November 18, 2017

From the iMonk Archives – The Mood of Advent: We All Need A Savior

Whereas the first week of Advent focuses on the hope of the new creation, the second week looks around at the sinful world we live in now. The mood could not be more different. This is the week we learn to lament. Seeing the evil, corruption, and injustice around us (and in us), we cry out to the King of Righteousness to come and put the world to rights. “Cast out our sin and enter in; be born in us today!” is our prayer.

To promote the wholesome practice of lament among God’s people, today we run an iMonk post that Michael wrote in December, 2007.

We need a savior.

This is the time that we stop and see that the powers of evil are entrenched in the world. Evil authorities and and evil persons are having their way. A good creation is being ruined. Hearts made for love and light are imprisoned, crying out and empty.

There is war, terror, the loss of innocence and the curses of ignorance, poverty and death. The wise men of this age are propagating nonsense. Men and women made in God’s image are addicted to the worst the darkness has to offer. They think backwards and cannot find their way out of the dungeon. They have lost their will to live and love, and have settled for the cheapest and palest of imitations.
Advent’s darkness includes the failure of religion to bring any light to this fallen and dying world. Religion has become as empty as fool’s errand as can be imagined. The religious take themselves seriously, but the world hears the hollowness of it all.

In the Christian family itself, the prosperity gospel makes a mockery of the very savior it claims to proclaim. Western Christians plunge into the pagan celebration, spending thousands on themselves and their children. We spend enough on our lights to save thousands upon thousands of lives. But those lives are in the darkness of Advent’s waiting. Our “lights” are nothing more than an extension of that darkness. They have nothing to do with the true light that comes to the world.

The real center of Advent’s dark mood is that we need a savior. We who sing and go to church for musicals and eat too much and buy too much and justify the season by our strange measurements of suffering.

We light candles and wait because, after looking around and taking stock, there should be no doubt that we need a savior.

Ironically, after 2,000 years of offering our Savior to others, we- Christians- need one more than ever. When we mark ourselves has “having” Christ more than “needing” Christ, we miss the Spirit of the Advent season.

Despite the fact that the world needs a savior, those offering him and his story to the world look no more “saved” than anyone else. In fact, with an extra facade of religion or two, we seem to be in every bit as bad a shape as the world we call “lost.”

The mood of Advent is that we are all lost. Advent isn’t about the “saved” telling the “lost” to “get saved.” Advent is a light that dawns in all of our darknesses. Advent is bread for all of our hungers. Advent is the promise kept for all of us promise-breakers, betrayers and failures.

Can we find a way to celebrate Advent as those who NEED to be saved? As those who NEED a savior? Not as those who know for certain that someone else does?

Scripture says that we who had not received mercy have now received mercy. Those who were nobodies are now the people of God.

The key to Advent is not living as if we are the people of God and always have been. The key is to live as if we need a Savior, and he has come to us, found us, saved us and is there for everyone in the world.

The mood of Advent isn’t “come be religious like us.” It is “We are all waiting for our Savior to be born. Let us wait together. And when he comes, let us recognize him, together.”

When the day dawns, let us all receive him. We go to the manger and worship. We give to him our gifts. We take his light to the poor.

Until then, we are the poor, the weak, the blind, the lonely, the guilty and the desperate. We light candles because we who are in darkness are in need of a great light. We need a savior.

So we wait amidst the ruins, we protect the lights we hold in hope. We sing to one who is coming. We look and wonder. We pray for his star to take us, once again, to the miracle.

Comments

  1. Beautiful and thought-provoking. Thank you.

  2. This is great, and a MUST read for everyone to bring this season into perspective.

    You can repost this every year.

  3. They tell us we live in a post-Christian world, where people do not feel they need a Savior as they do not feel they are sinners. After Tiger’s speech the most googled word was transgressions, what does that mean. The work of the Holy Spirit to convict of sin is needed now more than ever. I know I need a savior, and I thank God for those He puts in y life who share this knowledge.
    Thanks for the sermon prep, Imonk! Merry Christmas.

  4. Straight to the heart. Thank you, imonk. Praying for your healing.

  5. Pastor Mike,

    Thanks. I missed this when it was originally posted. So pertinent to my life and my current situation(s). I think we’ve gotten so busy with the affairs of the Church and running the organization that we’ve missed the boat. I want to make sure my lamp has oil when the Bridegroom comes.

