By Rev. Dr. Michelle J. Morris
Hope. Peace. Joy. Love.
After some significant debate, that is what we settled on, this group of pastors who was trying to remember the order of the words associated with each of the weeks of Advent. Just for good measure, I checked the source of all knowledge these days: Wikipedia. It also lists hope, peace, joy, and love. Yes! We are all in agreement.
But then I started working on the Advent devotional offered by the Arkansas clergywomen as a gift to anyone in the Conference (find it as a study in CouRSe, our online Congregation Resourcing System; go to arumc.myabsorb.com to sign up). They have the order there as hope, love, joy, and peace. Now, I know from the discussions around this resource that one of the reasons for this order is to match the lectionary passages that go with that particular week. At least they are still working with the same four words, even if they are in a different order.
But imagine my surprise when at another gathering of pastors someone mentioned the Advent resources at Discipleship Ministries (umcdiscipleship.org) has this list: peace, hope, joy, and trust. Seriously? What happened to love? Why did trust get added in there all of a sudden? I have to admit my mind went to a rather distrustful space of wondering if they were trying to subtly call us out for our lack of trust in each other, and I recognize that I proved their point if that is where they were going. But also, where is the love? That seems like a desperately needed word these days for our church.
I really don’t need this lack of clarity about my Advent weeks this year. This is not the time to get creative and try to mess around with my traditions and my expectations. Please, just let everything stay the way it has always been.
But if Advent did that, then it wouldn’t be Advent, would it?
Advent is a season of darkness and confusion. Advent, in our Christian calendar, represents the time before the light came into the world. If you are reading through the lectionary passages for Advent this year, you will notice that the words of the prophets and the psalms come from dark places – places of loss, of destruction, of abuse and desolation. In truth, Advent points out that we don’t need things to stay the same – we need a savior who will lead us out of this place. We need a change. Desperately.
I had become too attached to the wrong thing as I wrestled with these words. I had become attached to their order. When we are in dark places, order gives us comfort. But I needed to be attached to their meaning. And their meaning actually creates disorder in this space, because hope and joy and peace and trust and love all stand in opposition to the darkness we are living in, the darkness that deceives us into thinking it brings us order, when in fact it is the source of the chaos.
So now I welcome the disruption of these words. I welcome it because such disruption is making me see what I actually need to see. I need to see that my comfort comes not from predictable liturgy but instead from passionate, surprising worship. The kind of worship that reminds me to see a newborn child not simply as a baby but instead as the source of all the universe, and the one who rights all that is wrong in the world. So bring on my Advent chaos. Ultimately, it will bring order to all that is disordered.
P.S. – Discipleship Ministries didn’t drop love altogether, but instead made it the center of Christmas Eve. Thank God!