The following were comments delivered as part of our Christmas 1C service at the Calvary Baptist Church.
That first week of Advent, when we began to talk about this movement called Advent Conspiracy seems to me like it was a million years ago. It certainly was 4 papers, 3 final exams, 2 concerts, and a bout of the flu ago for me personally.
So when Amy asked me to talk for a few minutes about my experience of “worshipping fully” in Advent, well, I panicked. I was pretty sure that there wasn’t anything I had done that fit into a discussion about living a life of worshiping fully during the last month– I slept less, I read too much, I wrote way too many words and I used more tissues than the legal limit allows – yes, but worshiping fully? I really thought that I had failed at the “worshiping fully” assignment this year.
Why did I think this? You may not know this about me, but ever since I first learned what was meant by the term “liturgical calendar”, I have been a devotional junkie. That’s right. For the last five years, as the change for each each liturgical season approached, I would spend hours and hours designing my devotional practice for the coming weeks. I have stacks and stacks and stacks of books that lead you through a daily devotional practice, I know countless web sites that will provide me with a daily devotional in my email basket, I know how to get up early in the morning and spend my time in preparation and prayer.
But not this year. My early morning hours always set aside for devotional reading now belong to my Hebrew grammar book. The devotional guide I chose still sat next to my chair, waiting for me to open it. And now you understand my sense of panic – how could someone who gave her worship time over to grammar study and paper writing have anything to say about worshiping fully? That’s right. Total panic.
So with the semester over and the music put to rest for another season, I decided that it was time to do a little “catch up” reading, and I picked up the book I had carefully selected to guide me and took a look. This year I chose God Is In the Manger, a collection drawn from the writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Bonhoeffer was a theologian and pastor in Germany who actively resisted the Nazi government, ended up imprisoned and was eventually executed for his actions and his beliefs. We are fortunate enough to have much of his writing, both before his arrest and during his imprisonment. I like reading Bonhoeffer; he is close enough to us in historical time that we can understand the strength that it took for him to stand for and to die for his faith. And once again, his writing made things clear for me: that there are many ways to worship fully and I had in fact been worshiping more fully than ever before by doing the tasks before me – because I was being most fully human, perhaps more fully human than ever before in my life. And in that humanity was my best chance to know and love the God we wait for during Advent. Here’s what Bonhoeffer wrote about what happens when the promise of Advent is fulfilled and Jesus is born to us once again:
God becomes human, really human. While we endeavor to grow out of our humanity, to leave our human nature behind us, God becomes human, and we must recognize that God wants us also to become human—really human… Out of love for human beings, God becomes a human being. He does not seek out the most perfect human being in order to unite with that person. Rather, he takes on human nature as it is.
And now I understand. It isn’t how busy we are, it isn’t whether or not we make time to read and ponder the mysteries before us. It is how we live, it is how we do the task in front of us, it is the accumulation of our intentions and our ability to be present. Do we run to our death or do we open to our lives? The answer to that question tells us just how fully we worship each day. Do we embrace our humanity? If we do not, we do not understand the meaning of Advent and Christmas.
Our Psalm today, Psalm 148, is the centerpiece of what is sometimes called the Hallelujah collection, a five psalm set the ends the book of Psalms as we know it. This particular Psalm is all about worshiping fully – about being where we are in the moment we are there, praising creation around us and listening as that creation itself praises the God who made it, worshiping fully by living the life that is in us and living with the life that is around us. Just as for the Psalmist who wrote so long ago, worshiping fully, living fully, makes us truly One with the God we were waiting for…and we have a chance to realize the true meaning of Emmanuel – God chooses to be with us, and we choose to be with God.