  6. “The mood of Advent is that we are all lost. Advent isn’t about the “saved” telling the “lost” to “get saved.” Advent is a light that dawns in all of our darknesses. Advent is bread for all of our hungers. Advent is the promise kept for all of us promise-breakers, betrayers and failures.”
    how wonderful our church would be if we could keep this “mood” all year long. no hippocracy, no rightous judgement, just healed sinners looking for the savior to come again! beautiful post! get well soon Imonk. — thanks for all your doing Pastor Mike. peace

  7. “When we mark ourselves has “having” Christ more than “needing” Christ, we miss the Spirit of the Advent season.”

    Wow.

  8. Thanks for this post. It really touched my heart. (I’m gonna have my two teen aged sons read it since we’ll we doing our week 2 advent wreath tomorrow)

  9. “The religious take themselves seriously, but the world hears the hollowness of it all.”

    Isn’t that the truth.

    I agree with Swanny…you can repost this every year.

    “We pray for his star to take us, once again, to the miracle.” Yes, we do.

    (If Michael is reading this: I hope you are beginning to feel better, Michael. You must be really hurting to miss work. I know how dedicated you are to your work and your students.)

    Thanks, Chaplain Mike, for filling in for Michael. It’s appreciated!

  10. There is a reason why, in both East and West, Advent is/was considered a fasting season. As iMonk points out, it is a season that calls all of us to repent and return to Our Lord Jesus Christ.

    In the West, either purple or blue was worn (mostly purple). It is interesting to me that American Thanksgiving comes, in most years, right around the beginning of Western Advent [Eastern Advent is a little longer]. In that case, as our American “tradition” developed, it developed with Thanksgiving being the feast that “ends” the Western liturgical year in a great feast of Thanksgiving right before the Advent fast (and the liturgical New Year) start.

    Yes, I realize that Thanksgiving is not an official Church feast. But, in USA culture it functions as though it were a Church feast, and conveniently comes right before the call to fast and repent. So the American year ends in Thanksgiving for all that God has done, before we begin anew the cycle of repentance and remembering our sins that He might call us to return to Him, and that the Incarnation again take new meaning in our lives.

  11. We don’t need a “savior.”
    We don’t need Christianity.
    Whatever problems we may have, we have to solve them ourselves.
    Religion is one of the problems.

    • Woofus,
      I’m not sure where you are coming from but I believe you are right in saying “religion is one of the problems”. I also agree that much of what is passed off a Christianity in todays world is not what we need either. I don’t think we need “a savior”. But I do believe we need the savior, Jesus Christ, who was born into the world so that he would save us from our sins. I need him because I need to be saved from my sin and from myself. I am a problem solver my nature and profession and I see problems in myself and with others that are beyond us to solve. This does not absolve us of personal responsibility. As a Jesus follower, I am called to participate with him in making things right in the world thru him. Unfortunately, I at times and much of the church (and “religion”) around us have created and perpetuated many of the problems you may have in mind because we have done been faithful the “Light” of whom this post speaks.
      Peace

    • Todd Erickson says:

      Historically, people do not have a very good record at solving their own problems, especially in the modern corporate world. Mostly, they wait for another power to come and invade them at the end of their power and rewrite history. Again.

      As long as we keep doing things the same way, we’re going to keep getting the same results.

    • Tom Meacham says:

      I agree with you. I’m not looking for a deus ex machina, we are going to have to solve our problems — and it overwhelms me. I don’t need religion to distract me with mystical side issues. I don’t need a god to hold my hand, but I could use one to steady my nerves. I need a God who I can think of as walking with me, preferably one that has some experience of walking in the world of humanity.

      He said “The Kingdom of God is within you.” If the solution to my own and the world’s problems is in me, then I need to do some serious looking within. And if I can get some help doing that, then I’ll believe.

  12. Why does humanity need a ‘savior’? One fundamental problem of Christianity I see is that it lets people off the hook of social/personal responsibility (should they choose that route – I know some Christians don’t). There’s a feeling, especially among conservative evangelicals, that they’re not responsible for anything in THIS world, and only waiting for the next. If you want to be like that, go out in the desert like the early ascetics.

    • Just for Quix says:

      The very nature of evil and injustice demands reconciliation. Perhaps one’s ‘savior’ is human bootstraps of effort. Perhaps it is a so-called dispassionate and objective science. Perhaps it is an undefined or differently-defined God. In my case I believe it is a very specific manifestation of God in Jesus Christ.

