In 2014, George Monbiot suggested loneliness may be a leading cause of death when he stated:
“Social isolation is as potent a cause of early death as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Loneliness is twice as deadly as obesity.”
Our experience this year tells us there is truth to Monbiot’s words. We feel it in our bones—a sadness and despair rooted in the isolation and ongoing battle against COVID19.
In fact, a study in late June revealed a marked increase in depression and substance abuse. The enormous amount of illnesses and deaths COVID19 causes is certainly reeking its own kind of internal despair. The associated isolation and sequestering, the loss of meaningful human touch, and life-giving revenue form a perfect storm of stress and anxiety, leading to an increase in depression, addiction, and despair.
Advent And Our Communal Cravings
We experience isolation induced depression because we crave community.
Quaker author Parker Palmer suggests one’s heart seeks and discovers security within one’s larger community:
“Community is a place where the connections felt in our hearts make themselves known in the bonds between people, and where the tuggings and pullings of those bonds keep opening our hearts.”
Palmer is onto something we need to notice: our heart blooms in the context of community. In some ways, I am who I am because of those around me.
One practice I have enjoyed this year is my journey with the historic Christian calendar. It is vital for many reasons; one of them is the rhythm of the calendar locates me within the Christian church’s larger community both today and yesterday.
Advent Repairs The Wreckage of Individualism
In other words, when I participate in the Christian calendar, I do so within a community of thousands of others around the world and millions who have done so before me. It’s a historic, contemporary, and future communal experience all rolled into this moment in time. A community living before me, existing with me, and continuing long after I am gone.
The Christian Calendar is, indeed, a pattern and rhythm – even a symbol – pointing to the reality of how one individual life is wrapped within and shaped by the larger context of a vast community!
The Christian Calendar begins with the Season of Advent. A season uniquely designed to wreck my individualism and challenge me to see beyond myself.
We desperately need this rhythm in the life of the church, particularly in America. This year has been difficult for so many of us. Sadly, rather than bringing us together, the circumstances of the year have often torn us apart.
This tearing apart results from strategic and politicized efforts designed to divide us into we/they camps. But it is fundamentally grounded in individualism and the idolatry that lurks within the human heart. When caught in the trap of individualism, it’s easy to believe freedom is a right earned, which now must be preserved and protected. The Gospel Advent proclaims paints an entirely different picture regarding how we obtain freedom and the responsibility we bear because of it!
Advent Reimagines Freedom Within the Context of Community
I’d like to propose how the Season of Advent imagines freedom as a gift to share with others; a gift designed to benefit the larger community!
To understand the gift of freedom Advent imagines, we turn to the story of Luke and the Angelic host who first appear to star-struck shepherds. This story is retold in Luke 2:10-12,
10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.”
The initial proclamation of Christ’s freedom is portrayed as a gift to be received. Notice the repetition of the term you. Advent, in this way, is a stark reminder that I can do nothing to earn this gift. In fact, the opposite is true: I’ve done much to forfeit it.
Further, this Angelic announcement is not about a free gift reserved for one individual or a few shepherds. The gift is provided to bring joy to all. It’s designed to be received, yes, but it’s also given to be shared!
Like us, the earliest Christian communities struggled with their new-found freedom in Christ and how His gift orients us to the larger world.
Advent Delivers A Gift Grace Best Shared With Others
In Galatians 5:13-15 we read:
“13 For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. 14 For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.”
If we overlay Luke and Galatians, then one might say that Advent imagines freedom as:
- A gift we receive,
- Designed to share with others,
- In such a way that we are bound to one another.
In other words, the gift of freedom Advent imagines forges a new community and then forms it into a called-out and called-together community. A community bound to each other as a slave is to master.
Freedom is principally an invitation to become a vital and life-giving participant in a larger community. A community whose needs are often greater and more glaring than one’s own needs.
In an age of social distancing, mask-rebellion, political posturing, and fighting for our rights, it’s terribly easy to get caught up in the idea that freedom is something to hoard rather than share. The question Advent begs is not “What steps must I take to protect my freedom?” but “What is the most loving action I can take in response to the freedom Christ’s grace provides?”
Questions to Orient us to Others
As I live into the joy Advent offers, I am compelled to explore the questions Advent is asking.
How am I using my freedom? To fiercely preserve and protect what I think belongs to me?
If so, what if I allowed Advent to overwhelm my individualism and reframe my freedom as a gift to be joyfully received and extravagantly shared?
Let’s not miss the season because we are too caught up in ourselves!
Next week, I may take a quick detour and write about Pornography. I need to update you on the strides businesses are taking to prevent access to porn, which will slow the demise of our nation!