“A reminder to residents that live tree’s are not allowed in suits due to fire hazard. Fake trees, which are easily obtained, may be used during the holiday season only under penalty of fine. On behalf of the management, we wish you a safe and happy holiday.” Without fail, every year, I get into an elevator and this message greets me. And every year, without fail, I am both amused and angered by it. I am amused by the idea that the season before us is safe at all, because in it we prepared ourselves for the upending of everything which is safe and calm for the gift of the Word made flesh in Jesus of Nazareth. I am angered because of what the reminder stands for. At its core, the plasticization of this season is about controlling the unwieldy nature of what it is we celebrate. When our tree’s and decor are plastic, it always looks perfect, calm, and controlled. When we use real trees and greenery, and candles, it starts to look dry, crispy, messy, and out of control. But you see my friends, it's not so much about tree’s or no trees, plastic versus real. It's about what are our symbols in this advent season, and what they point us towards. Advent is about accepting the transitory nature of this world, grounded in the person of Jesus, which is messy, uncontrollable and beautiful. something our Gospel enlivens for us this morning.
This mornings Gospel is a heavy one to hear, in the midst of a season which is lit up with light, life, and parties. It feels like this kind of story is one better suited for halloween, rather than Advent, but if we dig down deeper we begin to see what is happening here. The signs of anxiety and challenge which are all around us are paralleled against the sign of the coming prince of peace- which opens a window of hope for us. At times, advent kind of of feels like that stop motion video, you know the one where you are focused on one thing while everything else is blurry- but still with definition? Advent points us into the coming promise of Jesus, while the blur of parties and festivities run past us. We cram a lifetime of traditions and practices, concerts and events, in 24 days. It's a wonder we even know what we celebrate anymore. Yet it is Luke’s purpose in this Gospel to provide for us the arc of presence through which God becomes manifest in Jesus through the signs, scenes, and experiences which we have and will hear about together. It's about receiving again the promise made to us, that God will be close to us even in the midst of this dark season. It's about trusting in the permanence of the Word- which is Jesus, in times which are passing us by.
By the time we start to celebrate Christmas, 22 days from now, the world will be packing up their tree’s, replacing holly for hearts and bows of cedar for boxes of chocolate. It's not really a surprise anymore, since economically christmas begins for retailers in September. It's another reason we use fake trees and decor now because it has to last 3-4 months, as we try and make the most money out of the shortest season on our calendar. Christmas is really the make or break for many companies, where millions of dollars are poured into marketing and messaging to sell us the newest flat screen something, or hippest sports whatever. Now don't get me wrong, gifts are lovely things when given with care, but these things always break and sometimes don’t last past Christmas Day because it’s the wrong size or colour. North Americans went, on average, $1000 into debt last year for christmas. We took on more debt for things that aren’t permanent, just to feel more permanent. Wait, what? Think about it for a moment, gifts are our way of feeling included with others by showing our love and affection for them. It is, at a deeper human level, a chance for us to feel connected to people in an emotional way. So what is it about the permanence or impermanence of these signs which are all around us, that Luke is trying to work out for us? My friends, it's about making moments that matter, because of what those moments represent. Which is Jesus.
We continue to hear time and again just how much God needs and wants to be close to us, to feel our pain and our sorrow, to dance with us in our joy and pray with us in our doubt. Yet there are always times when it feels like that can’t really be true. You know those times of real anxiety or tension, of surprise or excitement. But God continues to promise us his presence among us, and gives us Jesus to prove he's telling the truth. Jesus is both here and not yet here in this season, both a hoped for promise and an uncertain reality. Yet in Jesus, the word made flesh, we hear, see, and know, the presence of God in our lives through reflecting on his life in the hopes of converting ourselves daily into a deeper likeness of him. Advent, my friends, gives us the richness of this paradox, to feel him close but not yet here.
This advent, I invite you to join me in making moments that matter with each other in order for us to mutually see the signs of God's presence in Jesus all around us. Seek out ways to build community together, invite friends to experience this parish with you and tell them about how important this guy named Jesus is to you. Dare to share the permanence of your faith with those you love and care about. Let Jesus be the center of your season, not because it stands against society, we are called to live in society differently remember, but because he was the first to make moments that mattered with each of us by calling us by name into new life and dying for us.
The world around us this advent is full of the signs of God's promise to be with us. God with us, in the infant Christ, is the promise of God which will out last even the most durable of plastic tree’s, LED candles, or satin bows this Christmas. In advent you and I are invited to be alert to the permanence of Christ’s presence among us, in our communities, and social circles, in our lives which are messy, challenging, and uncontrollable. How will you listen with your life for the presence of Jesus, the Word made flesh, in these times which are passing us by this advent?