      To deny that humanity’s reconciliation is needed, however, and that the solution is a greater need than any one person, one community, even one nation can solve alone is so depressing as to make ‘secular humanism’ an oxymoron. Why even the need to give a thought about the matter at all? If the latter is ‘the answer’ there is no need for any imploring about responsibility and justice. Evolutionary perspective alone only demands adaptation — not even a “good” adaptation in the abstract moral sense — only adaptation that better suits the needs of the few or individual that is “evolving”. Such will, by design, assimilate, prevail or win out over less-adapted perspectives (and individuals or groups). The adaption of the few or one, by design, comes at the ‘expense’ of the (non-adapted) many. No greater human good, responsibility or justice is demanded at all.

      Therefore my perspective is that Christianity is a better answer to that greater need of reconciliation — or ‘greater power’. It doesn’t preach a war of competing and evolving paradigms about what standard will win out over in defining the concepts of merit, prosperity and goodness. Instead the Christian gospel preaches incremental, progressive and transformational healing by a perfect standard from outside the fray. God (manifest in Jesus) conquers by graceful gift and submission from outside evolutionary or meritocratic competition through love, persuasion and inner change. From a point of mythology alone it has more power to capture the human imagination and desire for reconciliation than materialist non-theism does.

      Yet I see some partnership — a shared humanity — with believers of different beliefs so long as there is a self-aware grappling with the demands of reconciliation. Once that is conceded we have entered the realm of faith, religion, philosophy, and hope. In hard-core secular humanist and evolutionary materialist perspective I don’t see that willingness to grapple with reconciliation. Where there is obvious and honest grappling by so-called unbelievers I think they have already abandoned the foundation they supposedly rest upon.

      It’s an excellent point that some conservative evangelicals live like functional Platonists, biding their time for an immaterial heaven. With nods to influence from Tom Wright, those who do so are ignoring the foundational hope of the Judeo-Christian paradigm as one of a resurrected, redeemed, righted new world and humanity — that is a material-spirit fusion in time/space reality. As such Christian hope is very “grounded” indeed. Perhaps such evangelicals are failing to live life invigorated by the hope of Christ’s redemption in process. Perhaps they have confused individual salvation for the big picture redemptive Work that Christ is enacting in his creation.

      • I’m not denying our spiritual nature – otherwise how could we create anything, whether it’s a megacomputer, Beethoven’s 9th or the Mona Lisa – I just don’t understand the need for someone to ‘save’ me. If God needed us to be saved, why did he wait 1000s of years before sending a savior? Jews don’t have one. Muslims don’t have one. Nor do Hindus or Buddhists.

        The concept of the Christian belief system – especially those of conservative Christians – are designed to be exclusive in the extreme.

        But I see similar precepts in many systems (Buddhism for example). It seems to me that of all the ancient religions in the Middle East, Christianity is the one that got ‘lucky’ and was able to continue being practiced, first in secret, then promulgated by the Roman Empire, or it likely would have died out too.

        While I can no longer accept the precepts of Christianity, I do believe in a greater Force/Spirit/God of whom we are all a part.

        As for reconciliation, that’s a question of what we are supposed to need reconciliation with. If I have a disagreement with someone, certainly it’s required with that person. If I’m a criminal, certainly it’s required between me and society. But if I’m living by a moral code, and treat people well, what reconciliation is required?

        • Just for Quix says:

          I see an answer in the covenantal narrative of the Christian Bible. I’m not saying it is the only possible answer, but I think it may address your questions. I’ll try to be briefly thorough, though perhaps not complete.

          The covenantal story isn’t primarily about morality and ethics — though this is a significant part of it — but it is primarily about purification sufficient for relationship with God. In order to answer your “Why did God wait” question it may help to remember that the Abrahamic covenant is described as ‘everlasting’ while the Law (old covenant) is not. The Law is a narrative of a nation bound together in holiness (standing apart-ness) and purification code compared to the other societies around them. This nation of hebrews was right by God so long as they were externally right by their community mediated by Moses and the Law, and later a priestly order and Tabernacle system. Blood was the symbol of life and a purification agent to cleanse unintended sin that separated one from community and by extension, God.

          When a deliberate violation of Law (that we might argue today does not always appear to be a ‘moral’ issue) was committed it was either corporal punishment or abominable (worthy of excommunication or exile). Unintended violation was purified by sacrifice or washing rituals. Blood, as the preeminent symbolic purifying life force, was spilled, life was taken, within prescribed limits in order to set the blood, the life-force, of a person (and a nation on the Day of Atonement) right by its Law-keeping, its community identity, and by extension, with God. (As a practical measure the sacrificial system also kept the priestly class and their families sustained with ‘barbecue’ and other measures of material sustenance.)

