The Seasonal Practice:
SPEND ONE DAY IN SERVICE
And he humbled himself. Taking the very nature of a servant.
As Phillippians so eloquently reminds us, the incarnation was the greatest act of service in all of history. God comes down, so that we might come up.
How far our holidays drift from the essential truth that gave rise to them - Christ has served us, let us serve others.
We ought to ask ourselves, what traditions are worth creating? If we could start over, how would we memorialize the act of the incarnation? How would we celebrate it?
Humbling ourselves and serving come to mind - and yet I am confounded by how to practice it.
With our three boys getting to the ages where they are beginning to be aware of Christmas traditions, my wife and I have begun to rethink how we should celebrate certain parts of the holidays. One of the things we have wanted to add - but have never done before - is making it a tradition to do something that engages our children in the difficult realities of justice in the world. Something that reminds them that all is not OK, things are not merry, and this is why we long to have a King come again.
Yet the idea of a service project is fraught with doubts, for lots of good reasons. The idea of "serving" the less fortunate is often an excuse to check a box and feel good about yourself. It is often very unhelpful to the poor. It is often an annual practice that relieves us of the responsibility to be for and with the poor in ways that actually change things. We easily forget that what they need is not one-off acts of kindness, but institutional changes that reform the oppression they live under, and incarnational changes that bring the Gospel to hearts that did not know it.
If you worry about these things, know that I worry about them along with you. And yet it is still true that our default holiday practices - all the things we will do simply by deciding to do nothing - don't do us any better.
Neither we or the poor are better off by the way we focus for a season trying to discover what we "really want." No one is better off by the frenzy of trying to get the right gift for each person. And yet, these are the pursuits that occupy most of our time in December.
The point of the day of service in Advent is not to solve the problem of poverty - you won't - but to reconfigure what you think the world is about. Is it about getting what we want? Or is about denying what we want, so that we can find what we need?
I will keep you updated as my wife and I try to think about Advent traditions that bring the realities of justice and injustice to our doorstep during a season where most things are just bringing Amazon packages to our doorstep.
Whatever you or I land on, my hope is that it will bring a longing for Jesus the King to the forefront of the season.
The fact is that we long to see the end of homelessness in our city, and yet I can't figure out why the one guy on my block can't keep a stable job. Come Lord Jesus. We long to see schools prepare children for life instead of prepare them for prison, but I am struggling to educate my own children well. Come Lord Jesus. We long to see an end to war, and yet my family keeps fighting. Come Lord Jesus. We long to invite the refugee in, and yet I struggle to invite my neighbor in. Come Lord Jesus.
Above all, may this practice not help us feel better about ourselves, but help us long more truly for the King who will come.
I'll keep you updated on ideas, in the meantime, send me some if your church, community or family has meaningful ways to hear the cries of injustice amidst the noise of the holidays.