Prayer for the First Sunday of Advent

advent-week-one

Almighty God,as your kingdom dawns,

turn us from the darkness of sin to the light of holiness,

that we may be ready to meet you

in our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.

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A Table of Thanks

Sketch by Alfred Waud of Thanksgiving in camp (of General Louis Blenker) during the U.S. Civil War in 1861

Very soon, many of us in the United States will gather around a table with family and friends to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday. The history and “origin story” of this holiday is a little murky, mired in myth and legend. For the traditional celebration in the United States, we are remembering the story where in 1621 (thanks to a great harvest) Pilgrims feasted for three days and invited about 90 of their Native American neighbors to join them. Edward Winslow, one of the attendees, recounts the events of the feast this way:

Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoice together after we had gathered the fruits of our labor. They four in one day killed as much fowl as, with a little help beside, served the company almost a week. At which time, amongst other recreations, we exercised our arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and among the rest their greatest king Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five deer, which we brought to the plantation and bestowed on our governor, and upon the captain and others. And although it be not always so plentiful as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want that we often wish you partakers of our plenty.
From Mourt’s Relation Or Journal of the Plantation at Plymouth

What strikes me about this account of the “first thanksgiving” is how happy they were at the abundant harvest and the over-abundance of fowl and deer. I find the mention of “amongst other recreations, we exercised our arms” interesting. Whether this means they shot their guns recreationally or they actually had the freedom to exercise  their arms and hands and not work with them, I am not sure. But, this type of excitement and recreation is something I think we have little context for in the United States. Many of us are so far removed from hunger and the concept of needing a harvest to survive that reading this account becomes quaint rather than feeling the immense joy and celebration of life that I think the account is getting at.

What challenges me about this account, in light of the Thanksgiving feast many of us will be enjoying, is the response of the Pilgrims to this abundance. They did not hoard it, they did not store it silos, they did not “exercise their arms” in defense of the abundance, they did not try to profit off the abundant harvest, and they did not waste it.

They were unselfish and benevolent with their blessing.

When the 90 Native Americans showed up, nobody drove them away because they were outsiders. There were no cries of, “You don’t deserve this…you didn’t work for this!” The 90 Native Americans did not try to steal the harvest or say, “You wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for us.” No, everyone shared in the blessing of the great harvest and everyone was welcomed to the table. Benevolence led to even more abundance and benevolence. The Pilgrims shared with the Native Americans and they, in turn, hunted deer and brought even more food to the table to share.

This reminds of the story of the infant church at the end of Acts 2:

All the believers were united and shared everything. They would sell pieces of property and possessions and distribute the proceeds to everyone who needed them. Every day, they met together in the temple and ate in their homes. They shared food with gladness and simplicity. They praised God and demonstrated God’s goodness to everyone. The Lord added daily to the community those who were being saved
Acts 2:44-47 (CEB)

A tradition at our table, and I know at many others, is to go around and talk about what we are thankful for. I fully support this tradition and think it is a good idea to consider our blessings and to recount what we are thankful for. However, this story challenges me to make an extra step in giving thanks. The story of the first thanksgiving is not notable that the people gave thanks for their abundance, it is notable because they celebrated and gave thanks by sharing. Again, to quote the above account, “by the goodness of God, we are so far from want that we often wish you partakers of our plenty.” In the account of the early Church, the demonstration of God’s goodness comes through sharing with those in need, “with gladness and simplicity.” So, instead of just saying what you are thankful for this year, share how what you’re thankful for moves you to share that blessing with others.

If you’re thankful for your family, invite people to your table who might not have a family to share a meal with.

If you’re thankful for your food, share your meal with someone who might go hungry.

If you’re thankful for your health, spend some time with those who are sick or burdened by extreme healthcare costs.

If you’re thankful for your job, spend some time with (or donate some money to) those who can’t find work or (due to circumstances outside their control) are unable to work.

If you’re thankful for your freedom (to vote, to worship, etc.), spend some time learning about or listening to those who do not have the same freedoms.

Thankfulness shouldn’t just end with us. As the story of the first thanksgiving shows us, our thankfulness should cause us to create moments of thankfulness in others by inviting others in and by sharing out of our abundance and blessing.

