Writing on the eve of the 2016 Election, which is permanently seared into our consciousnesses as individuals and writ large already in the history of the nation, I am thinking of happier things: the coming of one of our holiest seasons and the vibrant state of our parish. If life continues after tomorrow (and I for one am assuming that it shall), the most wonderful time of the year is barreling full speed toward us! Despite the creep of cynicism that comes with age, despite the inevitable sprawl of commercialism, despite the sermons and articles about how Advent is ignored and Christmas is rushed, Advent and Christmas continue to delight me just as they are. It doesn’t bother me a bit that Christmas decorations come out in the stores before Thanksgiving and that Christmas trees appear in our homes shortly thereafter. We are not simple people: we can anticipate and celebrate all at once!
There was a time in my life when I marched alongside other Advent policemen, usually clergy, insisting upon the pensive nature of Advent, its need for quiet, its plaintive tone, and its avoidance of partying. Little wonder we are sometimes accused of being dour: we sometimes are! I reached some clarity about this once several years ago while preaching a compelling sermon (at least to me) in mid-Advent. As I waxed poetic about the coming of the Christ child and our preparation to receive him in our hearts on Christmas Morn, a little boy sitting near the front said rather loudly to his mother, “Mommy, didn’t he come last year?”
Indeed, he did, my young friend, and don’t we know it!
One of the richest theological characteristics of Advent is its invitation to a deeper understanding of what is both already and yet still to come. We see, and we do not see; the Christ Child has come and is yet to come; the realm of God is here and remains a good distance away. We are called to live our lives in the paradox of this great truth. Its fancy theological name, partially realized eschatology, simply means that as the Apostle, we, too, now see as through a mirror darkly, not seeing all there is but rejoicing in what we do see.
So my hope for you, my good new friends, is that you will not be troubled by fighting a tide of Christmas this year, feeling guilty that Advent is not getting the full play or that Christmas is cheapened by carols played too soon. Good heavens, has there ever been a time we have more clearly “needed a little Christmas right this very minute?” Our liturgies on the four Sundays of Advent will properly and beautifully reflect the longing for that which is yet to come; they will invite us into the introspection the season engenders; they will remind us of what it means to wait. But don’t let that make you miss the merriment and excitement of a season that sparkles like no other time of the year. A brightly lit Christmas tree early in December will not diminish the coming again of the Christ Child. It simply reminds us of what we know: Christ has come, Christ is coming, and Christ will come again and again. It is never too early to rejoice in that incredible Good News.
And speaking of celebrating, Calvary is on fire with activities and good things. Since I am temporary, it is not unseemly, but in fact a great joy, for me to sing praises of this extraordinary parish. Lobsterpalooza—in the middle of our annual giving campaign no less—raised well over $20,000 for Work Local, the new initiative born at Calvary for providing panhandlers an opportunity for paid work, doing badly needed projects in Memphis. It was an amazing event at which over 250 people enjoyed scrumptious food, generously supported silent and live auctions, reunited with old friends, and met many new ones. A committed core of volunteers worked nearly countless hours to make it all happen. Friends of Music presented Chanticleer in concert to a full house of enthralled members and visitors. A Calvary-led group of citywide volunteers is bravely addressing the issue of downtown blight and adding a strong voice of support for what must be done to improve the parish’s neighborhood for everyone. Room in the Inn has begun anew, providing overnight shelter for the homeless every Sunday night during the cold weather from now until April. The renovation of additional space for Grizzlies’ Prep, the immensely successful charter school for middle school boys, has begun. In the next school year, nearly 100 lucky fifth graders will have the opportunity to study in this fine school. Scarborough Fair was a huge success; our children and youth enjoyed a hugely successful evening of Trunk-or-Treat and Monster Mash; and plans for The Emmanuel Meal are well underway.
Join me in giving thanks for our parish, for its people and clergy, and especially for all those we serve; pray earnestly with me that our hearts will be opened wider and made more generous as we seek additional and new ways to serve and love others; remember without fail the Search Committee as they seek our new rector; and through it all, rejoice in this wonderful season. Of course, the world is still uncertain; certainly not all things have been made right; and yet at the same time, the realm of God comes near again and again and again. REJOICE!