Adventus. Advent. That period of time we have come to know as the lead up to Christmas and the coming of Christ. But over the years, it has become much more than the start of the Christian calendar and the four Sundays before Christmas.
Starting as early as August, we start to see the advertisements, we see the store decorations, we begin to see the sales in stores.
Adventus. It long meant the coming of someone notable. Now, it is more likely to mean the coming of Black Friday. The season is filled with requests for money to gain that last-minute tax deduction. Groups supporting schism in the denomination asking for money. Groups advocating for photo ops rather than true ministry wanting donations. Organizations and agencies that have become rudderless ships with no moral compass, pleading for funds.
For many years now, my struggle with Advent has been an internal battle. I have sought to find my own place within the Body of Christ amidst the sacrilege of the commercialized season. It has seemed to be a spiritual war that has lasted all too long. And one I wasn’t sure that I would see spiritual victory in my life.
This year, it dawned on me, with, sudden insight, that it is not about the coming of Christ in my life. No, it is something far more important.
Our family spent a couple of days at my wife’s family Christmas (a few days early) in Clarendon, Texas. On the way there, we drove by First United Methodist Church in Childress to “check it out,” as an appointment we might someday see. The trip to Clarendon was not notable, it was simply a road trip.
A good time was had by all. Good food, Good company. Fun for the kids and fellowship for the adults. Fun gifts and tales of the past year. But something was amiss. Some void in my heart and soul.
On the way back to Weatherford, also along Highway 287, while Shelly and the boys drifted off to sleep, the road trip became a tour of history for me.
For those of you who know me, you know my vocation. For those of you who don’t, I have been doing anti-death penalty work for 30 years. I have worked on many defense teams trying to prevent my clients from receiving a death sentence or trying to get those individuals off death row through the appellate system.
I remembered visiting the father of one of my clients in Clarendon many years ago. The father was a fireman at Pantex. My client was a member of the Aryan Circle, charged with Capital Murder for the killing of another white supremacist. We saved his life.
The next memory was driving through Memphis, Texas. We represented a young man who burned the high school down. We kept him from spending all of his remaining life in prison.
Along came Wichita Falls. We represented a man, horribly abused as a child, convicted of killing a drug dealer. We were able to spare his life.
Next stop along the way home was Montague County. We went to trial with a nurse charged with killing 10 patients under her care. After a pair of mistrials, we were able to plead her, thus saving her life.
Finally, also in Montague County, I was on a defense team that represented a young man charged with killing the grandparents of his girlfriend. The two murder victims, coincidently were named Mr. and Mrs. Christmas. After a hung jury, a plea bargain resulted in saving the client’s life.
As I recounted the events surrounding these spots on the road home, my mind turned to my current clients facing the death penalty, one of whom is in the Tarrant County Detention Center. So, after this morning’s worship, my service began. I packed up my briefcase and headed to the jail.
I sat with my client for well over two hours on Christmas Eve, struggling to be understood in my pitiful Spanish and his being patient as I struggled for words. He tried to help me as best he could in his English that was equal to my Spanish. And as the conversation came to a close, he asked if books could be sent to him. I informed him that, yes, indeed they could be if they came from the distributor only. I inquired as to what types of books he wanted. He told me he was interested in history. He also was interested in cars. I sensed that he wanted something else but he was holding back. So I simply asked “¿Te gustaría una Santa Biblia?” (Would you like a Holy Bible?). His reply: “Venga si.” (Oh, yes.)
Adventus. Advent. The coming of Christ in someone else’s life, facilitated because I entered into a relationship with one who many would have turned their back against.
Saved from the Christianity of bad theology, saved from the Christianity of bigotry and judgment, saved from the probability of missing the coming of Christ to one desperate for the Word. And saved from the false meaning of Christmas and corrected so well centuries ago by the Vatican.
Christi dein adventus salutis eventus fuit quo sua ex infirmitate erepta est ratio atque impedimentis liberata quibus ipsa sese omnino incluserat.
The coming of Christ was the saving event which redeemed reason from its weakness, setting it free from the shackles in which it had imprisoned itself.
May Advent be the unshackling of our reason, our tradition, and our experience so that we may read the Word, hear the Word, know the Word, but most importantly, respond to the Word in making Disciples of Jesus Christ for the Transformation of the World. Disciples…wherever they be found.
Adventus. Advent. May the hope of the coming of Christ last more than four weeks. May it always be in our hearts.