Monroe Congregational Church, UCC
December 2, 2001 Rev Maria Hoaglund

There is a syndrome which has come to be called the "CNN Complex." Remember? It all began during the Gulf War, when people around the world became glued to their television screens, watching the same battle scenes and ballistic attacks over and over again. The CNN Complex has come to mean more generally our addiction to news and bulletins - in a nutshell, our addiction to information. (More recently, since 9/11, and then the War in Afghanistan, people are no doubt more tuned into the news due to fears and worries about another terrorist attack...) There is certainly an enormous amount of information out in the world today, and unfortunately, much of the info which gets circulated is fear-based. And the point does not seem to be whether or not we understand the information. We seem to have become pathologically addicted simply to the material, or the information ITSELF. We take in information without digesting it, and we do this without even realizing it all the time!

If you doubt this, you might try an experiment: Next time you see someone glance at their watch, go to them right away and ask them what time it is. How many will be able to tell you without looking at their watch again? Probably hardly anyone! Almost everyone you ask will need to consult his or her watch all over again to let you know the time. We have come to crave info for info's sake, and we take in info CONSTANTLY without comprehending it.

The challenge of honoring Advent - the season of patiently waiting for and getting READY for the coming of the Christ - might be analagous to our breaking OUT of the CNN Complex in our lives and to enter into a world in which info becomes true knowledge and wisdom. Advent helps us to break down the walls we build between and within our emotional and intellectual and spiritual systems and reminds us that it's all right to wonder again, that there IS, indeed, mystery, and magic, and surprise in life. In fact, these are the realities which TRULY matter in life!

Ponder for a moment the ambivalence we have toward the element of surprise in our lives today. It used to be socially acceptable to just "drop by" a friend's or neighbor's home for a visit; unexpected callers were as welcome and refreshing as a spring shower. Today, however, much though we might yearn to have someone pay us a surprise visit, a more likely analogy might compare the unannounced visitor with a typhoon - something we surely wouldn't want on OUR doorstep, no matter HOW drought-stricken we may be....!

The gospel text this morning urges us, as we are now entering Advent, the Season of Surprise, to be on our toes! Our God is a surprising, mysterious God, who has acted in wondrous, unpredictable ways since the very beginning of creation. Advent is a time to prepare for the miraculous birth of Christ into our world. But from year to year we can never really predict precisely WHEN that event will occur for each one of us in our OWN lives. Christ does not enter each of our worlds at the stroke of midnite on Dec. 25th.... Christ probably has entered our lives MANY times between December 25th of 2000 and now. And Christ will no doubt enter our lives many times during Advent and past Christmas of 2001!

"I hope I'm not intruding." How many times have we heard or said these words? We don't usually like to take people by surprise, or to interrupt their settled plans and processes, probably because we ourselves aren't eager to BE surprised, interrupted... But as William Sloan Coffin reminded me long ago in one of his sermons, life is MADE UP of interruptions (intrusions), and these become for us often the most important STUFF of life!!!

One of my favorite pieces on Advent comes from Fr. Henri Nouwen in his book Gracias. Fr. Nouwen writes while on a long stay in Central Am.:

It is Advent again. In his sermon this morning, Oscar Uzin said: Be alert, be alert, so that you will be able to recognize your Lord in your husband, your wife, your parents, your children, your friends, your teachers, but also in all that you read in the daily papers. The Lord is coming, always coming. Be alert to (Christ's) coming. When you have ears to hear and eyes to see, you will recognize Christ at any moment of your life. Life is Advent; life is recognizing the coming of the Lord.

We are reminded in this season of Advent that our God is an INTRUSIVE God. Indeed, we might say that Jesus the Christ was the biggest intruder in all of history! His birth, the Word made flesh, was THE GREAT INTRUSION - of the eternal into the temporal, the divine into the human, the spiritual in the material. The entire Bible, Old AND New Testaments, testifies to the power of an intrusive God to break into our channel-flicking, information-overloaded, mall-shopping, oil-guzzling, over-indulged and addicted lifestyles - sometimes by side-swiping, sometimes by rear-ending, sometimes by coming head-on - with the news of God's amazing grace and love.

Perhaps one of the ways we might help ourselves "wake up" and wait for God's coming during this Advent is to SIMPLIFY our lives. There are all kinds of ways in which we might simplify our lives, but I'd like to share with you four ways which came to me awhile ago through a friend who had seen an "Women with Wings" article in a UCC packet that was sent to her.

SIMPLICITY: Secret for savoring the holidays! ...There is a way to stay centered, on course, balanced. The secret is very simple.

Step One: Invite SILENCE into your days. At every opportunity, just be still. Think for a minute of all that makes noise in your hours. Imagine what you can silence. Be quiet for five minutes (or more!) twice a day. (Turn that TV off - esply when you notice that it's creating fear in you...) Planned silence is a very good idea. It's like taking your vitamins, or brushing your teeth; just do it!

Step Two: BREATHE deeply, intentionally, fully! Feel the breath energy come up from the earth beneath your feet. Feel the breath energy exhale through you from the sky. Do this for 30 seconds, five times a day.

Step Three: FOCUS exclusively on what you are doing at the moment. Sometimes it's amazing how rarely we are where we are. More often than not, our bodies are in one place while our minds are in several others. We need to manage the stimulus in our lives. Do we really need all those radio and TV commercials? Or what about radio and TV "background" static? How often each day do we really WANT to deal with the local and world tragedies on the news?

Step Four: ENOUGH is like the horizon, always receding. Sometimes we loose the ability to identify that point of sufficiency at which we can stop. Each of us can identify for ourselves that point at which we have enough for survival, enough for comforts and enough for a few luxuries. Beyond enough is clutter! The slippery slope of clutter is fueled by a belief that "more is better"; or "if I have more, I'll have enough." Let us reduce our consumption during this Advent and create a new way of BEING starting from today.

So, I invite us ALL to invite silence into our days, to breathe deeply and appreciate the simple gift of being alive; to focus exclusively on what we are doing at the moment; and to reduce our consumption, recognizing that "place of enough" each day during this Advent.

In closing, let me share with you some selections from an Advent prayer:

Advent is our homecoming.

A returning to our rootedness, A time to cut ol wood, and make space for new things to grow.

Advent is the season of hope; a time of visions and dreams.

The Advent vision promises a SHIFT in the world.

Adversaries and enemies will become friends When the One Who Rules with Justice reigns. ...

God's dreams are entrusted to us as God's people each day, when we listen to God's voice,

we stake our lives on the fact that these dreams not only have begun to come true in the incarnation,
birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, but are also coming true in our incarnations, births, lives, deaths and resurrections in the community of God's Spirit.

So, welcome to Advent! This is our wake up call! God is coming!

Are we ready to be shaken out of our ruts and complacency?

Do we trust our faith enough to listen and to believe?

May we be open to listening WITH OUR HEARTS to that still small voice within!

Amen. So be it!