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My Yoke Is Easy

It's mid-November, and it's starting to look like Christmas.

I saw a Facebook post that someone has already put up the Christmas tree.

Holiday lights are starting to show up on houses.

Christmas fabric is on sale at Joann Fabrics, and Fourth of July fabric is out.

Only in my adult life did I encounter people who don't put up Christmas trees until Christmas Eve or forbid the playing of Christmas carols until December 25. December is Advent, and Christmas must not intrude.

I'm not sure how you can have a "pure" advent with the intrusion of the commercial Christmas season. But some people make it work.

In the Celtic tradition, we're a week into Advent. Tradition has it that a 40-day period of fasting was started on the Feast of St. Martin of Tours (November 11), leading up to Christmas.

It's a lovely mirror of Lent, also a time of preparation.

While looking for something else, I ran across one of the Advent Gospel readings from last year: Matthew 11.

This is the reading where John is in prison. He sends someone to Jesus to ask if Jesus is "the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?"

Jesus tells them to report what they've seen: that people are being healed, and that the good news is being shared.

He then tells the people that no one is greater than John.

That's where the traditional Advent Gospel reading ends. John is recognized as fulfilling the prophecy of preparing the way for the Messiah.

It's always worth reading more.

The on-line search I was doing was set to a Bible translation called The Message. It's a contemporary wording of the Bible.

What follows is a reading that we heard in July of this year:

"Are you listening to me? Really listening?

"How can I account for this generation? The people have been like spoiled children whining to their parents, 'We wanted to skip rope, and you were always too tired; we wanted to talk, but you were always too busy.' John came fasting and they called him crazy. I came feasting and they called me a lush, a friend of the riffraff. Opinion polls don't count for much, do they? The proof of the pudding is in the eating."

Next Jesus let fly on the cities where he had worked the hardest but whose people had responded the least, shrugging their shoulders and going their own way....

Abruptly Jesus broke into prayer: "Thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth. You've concealed your ways from sophisticates and know-it-alls, but spelled them out clearly to ordinary people. Yes, Father, that's the way you like to work."

Jesus resumed talking to the people, but now tenderly. "The Father has given me all these things to do and say. This is a unique Father-Son operation, coming out of Father and Son intimacies and knowledge. No one knows the Son the way the Father does, nor the Father the way the Son does. But I'm not keeping it to myself; I'm ready to go over line by line with anyone willing to listen.

"Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you'll recover your life. I'll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me--watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won't lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you'll learn to live freely and lightly."

(You might recognize the last section in its more traditional translation: "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.")

I love that Jesus could call people out for their hypocrisy when they criticized John for fasting and Jesus for feasting. He could be harsh on the people he had worked the hardest to reach.

And I think the last paragraph represents Advent wonderfully: "Get away with me and You'll recover your life. I'll show you how to take a real rest... Learn the unforced rhythms of grace."

Whether you're observing a Celtic Advent, a pure Advent, or an Advent that recognizes the cultural forces of Christmas, take time to recover your life, learn how to rest, and learn the rhythms of grace.

- Ann Iona Warner


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