Monday, July 8, 2013

Advent in July

Last week my senior pastor bestowed a big task on me - putting together our sermon series for the Advent and Christmas seasons.

Whoa.

In his words, "I feel like I haven't kept you busy enough."

Busy or not, I'm stoked for the opportunity.  If you've read this blog at all, you know that I'm a total nerd for the church year.  Following the liturgical seasons of the church is important in most of our United Methodist Churches and many of our mainline sister denominations.  I find it keeps my own personal soul centered on a direction throughout the year, and it's another great thing that connects us from church to church.

And now begins my pre-game ritual for worship planning of any season - reading the seasonal chapters of Calendar: Christ's Time for the Church by Laurence Hull Stookey.  I've been doing this since this book was assigned reading in my church music classes in seminary, and I find that it's the best way to keep things grounded in God's point and in the minds of those who crafted the Revised Common Lectionary in the first place.

Yes, call me a liturgy nerd.

In chapter 6, "Advent: The End and the Beginning", I find this gem on page 121, referring to the seemingly backwards nature of the Advent season:
... The beginning of the liturgical year takes our thinking to the very end of things.  For "end" means not only the "end of time," but the central purpose or goal of creation.  We are not aimlessly wandering in a wilderness, even though we may be temped to think so.  Rather, history is headed somewhere by direction (though not dictation) from God.  It is necessary that the liturgical year begin with this focus on a central, holy intention; for otherwise the story of Jesus, which is about to be rehearsed from conception and birth to death and resurrection, may seem less that what it is: the deliberate fulfilling of divine purpose, worked out through historical process.  Only this focus on the central purpose of God in history can keep the story of Jesus from falling into the superstitious or almost magical understandings that often afflict the Christian community, on the one hand, or into the trivialization and irrelevance that characterize secular interpretations, on the other hand.
This dual focus of the Advent season, a look ahead to the future coming of Christ through the voices of the prophets, but then the touching account of Christ's birth can be very confusing.  But then we remember the great mystery of faith:  Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.

Confusingly good.  Time to plan.