I preached the contemporary service a week ago for Christ the King Sunday, from Luke 23:33-43. The text is the crucifixion scene in which everyone is ridiculing Jesus with what seems like a combination of mockery and scorn mixed with temptation and gross misunderstanding: “If you are the Son of God, save yourself.” And the one thief adds, just in case: “and us.” Hmm. “If you are…” Where have we heard that before… An interesting echo of the temptation in the wilderness, questioning Jesus’ identity and trying to get him to misdirect his power at the same time.
The second thief’s response to all of this is quite the Advent response—honesty about one’s transgressions, repentance, a humble prayer for Christ’s mercy–“Remember me…” Big difference between “remember me” and “if you are.”
This is the time of year that so many of us lament the commercialization of Christmas, and rightly so. But I’ve started to wonder what the commercialization of Advent would look like if that ever took off (and of Lent, for that matter–same theme). I have found the commercialization of Advent inconceivable. Really, how does one go about commercializing and over-hyping a period of fasting, Scripture, prayer, self-reflection, and such?
It seems to me that the difference is between the celebration and the preparation. Think about it. Christmas (and Easter) are about celebration. And we will continue to celebrate those spectacular and precious events. But Advent (and, again, Lent) are about preparation. The celebration is open to abuse by those who will, but the preparation seems immune to the sort of cheapening to which the event itself is open. Preparation may be avoided. It may be done poorly. But it may not be cheapened by sensationalizing it.
It seems to me, then, that it makes perfect sense (you know, in the foolishness of God’s wisdom that is a hallmark of Christian life) to enter the season of Advent, of anticipating the coming of the Promised One, via Christ the King Sunday and a Scripture reading in which Jesus’ kingship is recognized not in spite of the cross but precisely in and because of the cross. This is the sort of King we’re following around.
So, the question I’m walking around with, that’s working me over, is: What does it mean to anticipate the incarnation of God in the Christ child, knowing what we know–knowing the sort of kingdom he has saved us into?