          Why did God create this system? We see it was a way he maintained a separateness of a nation that, according to the writings of the Tanakh–the Law, the Writings and the Prophets — continually fell in and out of favor with YaHWeH by the quality of their covenantal fidelity to him vs. other god beliefs. That fidelity was measured by Law keeping. It could be that God related to His nation this way because that is they way they were prepared to relate to him. But at least part of the answer is found in Jeremiah and Ezekiel where God says a new covenantal day of spiritual and material restitution would be coming, where God would replace stony hearts with fleshly, yielding hearts. Where he would thereafter always remain their God and they, his people. Where final forgiveness for sin would be enacted. Where material restitution of the hebrew lands would be accomplished. Jews see that day of new covenant still coming. Christians see it as a day that came first to Jews (who rejected Jesus though some accepted) and thereafter to Gentile. And as far as Jeremiah prophecy about the temporal restitution of land and city-state to Israel and Judah, and the day his people would all know him as God, that they day is to come (and is already in process). Even Christians have a very material promise — a new humanity in a new earth kingdom — that is both yet to come and is already in process.

          We also see part of the answer in the book of Hebrews that states that the intention of new covenant manifest in Jesus was to accomplish the promises of God prophesied through Jeremiah. The former sacrificial covenant is shown as the inability to cleanse and change the heart — even as keepers of the Law were externally still right by God as they were externally pure/holy with their community. It is said that it was their faith by which they obeyed they were made fully right with God; the external Law covenant is by extension really about community holiness and purity. Therefore the old covenant served a purpose. Its faithful keepers were still ‘saved’ by God through their faith, but the system showed their relationship with God was an externally-mediated one, instead of a personally-mediated one now wrought once-and-for-all through the sacrificed blood of Christ.

          God’s new covenant is still reflected in moral and ethical statutes, and more so a redeeming creation, but only so far as they emanate from YaHWeH, and are placed into our new yielding hearts by his Spirit. The narrative therefore becomes His work to change humanity and accomplish his works through humanity. Jesus’ submission was the giving and exchanging of his flawless human life-force to his divine identity. (Believers now therefore symbolically sacrifice their own blood and life-force to be reborn in a new identity submitted to God.) There is still a covenantal, sacrificial system in place, but it has been changed from externally driven to internal. Therefore the old system of fellow humans arbitrating holiness for another is shown to be incomplete — and completely unable to change the human heart — compared to God’s work to transform humanity himself.

          Therefore I submit to your consideration that if we do not concede there is a human heart problem that needs reconciliation, then all you are doing — in the meta-mythic sense — is exchanging the “old covenant” merely for a same-but-different meta-mythic version of the “old covenant”: a holiness/morality/rightness you externally arbitrate for yourself, or the group/society/community _you choose_ to reconcile and submit yourself. I submit you have not surrendered to the concept of an external ideal that can be grappled with. Furthermore, unlike every other religious system, only Christianity posits the meta-narrative by which this ideal standard — God in Christ — is personal and was willing (and is willing) to do do the ‘dirty work’ himself to reconcile humanity’s hearts. His intent is to save us from our natural heart condition by changing you, me and our fellow humanity, as messy and imprecise of a proposition as that seems to be, instead of laying the burden of arbitration and reconciliation on us individually. Nor upon the standards of goodness that compete among the marketplace of human societal factions alone.

          Naturally that is the “big covenantal narrative” as I see it. The practical implications are messy and worthwhile for grappling.

          • The fundamental question is whether humans are innately good people capable of evil, or innately evil people capable of good. Or perhaps they are neither and are capable of either one. ‘Good’ is a relative term anyway…

            The question of societal morality is different for each society. Some things, like murder, seem to be universally wrong, while others are not. In Arab societies, for example, more than one wife is acceptable. In the West it is not. So what is ‘moral’ in each human society varies. Since that is the case, I don’t understand how Christians can claim universality any more than any other religion. It’s the narrative you *choose* to believe.

  13. Great thoughts here imonk. Uuuuhhhmmm, wondering, since I am a protestant not too familiar with advent since my “church” that I was raised in didn’t recognize it, is there an on-line daily devotional just for advent season? imonk, maybe this could be a future project?
    Blessings.

  14. I think God must be so happy with the modern church, all the Christians are all so busy buying and selling and building.