December 3rd- No Going Back, Beloved, and No Mapping Out a Specific Future

The Advent song for your playlist today starts like this:

When my blood runs warm with the warm red wine
I miss the life that I left behind
But when I hear the sound of the blackbirds cry
I know I left in the nick of time

Peter Bradley Adams has a beautiful way with words, I’m finding. They do what I think good lyrics should do: they invite you into something more, if for just a moment.

Advent, like good lyrics, invites us into something more, a “time overlaid on time” if you will. It’s why congregations around the world offer an additional moment of worship, usually midweek, in these dusk-early days. This addition notes that this time is special, unique, something different.

The problem with most of our Advent-Christmas time, though, is that it usually invites most people backward, not forward. Holidays and holy-days have a way of cementing themselves in our nostalgia receptors, and so if we grew up with a wonderful Christmas (as I did!) we can sometimes dabble a little too much in what we theologians call “repristination.”

Repristination is a fancy word for “play it again” or “replay.”

In fact, lots of religion unfortunately peddles repristination as some sort of ideal to strive for, a rewind of progress to times where beliefs were simple and widely held and widely regulated by religious and civic authorities.

In the universe of our heads, though, repristination will take us back to the times of our childhood, or “that one Christmas” that felt so perfect, and every subsequent year has been some sort of valiant effort to replay that memory, now. It’s a fool’s errand.

Advent is not an invitation to the past, but an invitation to ponder the present and the future in light of the past. What does it mean to wait faithfully for a future that’s not yet realized? In my mind, I’m also wondering what present beauties we miss as we pine for the past…there are certainly some, yes?

Buddhists have this idea that “hope” is actually a bad thing. Now, before you write it off, let me explain a bit. In the Buddhist sense of “hope” what is meant is “an attachment to a particular outcome.” So, it doesn’t mean a generalized “hope” in a better tomorrow, but rather those very specific hopes that we harbor in our souls, usually born out of advantage or particular proclivities.

That attachment does, indeed, create pain…which is rough.

Our attachments to the past, and our possible attachments to very particular futures, all distract us from being rooted in the uniqueness of this “time overlaid by time.” Are you attached to either?

I know I am.

But, as Peter Bradley Adams notes, we left those pasts in “the nick of time.” By that, I mean, it’s gone, and that’s ok, and we can remember it fondly but certainly cannot replay it.

Change happens. Shift happens. Advent invites us to ponder what that shift might be…but don’t become too attached, Beloved. Dream a bit. Imagine the steps to make a wonderful world emerge from this one, but know that there is always a path, always a way, always plans B, C, and D.

That is hope.

I mean, Christians honor this time to ponder how God stole across the cosmos to be born in a no-name place to no-name people, which would certainly not be any of our plan A’s, right?

Good thing we’re not ultimately running this joint…if it’s being “run” at all.

Take a listen to Peter Bradley Adams’ “The Longer I Run.” In it you might just finding something new this Advent: a reflection of your own running, whether to the past or too far into the future, and an invitation to simply sit in the present for a bit.

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