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Advent 4: it all comes tumbling down

A four-sided die

A four-sided die

I’m not ashamed to say that I usually cry at least once during Advent. It’s the crazy season, and between family and church responsibilities it can all get a bit much. Today a senior pastor of my acquaintance gave me a pro-tip: “I learned long ago that you should just coast through Advent. You can’t use up all your battery before December 25th.” Coasting? Seriously? Is that even possible?

The lectionary path through Advent B feels like a four-sided die skittering across a board game. It tumbles through the four-facets in the order of Mark-Mark-John-Luke-Matthew. Each possible landing leads to a very different past and thus a very different future. Was he “John the Baptist” (Matthew), “John the baptizer” (Mark), “John the son of Zechariah” (Luke), or just plain “sent from God… John” as we have him in John? These are VERY different stories if we let them tell their truth.

Similarly, what are we to make of the beginning of the beginning? On Advent 1 I told my congregation that the Gospel of Mark doesn’t start how we expect it start (no angel, no virgin, no baby) and it doesn’t end like we expect it to, either (the women run away in fear and “tell no one”). What are we supposed to do with that? Preaching with integrity seems to require bouncing from one framework to the next as the lectionary can’t make up it’s mind which voice it’s going to follow because Mark won’t conform to our “Advent is about Christmas” mentality.

Tumble, tumble, tumble. I found myself this advent jumping from moody, dark apocalypticism (I really should stop watching “American Horror Story” before bed on Saturday nights) to esoteric meditations on the nature of time as it is experienced in the different gospels to the unabashed silliness of this year’s pageant. Serious Tay. Scholar Tay. Playful Tay. Tumble, tumble, tumble.

After this year’s good Advent cry I sat next to the railroad tracks that bring tar-sands oil tumbling past my house at 80kmh and smoked my (tobacco) pipe. A new vice. I thought about my ministry: real and imagined challenges, real and imagined disappointments and successes, real and imagined plans. Such a tumble of emotions: click-clacking like thrown dice or train cars on their way.

Yeah, I know there is a payoff at Christmas: simple joys and a clear enough doctrine of the incarnation to preach into.  Good will abounds and there is time-off and turkey to spare. I’m not worried about what I’m going to preach on Christmas Eve. I’m worried about how I can preach the tumbly-times, because that’s where I think we actually are most of the time. We tumble along switching from one facet to the next not really sure where we are going to land.

A sermon that talks about the tumbling. That’s what I’d like to hear this Advent.

About Tay Moss

Priest, blogger, diplomat: Tay Moss helps people navigate God's crazy universe with humor, good food, and an occasional idea. He is leading his congregation (Messiah, Toronto) through major transition as they launch a fresh expression of church. His professional interests include missional church, new media, and the mysterious arts of the priesthood such as manual acts and cassock-wearing. In spirituality: a monastic. In management: a skipper. At home: a cook. A man with too many hobbies, Tay also finds himself sailing, cooking, watching TV, producing videos, brewing, and building canoes. He can be followed on twitter (@taymoss), pinterest (wtaymoss), youtube (taymossninjapriest), and facebook (tay.moss).
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5 Responses to Advent 4: it all comes tumbling down

  1. Advent 4 is not until Sunday on my calendar

  2. Duly noted at present. I caught this skimming and instantly it gave me the impression that The ACC celebrates Advent 4 at a different time than what the calendar says. It had caused great confusion. Perhaps stating “The Preacher’s Table” would have helped greatly, so as not confuse us clergy, and laity. A blessed Sapientiatide to you!

  3. I like the name “tumbly times” – I may use that!
    I also like living the tumbly times of Advent. Christmas, of course, is pure delight – we have fuller congregations to hear the good news of great joy given to all the people!
    But Advent – a time of sorting out the here and there, now and then, earthly and heavenly. It’s real, it’s awkward, it’s very relatable. For me that’s what gives me the hope of believing; that through the (my) confusion and turmoil and tumbly-ness (another new word!) that there is a firm foundation; I only need to fully trust in it.

  4. Yeah. This is good stuff: just as Easter is diluted without Good Friday (much less 40 days of wandering in the wilderness,) and funerals/celebrations of life lack their healing power without room for grief, I think we miss the true joy of Christmas without taking a serious look at the lack of peace, joy, and love that surrounds us, and allowing hope to speak into that sorrow. It’s right there in the Advent readings, much less the 6 o’clock news.

    Lord Jesus, come soon.

  5. Karl Barth famously quipped that one should preach with a bible in one hand a newspaper in the other. Certainly that’s been true this Advent with horrible stories that demand to be talked about from the pulpit. We often say “It’s a Good Friday world”–well it’s apparently an Advent, one, too, with all this pain and not-yet-ness.

    In particularly I’ve been thinking in my sermon prep time about the role not just of prophesy, but of witness and testimony in this post-Ferguson era. But witnessing/testifying about what, exactly? Barbara Brown Taylor’s essay in _Feasting on the Word_ for last week’s lessons was particularly brilliant, I thought, in sussing out the particularity of John’s testimony as it appears in the Gospel of John and no where else (Year B, Volume 1, pp 70-73).

    All of us need a lesson in how to “tell our truth” these days.

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