For some of us who spend all together too much time in places like this, today is Advent 1, the Sunday of Hope, the first Sunday of the season that culminates in Christmas. In the church-world, this is the also the first Sunday of a new church-year, and we begin a fresh annual romp through the gospels by returning to Matthew.
Yet for those who do not have their noses on page 1 of the New Testament, today may also be “No-Name Sunday” which comes smack-dab in the middle a national shopping spree!
Here’s how NPR describes it – and if you’re not familiar with the term “Grey Thursday” it was coined to describe the stores that open on Thanksgiving evening in an attempt to get the jump on Friday shoppers.
After Grey Thursday, Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and No Clever Name For It Sunday, we're on to Cyber Monday and already looking ahead to Giving Tuesday.
The Sunday of the first big shopping season of the holidays doesn't seem to have been given a special name by the news media or the retail industry. It sort of gets lumped into the Black Friday hooh-hah. Maybe there's also a smidgen of respect for Sunday.
In addition to dashing through the snow to the malls, and despite the meteoritic increase in on-line shopping and marketing, our mailboxes continue to be jammed with glossy catalogs, typically sent by retailers to whom we are known! Would be a fun little exercise in sociology to create a character sketch based upon the catalogues one receives!
My mailbox is often stuffed with ones from Harry and David, some fruitcake producing monks, Lands End, LL Bean, Orvis, Ex-Officio, and the like. Around this time of year, a common feature in most clothing catalogs is the saccharin selection of matching family pajamas.
You know what I’m talking about: gaggles of happy multi-generational family members in matching or coordinated PJs, often including Santa hats! The happy clan is often sprawled on a sofa near a Christmas tree and a roaring fire, perhaps with steaming mugs of cocoa. The expressions so sweet they should come with a dose of insulin; the composition so “Brady Bunch” even Norman Rockwell would gag.
Yet, something tells me these sets of pajamas do sell! Case in point, on Tuesday morning during Bible Study at Panera, whilst we were laughing at the expense of folks who don this particular form of gay apparel, of one of the participants pulled out her phone and somewhat sheepishly showed us a picture of her, her husband, and their dog in matching sky-blue penguin pajamas! To protect just a shred of her dignity, I promised Sue Getman that I wouldn’t mention her name!
But think about the message those sets of festive pajamas send: health, happiness, peace, unity, love, joy, contentment? By the way, you’ll be hard pressed to find any hint of diversity in any of those catalog photographs. When I searched “diversity family pajamas”, Google just laughed!
What better message for the harried, anxious, and over-burdened consumer this or any other Christmas season than the chance to bestow happiness, peace, and contentment on their families? But wait! There’s more! You get all of that AND cute frolicking penguins wearing matching scarves to boot!
Peace, contentment, happiness – those aren’t ideals germane to Madison Avenue, no, they’ve been the quest of human beings almost from the beginning of time – and their lure is equally timeless.
Isaiah paints a “matching pajamas” picture of humanity streaming up to God’s mountaintop. Jew and Gentile alike, in coordinated hues of human desire, alike in their quest to seek God, matching in their zeal for peace, waddling in the ascent to divine proximity.
At their core, humans seek God.
I believe that – just as I believe that at least one of you is planning to clad your family in matching pajamas this season!
But it’s not our clothing or skin color or temperament or religion or any other visible characteristic that makes us matching human beings – it’s that at our core, all humans seek God.
Of course, we use different names, constructs, depictions, methods, routes, and reasons – but all of us have something within us that compels us to seek something outside of us.
People need instruction at crucial points in their lives and soon figure out that the garbage spewed by culture and commerce is nothing more than faulty direction from flawed teachers.
In Isaiah’s bucolic benediction one sees God’s word and presence as evident and compelling, humanity converging in its shared desire for divine instruction. We will, in Isaiah’s eyes, all seek God together and God will be present. From there, God’s word will go forth and that word is justice. From justice comes transformation – the kind of transformation in which implements of war become tools of nourishment.
Sure, yearnings for harmony are as foolhardy as believing that sleepwear cut from the same fabric will mend rift and discord in families; and yes, craving the way things used to be only leads to disillusionment and discouraged souls. It’s a lot easier to pin our hopes on presents and feasts than believing in something so seemingly impossible.
Isaiah presents not simply a picture-perfect tableau of harmonized humanity sprawled in comfort and joy – but rather issues an invitation.
Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the house of the God of Jacob.
Psalm 122 opens with the same enticement:
I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord!”
Movement. Motion. Intention. Pilgrimage.
Both Isaiah and the psalmist issue a call to pilgrimage. Take the first step. Begin the pilgrimage offered to all humanity to seek God. Just take a step. Just one and in the midst of this hyperactive season begin or renew your journey to the One who is the source of life, the essence of love, and the reason for hope.
Along the way, the psalmist provides guideposts for our Advent journey…
Pray – always for fellow travelers, for the land upon which you trek, for stamina and fortitude, for compassion and forbearance. Pray for the peace of Jerusalem.
Praise God – that thanksgiving would be a way of and to life. Give thanks to the name of the Lord
Seek Peace – For the sake of my relatives and friends I will say, “Peace be within you.”.
Discover purpose – For the sake of the house of the Lord our God, I will seek your good. Is that not our highest calling? To seek the good for all people?
This season, look beyond the glossy photos, the sales and enticements, the frenzy of shopping and selecting, and instead see this season as an invitation to a pilgrimage, one marked by prayer, praise, peace, and purpose; for on this “No-name Sunday,” we seek only one name, Jesus the Christ!