Monday, November 29, 2010

Advent and Thanksgiving

Thank you, O Lord, for this good life, and forgive us if we do not love it enough.”

                                                                                                    -Garrison Keillor

The juxtaposition of Thanksgiving weekend with the first Sunday of Advent has always struck me as a little odd, if not uncomfortable. On one day, we pause to think about the riches of life, the blessings of the past, the hope of enjoying of them in the future. On Thanksgiving, that is, I recall the events of the last year and dwell on the bounty of the present. In my better moments of giving thanks, I consider how those blessings and that bounty are not simply to be enjoyed in-and-of-themselves, but are opportunities to grow and serve into the future.

But then the first Sunday of Advent comes, with its apocalyptic themes and its promises of the return of Jesus. Advent, of course, is not only about preparation for Jesus’ birth. It is about any advent of our Lord…in the future as judge and King, in the present as the ones we serve, and in the past as the baby in the manger. The first Sunday of Advent stresses that first theme, and the Scriptures we hear shake us out of any preconceived notion of security and contentment. They remind us of “the threatening dangers of our sins,” and the need for the world to be set to rights. Advent reminds us that the way things are right now—even in this thankful moment—are not so great and not so perfect, and that God plans to reform and redeem them into something so much better. That is why hope is such a central theme to the season of Advent.

The problem is that, when I’m honest with myself, I realize that I’m often having such a good time with this life and its many gifts that I’d actually be quite disturbed and—dare I say, disappointed?—by a sudden return of Christ. The apocalyptic portions of Jesus’ teachings, to be sure, no doubt resonated with a certain constituent of his listeners, listeners who were underprivileged and feeling the weight of oppressive political and spiritual regimes, listeners who would have been emboldened and encouraged by this audacious advent hope and vision of a better future. And I guess I realize I do not necessarily fall into that category. I should, but I don’t always. I am comfortable. I am quite pleased with my life and how God’s blessings have fallen to me. I like this life, and one great fear I have is, like Garrison Keillor suggests, that I don’t love it enough.

How do I reconcile these two? I’m not sure I know. But I do know that in moments of blissful thanksgiving, we can be lured into thinking that this current life is as good as it gets. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t love this good life, and we certainly shouldn’t take it for granted, but it also means that the Christian must remember that God’s new creation isn’t finished yet. There is more, and it will surprise us.