Monday, December 3, 2012

listen, friends.

Advent is here, and it’s great- my favorite season in the church year. 
Last night we had our annual Watcher’s Eve event, which includes a casual worship service in the afternoon, bell-ringing, dinner, and a “Hanging of the Greens.”  It’s such a wonderful way to usher in Advent.  Watcher’s Eve, though, is loud and chaotic- it’s a family event and should be that way!  Kids are crafting and adults are chatting, and much merriment is made. 

I had a new member come up to me toward the end and tell me that she never really knew about Advent, before.  She has been Baptist her whole life until recently, and they didn’t observe Advent in her church.  She commented at how much she appreciated this event, to kick-off the in-between time of Advent, when we watch, and wait, and listen, anticipating the birth of Jesus.  She marveled at the tradition of it, and the significance it brought to her heart. 

Needless to say, I was elated.  Someone got it.  Someone NEW got it.  There IS joy and wonder in this season of hope.  Job well done, Sarah (ahem, I mean Holy Spirit).

I read an article in the New York Times recently about listening.  It’s a lost art, apparently, though I don’t think I needed the newspaper to tell me.  Listening makes up a large part of what I do, but I don’t think that’s true for a lot of professions (it doesn’t earn you the big bucks).  Nevertheless, it reminded me of Advent and what we’re supposed to be doing in this season, and other liturgical times of year (like Lent, Easter, Pentecost, etc.).  They’re helpful reminders to practice things that aren’t quite natural to us, in order to remind ourselves of what’s important- in this case it’s that Jesus came, and promises to come again.

At the end of the article the author writes this: “‘You never listen’ is not just the complaint of a problematic relationship, it has also become an epidemic in a world that is exchanging convenience for content, speed for meaning. The richness of life doesn’t lie in the loudness and the beat, but in the timbres and the variations that you can discern if you simply pay attention.”

It seems simple, but it’s true.  As a culture we’re not good listeners.  In Stephen Ministry we talk about how, when you’re actively trying to listen to someone, if you catch yourself thinking of a personal story that relates, you’ve already stopped listening.  Think about how often that happens.  Maybe the more interesting point isn’t that we can’t listen, but that we think too much about ourselves?

Anyway, this time of year always clues me into a different rhythm.  Through watching and waiting and listening, I’m reminded that it’s not all about me.  Like the author said, if you listen, you come to new realizations.  If you pay attention you give up the speed of life for something that could be much more meaningful. 

In John 18 Jesus says, “Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”  It’s almost as if Jesus is saying (to Pilate, and to us) that you can’t just stop and listen here and there, at random.  To belong to truth you must practice it. 

Advent is a good reminder that to belong to the truth, to really hear Jesus, we must listen for his voice- wherever we are.  His words are a call, a commandment, and a prophecy.  He must have known where we would be some 2000 years later, deafened by the sounds of our divided attention during the craziness of this season.

So, I’d say this: start practicing this Advent.  Begin listening, even in the noisiest of places.  If you do, at some point, you’ll hear the truth, which is in Christ.  And, you’ll find yourself in the most beautiful of places- awake to the wonder and awe and anticipation of Advent.  Maybe it’ll even stick with you- MAYBE you’ll make it your New Year’s resolution (though, disclaimer: that is not a liturgical season). 

If it happens, make sure you tell me about it.  ’Cause dang, I think news like that could get me through this whole year. 

I’ll be waiting, and listening.  Amen.

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