christmas Vacation

Earlier this month in South Carolina a mother had her 12 year old son arrested for finding and playing with a Christmas present early. The trappings and habits of Christmas were apparently more important that this child’s criminal record for life.

In Chappaqua, New York, a merchant put up blue-and white snowflake flags with the word "Welcome" printed on them. Apparently some in the town felt the flags were too reminiscent of traditional Hanukkah colors, were shaped like dreidels, and had Hebrew-style lettering, so they complained--vocally--to the woman who had purchased them. So much for her attempt to spiff up the shopping street.

A new poll out by Zogby International reported recently that 32 percent of Americans say they are offended when a store clerk wishes them "Happy Holidays" instead of “Merry Christmas." Because being offended really helps spread the love and joy of Christmas.

This is the world we are celebrating Christmas in this year. A world where our personal rights and preferences are more important than the command to love our neighbor. A world where creating the perfect Martha Stewart Christmas is more important than spending time with our families. A world where trivia about Christmas becomes more important than the implications of incarnation.

This week, the third Sunday of Advent, we light the candle representing love (and yes, I know, in some traditions this week’s theme is joy, but traditions change – do you see anyone focusing on the traditional themes of death, judgment, heaven, and hell during advent?). This advent season we have focused on hope and peace – that we can have hope in God’s kingdom working in this world and that we can work for peace. But honestly, it is almost easier to have hope and be a peacemaker in the big things. We can care about stopping AIDS and violence, but are we really ready to love?

Are we ready to love those who are hurting? Those who are sick? Those who come from a different culture than us? Are we ready to love the person who just took our parking space at the mall? Our child who just broke another Christmas ornament? The secularist who is trying to get the Christmas Carols out of the public schools? The gay couple down the street? The illegal worker who picked the produce in our fridge? The boss who paid that worker far less than minimum wage to pick that produce? Are we ready to love not just children dying of AIDS in Africa, but the prostitute dying of AIDS in our community? Are we ready to love not just in a perfunctory Christiany “of course I love them” sort of way, but a way that actually lets them see that God loves them too?

Are we ready to be Christ’s hands and feet? Are we ready to really be the body of Christ? Are we ready to be the incarnation?

Christmas is the celebration of the incarnation. The indwelling of love on earth. Our hope in a better world and our longing for peace find their answer in this embodiment of love. “For God so loved the world that he sent his only son.” As the carol penned by Christina Rossetti proclaims –

Love came down at Christmas,
Love all lovely, love divine;
Love was born at Christmas,
Star and angels gave the sign.

Worship we the Godhead,
Love incarnate, love divine;
Worship we our Jesus:
But wherewith for sacred sign?

Love shall be our token,
Love shall be yours and love be mine,
Love to God and to all men,
Love for plea and gift and sign.

And as the church, as the body of Christ, we now are the manifestation of that love. Love is our token – love for God and love for man. We talk about how we are blessed to be a blessing – and we are called to be that blessing (to love others) not just in Haiti, or Africa, or at the food pantry – but in our day to day lives. In our families, in our communities, and in our service encounters. It’s a lot easier to be selfish and petty and talk about love abstractly (like I’m doing now), but we are called to be living, breathing incarnations of love – even at Christmastime. Are we ready (and willing) to do that?

I want to close with a reading of a paraphrase of 1 Corinthians 13 written especially for Christmas.

The Advent of Love

Set your feet on higher ground this year and I will show you the way to Bethlehem.

If I speak with the earthy language of Luke and also sing with the heavenly hosts, but share the Christmas story again without making it a love story, it becomes a noisy song and a tinseled symbol.

And if I have powers of imagination and pretend to understand the mystery of incarnation and know my theology cold; and if I have faith that's been to the mountain, but let that theology remain outside the stable; and if I take a wiseman's journey without love, I stay in the darkness.

If I offer rare and precious gifts in this season, and if I expend all my energy in pageants and parties, but make these offerings in order that others may love me, I gain nothing of the spirit of Christmas.

Love in this season is patient with those who think Christmas will never get here, and love keeps words kind in spite of the frantic pace which overtakes us. Love in our celebration rules out gift exchanges that are self-serving; questions valuing persons by the price of their gifts; avoids rudeness in the shopping place.

Love in December days is not irritated by the trite and the trivial nor resentful of demands others make of us. It does not dwell on the wrongs in the world, but finds joy in the truth of God's gift.

Love in Advent bears the burden of history unfolding; believes in the reality of the Word made flesh; hopes for good will and enduring peace among all. …

From Love’s Letters: A Poetic Book of Confessions by George Gunn
(Library Lane Press / Copyright 2001)

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