Turning the (Christmas) Lights On (Advent II)

facebook_cover_turn_nlOver the past week I’ve been driving around in the dark. I’ve seen a lot of Christmas lights. From a few lights on a tree or front window, to entire yards with various biblical and secular Christmas scenes spelled out in them. Some of these displays have been up since just after Halloween (maybe even before). I love Christmas lights, no matter how tasteful or tacky. I love them because people love putting them up. I don’t know if it is because they simply love Christmas or there is a primordial/primeval hope that we might be able to bring light back into the world as the days are getting shorter.

The longest and coldest nights of the year are up on us and we are attempting to celebrate the birth of a savior. We don’t really know how to do that. We don’t really know what it means. We still sense the mystery of Christ’s life. We also perhaps sense within us the desire for the light to return, for the days to get longer again, for the warmth of spring. In times before we knew that little grows in the winter, that food will become more scarce and that firewood is needed for warmth.

While today, at least for those who are financially stable enough, heat, food, and light are not a major issue. Still, no matter the class, people like Christmas lights. Tiny little balls of light. Some colored. Some white. Some large. Some small. Some twinkle, some chase, and some stand still. I remember one set we had that had 20 Christmas songs to which the lights danced and the sound box played music.

So many of us are drawn to these little fragments of light. These little lights which, while they can neither compete with the power of the sun or the life giving Christ, seem to be people’s shining of their hope.

This hope, while it remains fragmented and small, seems to tell me something. In the rural world I live in, these people are not completely gone. They have not fallen completely into the despair and darkness. They hold within them a glimmer of hope and will turn on their twinkle lights from Halloween until well past the New Year.

The thing about this hope, this fragmented, colorfully whimsical hope, is the audience. Sure, they get some joy out of these lamps and designs, but the audience is whomever passes by. They turn their hope outward. Jean-Luc Nancy seeking the very act of speaking of pointing something from within outward as prayer audience. Christmas lights, in a practical way, seems to constitute a prayer. A turning outward.

Keeping Watch (Advent I)

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36 “But nobody knows when that day or hour will come, not the heavenly angels and not the Son. Only the Father knows. 37 As it was in the time of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Human One.[a] 38 In those days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark. 39 They didn’t know what was happening until the flood came and swept them all away. The coming of the Human One[b] will be like that. 40 At that time there will be two men in the field. One will be taken and the other left. 41 Two women will be grinding at the mill. One will be taken and the other left.42 Therefore, stay alert! You don’t know what day the Lord is coming.43 But you understand that if the head of the house knew at what time the thief would come, he would keep alert and wouldn’t allow the thief to break into his house. 44 Therefore, you also should be prepared, because the Human One[c] will come at a time you don’t know.

Matthew 24:36-44 (CEB)

I’ve become a fan of Discipleship Ministries’ Advent-Epiphany worship series. I don’t know of a church using it, but I’ve decided to use these resources as jumping point for my personal devotion and my posts. (All rights to the images I use each week belong to Discipleship Ministries, I recommend you check out their resources).

The idea of keeping watch is one of great interest to me and my work. When I received my driver’s license and was able to drive to and from places, I often liked to, with this new found freedom, drive around at night and not go home immediately. Mostly places I had already visited. Over around the homes of my aunts and uncles and of family friends.

The thing about driving around at night is that things are different. Things are a little off. Things seem different at night, especially when you’re first out on your own. Not a scary, evil things live in the woods different, instead it was a difference which led to curiosity.

 

I never experienced the sky exploding with celestial beings or songs of a savior born in a barn in town. Still, I experienced things simply because I was watching. I noticed lights on in houses late at night, cars that were not home, people caught in the headlights as I turned at an intersection near their homes. I knew some of these homes, many I did not. Still, I gained experience through keeping watch.

The same is true for my work. My work in rural life. My work in rural pedagogy and theology (It is clearly not untrue for any and all other contexts–I just work from where I stand). I feel as if one’s role as a theologian and educator is partially to keep watch. To look for snags in the carpet, breaks in the pasture fence, smoke on the horizon, and lights on when they shouldn’t be. It’s a feeling of alienation. Just as driving around at night had an effect on my view of my community, our role is to become re-oriented, making the familiar strange.

In my watching today, I tend to find myself looking for the Kingdom of God. Keeping watch over my community, I look for the Kingdom of God in the rusty old cars, the dormant fields, the empty and almost empty factories, and in the surprising amount of  Dollar Generals.

Keeping watch is difficult.