When the Story is Co-Opted

Watching TV a few nights ago, my wife and I were subjected to this little bit of commercial advertising.

My wife was appalled. She is a pretty big Hunger Games fan. She’s read all the books, she’s eagerly anticipating the release of the final film and she re-watches the previous movies regularly. Seeing characters she loves get pushed into a commercial endeavor did not sit well with her. We’ve actually taken to picking apart car commercials regularly at our house as they very often have little to do with the car and more to do with the image/status/feeling you get from driving said car. At first, I was amused at my wife’s discontent at the use of her beloved characters. But the more I thought about it and rattled around my limited knowledge of the Hunger Games story (admittedly I’ve only seen the movies) the more I realized how disjointed, forced and blatantly co-opted this whole commercial is.

Mainly, it seems that the people in District 12, where main characters Katniss and Peeta come from, would never be able to afford the luxury of a Chrysler, or any kind of car for that matter. Katniss had to beg for bread to feed her family. District 12 is the poorest of the districts and it’s people mine coal to power the Capital rather than warm their own houses. The quote from the commercial, “Where you’ve been is part of your story,” seems to suggest some kind of suffering on the part of Chrysler, ala that experienced by Katniss, Peeta and District 12. This is your standard “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” mentality so popular in America. I don’t know about you, but Chrysler seems pretty blind to the context of their own story let alone the story of the Hunger Games. You might recall that Chrysler was given nearly $12 billion in bailout money from the government (*cough* the Capital *cough*) and was eventually bought out by Fiat. I don’t know who’s pulling who’s bootstraps here, but Chrysler sure didn’t pull their own. Chrysler does not seem to even understand their story.

I mean, seriously, they're riding chariots here. Do they even have cars in Panem?

I mean, seriously, they’re riding chariots here. Do they even have cars in Panem?

Oh, and of course there’s the atrocity of the Hunger Games spectacle, the violence of the rebellion and the general abuse of propaganda and story between factions in the Hunger Games that Chrysler seems to ignore.

It’s easy, and a little fun to pick at Chrysler for this blatant commercial co-opting of a much deeper story. But, this blog was not started to pick on Chrysler and our over-commercialized culture. How about we turn the microscope inward a bit?

How often do we co-opt the Bible, God’s story and the Christian narrative for our own purposes? One does not have to look far down their Facebook or Twitter feeds to see friends, pastors and political leaders using pieces from the Bible to seemingly prop up and round up support for their chosen cause.

Imagine if this Chrysler commercial had been cut with video of Samson getting his hair cut by Delilah and then him killing all the Philistines while blinded. Or David getting chased by Saul and then being crowned king. Or Peter denying Jesus and then him giving a heroic speech after Pentecost.

Or…imagine if they had cut it with Jesus dying on the cross and then resurrecting from the dead?

It’s easy, convenient and ego boosting to feel like the Bible is talking about us, our culture wars and issues of the day. This is what we do when we pick and choose verses to support our own claims. We propagandize the Bible when we pull stories out of context and fail to take in the breadth and depth of God’s narrative so that we might get a spiritual leg up on someone else.

Now, don’t get me wrong…the Bible has a lot to say about a lot of issues. But, we have to let the Bible say what the Bible is saying. There is so much depth to the Bible than just a political agenda. The Bible says much about living this life now rather than punching our ticket to the salvation of Heaven. The wealth of King Solomon can only truly be understood when compared to the apparent lack of wealth, and charity, of Jesus and the post-resurrection disciples. We do a deep disservice to the 2000+ years of history and people, struggle and suffering bound up in the pages of Scripture when we tack it’s verses to our outrage de jour.

What I’m basically saying is, we would do better to listen and ingest the words in Scripture rather than speak them constantly and use them for our own purposes. Otherwise, we will succumb to a similar temptation like Chrysler and ignore the whole story for the sake of telling an, ego-driven, commercially white-washed and board of directors approved version of our own story. When we listen to the story of Scripture, we are invited into it and are called to be our true selves in the midst of it’s revelation.

We offer ourselves to the God revealed in Scripture through Jesus, not the other way around.

We are co-opted into the story of God, not vice versa.

Then and only then can we honestly accept God when we’re told (not when we say), “Where you’ve been is part of your story.”