The minister prayed just prior to his sermon on the first Sunday of Advent, “Help us get through this season.” I confess I heard little of what he said after that.
How honest and practical to introduce the theme “Simply Christmas” with such a prayer. Honest and practical not only in perhaps the most obvious way (“help us not to get all stressed and partied out, with gifts and decorating…”). Rather, in the plea for God’s help “to get through this” I found the Spirit reminding me that even a Christ-centered Advent celebration can be a test of sorts. It is such a big and necessary celebration that, though it is always a happy event, it demands of true manger-seekers some serious and even exhausting efforts: self-examination, pilgrimage, seeking, remembering, hoping, telling. Worshiping. But for whom and to what purposes should we rather exhaust ourselves? Binge-watching a series on Netflix? (Suddenly we’re back to the word honesty.)
How wonderful that we have such beautiful houses of worship filled with glorious music to honor Christ, where we can be drawn together to celebrate His birth just now and His life, death, resurrection, ascension and promised return during the other 48 weeks of the year. For it is not only in the special seasons of the liturgical calendar, but also in the “ordinary days,” that self-examination, pilgrimage, seeking, remembering, hoping, telling, and worshiping are some of the most stringent requirements set before Christ’s followers. In these actions we not only give our most devoted obedience but also receive our fullest blessings.
The very serious pursuit of non-temporal blessing binds us to our Father and to like-minded Christian brothers and sisters. Is it your desire to be so bound, and to a greater degree than ever? Can Advent 2016 find you being lured irresistibly down the fresh, new road of intentional, serious pilgrimage? It may seem a deserted road, quiet like a country lane with no sign posts and no apparent obstacles, ideal for seeking and worshiping. May God bless you with a pilgrimage road like that! Or, it may look like a busy street at rush hour – loud, confusing, and with many fun and ordinary activities telling you “pilgrimage” is an admirable goal but just not possible unless you’re a minister, a famous ascetic, or someone wealthy enough and unattached enough to “go away” for as long as needed.
Your pilgrimage road may not be a literal “road” at all, and, as a new course of action, attitude, or private spiritual pursuit, it may be unseen and quite possibly ununderstood by those closest to you. So be it. Jesus is there, and the plain truth is a husband, wife, child, parent, best friend or new associate cannot go with you into the holy place where Jesus infuses you with His presence, His power, and His peace. Though none go with you there, they can’t be unaware that you have been. Your light will shine more brightly (or into different corners) so that many – though they have not experienced your pilgrimage with you – will know one way or another that you have been in pursuit of Jesus and cannot be content except when close to His side.
“And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart.” Jeremiah 29:13 (KJV)