Thanksgiving and Beyond (Advent)
The Thanksgiving Holiday is quite late this year, on November 28. So “the holidays” will come roaring at us soon after — if they haven’t already.
But let’s look beyond Thanksgiving to the new church year and the first season of that year, Advent. In what follows, I have preachers and worship leaders in mind, but hopefully others will find this of interest as well.
Advent is a season of a peculiar tension. Basically, there’s a lot about Christmas that invites us to look backward. “I’m dreaming of a White Christmas, just like the one’s I used to know.” Christmas, centered on a child, evokes — for better or worse — our childhood and our “inner child.”
But, as I say, this is in tension with Advent, which is actually about the Second Coming of Christ, the end of history, when we shall all stand before the judgment seat of the Crucified One. Judging from the great scene of the judgment in Matthew’s Gospel (Matthew 25: 31 – 46) there will be surprises for everyone.
Advent is challenging because the people in the pews are mostly ready for a manger in Bethlehem, while the texts of the church year beckon our eyes forward to the Second Coming not back to the First.
If you chose to preach on the texts of the Common Lectionary, that’s great. But let me suggest an interesting alternative. I call it “The Real Christmas Story.”
There are so many Christmas stories — Dickens, Drummer boys, Amahl and the Night Visitors, The Night Before Christmas, on and on. Nothing wrong with these. But perhaps the “real Christmas story” might be of interest, might be a place to start?
When we do we note that there are two, one in Matthew, another in Luke. No birth story at all in Mark — the shortest of the Gospels, something had to go! Nor in John, where the Prologue about the Light which comes into the World is on a different wavelength altogether.
So, since this new year is the year of Matthew in the Common Lectionary, you might consider drawing your “Real Christmas Story” from the first Gospel, Matthew.
Should you to do that, you can divide Matthew’s “Christmas Story” into four parts for the four Sunday of Advent. Here’s how it breaks down:
Week 1: Matthew 1: 1 – 17, “The genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham.” THE GENEALOGY, ARE YOU KIDDING? What’s to preach there?
Here’s a hint: pay attention to the women, of which there are four. All are in one way or another what you might call “interesting” or problematic, from Rehab and Ruth, to Bathsheba and Mary. Suffice it to say that what we might think a proud litany of human and patriarchal lineage, becomes — when the women are taken into account — a story of God’s amazing grace.
Week 2: Matthew 1: 18 – 25 You will discover that while Luke focuses on Mary, Matthew pays attention to Joseph, who faces what we might call “an ethical dilemma.” Joseph becomes this gospel’s first disciple as he opts for what Jesus later terms “a higher righteousness.”
Week 3: Matthew 2: 1 – 12 You are already at the Three Wise Guys, foreigners who get it. People following a star. And Herod, aka “King of the Jews,” who isn’t much interested in competition for the throne.
Week 4: Matthew 2: 13 – 23 The Flight of the Holy Family to Egypt. What could be better for a time when refugee families are in peril the world over and in particular at the U. S. Border?
Some may find this a bit too cinema verite for the Sunday before Christmas, though others will welcome something not wrapped in sentimentality. Anyhow, you might want to include, somewhere in the service, the reading of Luke 2: 1 – 7, which most people think of as the Bible’s Christmas Story.
A future year you can do the same thing with the first two chapters of Luke (the other “real” Christmas story in the Bible).
So if you are still planning for Advent and would like an alternative to the Lectionary’s Second Coming focus (though it is super important) consider “The Real Christmas Story.”