With the arrival of the Advent season this weekend, we begin our new church year. Many churches internationally use the same church calendar. This helps us not only remember and reflect upon key events in Jesus’ life and that of the early church, but enables Christians all over the world to be focused upon similar biblical stories day in and day out creating a synergy among followers of Jesus.
Advent, which means coming, is the season in which we prepare to celebrate Jesus’ birth while anticipating His return. Other seasons include Epiphany, Lent, Pentecost etc., each with specific focal points. On a side note, you may notice that our wall hangings and the stoles clergy wear all reflect the current season. You will notice an abundance purple now in the Chapel, which is the color representing Advent.
Advent becomes more meaningful as we engage and immerse ourselves in a sense of anticipation not only for Jesus coming again, but for His daily arrival in our daily joys and sorrows. Advent also is, of course, when people all over America feel enhanced pressure and distress over all the demands of the season, both real and perceived. And as we approach Christmas, which is joyful for many, I invite us all to keep squarely in view that this can be a brutal time of year for others.
Grief, loss, physical illness and family separation exacerbate emotional upset, but so does mental illness. Mental illness is widespread in our country. Sadly, pervasive effective treatment does not yet exist in all areas and potent stigmas remain. CS Lewis once wrote, “Mental pain is less dramatic than physical pain, but it is more common and more hard to bear. The frequent attempt to conceal mental pain increases the burden. It is easier to say ‘My tooth is aching’ than to say ‘My heart is broken.’”
As we begin this season of Advent, I invite us all to be sensitive to those around us who are struggling and to be intentional with our sensitivity. While how to do this is beyond the scope of this blog, remember that listening rather than speaking, being empathic rather than offering advice, asking questions rather than making assumptions, simply taking the time to be present without an agenda and diligently praying for the person, all go a long way as we join others in their healing journey.
A great gift we can give to others is to invite them to share and bring their pain into, and alongside of, the joy we may be feeling during the season. This is why Paul wrote, “When others are happy, be happy with them. If they are sad, share their sorrow.” (Romans 12:15 TLB) While there is much work to be done with regard to mental illness, there is much that each of us can do to help alleviate and share the burden of others. Know that I along with our entire Snowmass Chapel team are here to help.
Jesus’ loving presence in our lives is the greatest gift of all, and we can share that gift with those who need it the most. After all, the reason for the season is precisely this: Jesus came into the world to end destruction, pain and suffering. He came to mend a broken world and to heal our broken hearts. The true meaning of Christmas is that God has come near to us in our suffering. Often, His presence is felt most palpably in the presence of someone who cares.
Recently I came across an article written a few years ago by Tullian Tchividjian. The title of the article is “Theology of Glory vs. Theology of the Cross.” These terms have been around at least since the 1500’s when Martin Luther wrote about these two ways of viewing God and human life.
While the reality that these two lenses exist through which to view our existence is complex and subject to much discussion, I like how Tchividjian summarizes them.
He writes, “Theologies of glory are approaches to Christianity and to life that try in various ways to minimize painful and difficult things or move past them rather than looking them square in the face and accepting them. Theologies of glory acknowledge the cross, but view it primarily as a means to an end, an unpleasant but necessary step to personal improvement, the transformation of human potential…
A theology of glory prefers works to suffering, glory to the cross, strength to weakness, and wisdom to folly. A theology of glory operates on the assumption that what we need is some optimistic encouragement, some flattery, some positive thinking, some support to build our self-esteem.
A theology of the cross, in contrast, understands the cross to be the ultimate statement of God’s involvement in the world on this side of heaven. A theology of the cross accepts the difficult thing rather than immediately trying to change it or use it. It looks directly into pain. A theology of the cross defines life in terms of giving rather than taking, self-sacrifice rather than self-protection, dying rather than killing. Such theology shows us we win by losing, triumph through defeat, and we become rich by giving ourselves away.”
If we spend time thinking about these two perspectives, you can see them play out in the lives of people day in and day out by where people focus, how people speak, and how people approach life. It has also been said that third world countries tend to adopt more of a theology of the cross than first world countries do. In fact, it is suggested that first and third world countries need to more closely understand and appreciate such differences in perspective.
Wherever one is with regard to these two approaches to life and God, I believe it is essential to embrace them both. If we don’t, we can become desensitized to pain and distort reality to such a point we become blind to widespread massive suffering. Conversely, we can focus so much on pain we can lose hope and our ability to see God powerfully acting in the world for good in amazing ways.
The theology of the cross reminds us who saves us and that we are wholly dependent upon God, while the theology of glory causes us to remember the talents God has given each of us to use in changing what is wrong in order to continue to bring about what is right. The theologies of the cross and the glory remind me too that while the sun sets, it also rises and that when the sun rises, it also sets.
Our views about ourselves, our opinions, our politics, our way of relating to God and others are all influenced by these two perspectives. I invite us all to see the necessary wisdom in both.