But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap.” (Luke 21:34, ESV)
When I was in seminary one of the requirements for all of us seeking ordination was that we complete one segment of CPE or Clinical Pastoral Education. This was a time of chaplaincy in a hospital or other health care facility in order to learn how to offer pastoral care in times of crisis. In this time I was afforded a great opportunity to sit with people of different traditions and theological points of view. One of my classmates was a young man studying to be a Roman Catholic priest and another was a young woman studying and discerning her call into ministry. There were others in the group, but my heart gravitates to talk of the two in particular because of how in this time theologies collided.
The young woman was of a more rigid biblical tradition that leaned on the charismatic side of the faith. The young priest-to-be and I developed a good friendship in this time and I developed a friendship with this young woman since some of her views I had some affinity. Unfortunately her approach was often blunt and sometimes callous which created some friction with her and many in our cluster, her heart was one that sought to be faithful to Scripture and the calling of her faith. The young priest-to-be, this young woman, and I fell more on what one might call the conservative side of the faith and this led to many a good discussion. Unfortunately, though, one day this young woman felt it was important for her to call both the young priest-to-be and me out because of her views on the consumption of alcohol which one could tie to this and other verses that call for soberness. Which led to a difficult door for discussion because no matter what the young priest-to-be and I said was colored in her eyes because for her it was an all-or-nothing.
Now as I reflect on this and the reading for this first Sunday in Advent I am reminded of this time and some of my own mistakes in how I handled this situation. The young priest-to-be and I were both quite offended and in the end we backed away from this young woman because of this action and her proselytizing of those Christians who did not conform to her theological understanding of the Christian faith. Our reactions were not done in an attempt to paint her actions in the best possible light, but instead to distance ourselves and criticize her the offenses that we felt. So, often, I think that is our reaction. I know that I have felt that in my own life as people have not sought to "come to my defense, speak well of me, or interpret everything I do in the best possible light" as we are called to do in Luther's interpretation of the Eighth Commandment in the Small Catechism. I have also failed to do the same in my life.
What is it that Jesus Christ is calling us to do? He calls us to wake up, to be sober of mind, to not fall into drunkenness, and the like, but how often do we think about what that means? Scripturally, we don't find anything to say that Jesus was totally against the consumption of alcohol, if that were true why would his first public miracle be to turn water into wine? Again, we could ask the same as he is with his disciples in the upper room and offers wine to them after blessing it and saying "this is a new testament in my blood." Now I don't believe that he thought it to be a good idea be drunk since we know the damage that this does to relationships but drinking in times of celebration within moderation and drinking to drunkenness are far different from one another. Really, though, I don't think that what Jesus is speaking to here is about abstaining from the consumption of alcohol, but something far greater. I remember in my college days when we would imbibe one of the things that seemed to fall out the window was time. Hours would be wasted without my awareness because in that time I didn't care. The same can be true for us as we become caught up in things of this world. We become inoculated to worldly things - violence and suffering no longer may have much of an impact on us. We become caught up and don't worry about prayer, worship, reading of Scripture, caring for our neighbor, and the like because there are many "more important" things to do. We can become comfortable in the way things are.
When I have dealt with people that are drunk (and I am sure that when I was intoxicated I was no different) they don't like to be bothered. They usually think they are "fine" and they "don't need any help" even as they are falling on the floor or stumbling around. How often does that happen to us in our faith lives? We become "drunk" in the ways of the world and believe that we are "good" and "fine." The dangers of this is that it may cause us to lose out on the truly good things that God has for us. It causes time to be fleeting and we don't know what it is that we have missed. It saddens me as I reflect on my own failures, but the great gift is that I don't have to continue on in those old ways and I don't have to let the failures of my past rule my life. That is the promise that our Lord Jesus brings.
As we enter this season of Advent I look forward to all the good things that God has in store for me. I pray that prayer, "Come, Lord Jesus, come!" I see the suffering of the world and I pray for them. I know that many have been hurt in the world by the Church and I seek to be a balm to those wounds by my own words and actions and not a means to create further pain. This I know has not always been my way and I repent and pray for Christ's forgiveness in this as well as seek his guidance in the future. It is a humbling gift that I have received as I seek to be awake and not consumed by the cares of this world. This is what we are called to in this period of expectation that we call Advent. As we approach the Christmas in which we celebrate the coming of Jesus Christ born of Mary we can celebrate the promise that he will again return to us and the salvation that he was born to bring us. That little baby wrapped in swaddling clothes was a miracle for eternity. As I look at each of my children and remember them when I held them swaddled in my arms I can also reflect on the time that my wife and I sat in expectation of each of them coming - the nervous excitement that each of us felt - I can feel that same expectation as I reflect on the birth of our Lord and again say those wonderful words in prayer, "Come, Lord Jesus, come." Be awake, aware, and of sober mind and judgment not focusing on the failures of others, but seeking to be a bearer of the Christ-child into the lives of broken people. It is the season that we celebrate and the reason is for Christ's light to be bore out as we walk the Advent journey to that dirty stable to remember the miracle of the baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a feed trough (aka manger) as the savior of all the world. May that give you peace this Advent and may your Christmas be filled with great joy as we celebrate Christ our King and Lord. Amen.