Sunday, November 28, 2010

I Advent

November 28, 2010


+ One of my all-time favorite movies is a movie called Punch-Drunk Love. For anyone who knows me, you have heard me talk about this film many, many times. I love it! If you have not seen it, I highly recommend it. In fact, I would say that it is probably my favorite film ever. And as you know, that’s saying a quite a lot coming from me, considering how many movies I actually love. I’m also not usually big into romantic films. But this film isn’t your typical romantic film. And I will admit this: the first time I saw it, although I loved it from the very beginning, I didn’t quite “get it.”

The story revolves around several days in the life of a lonely man named Barry Egan, played by Adam Sandler (don’t let the fact that Adam Sandler is in this film distract you—he’s actually really good in it). The film is sort of a poem in and of itself. It is full of symbolism.

One of the first symbols in this movie—and probably the most important—is that of a harmonium that is dropped off at the beginning of the film on the street in front of the place where Barry works. The harmonium becomes a symbol of the love Barry Egan develops for Lena Leonard who is played by Emily Watson.

But the real symbolism for me is the fact that Barry lives in a very sterile, colorless world, and he, in this world, wears the same dull blue suit from the beginning to the end of the film. Barry’s world is an enclosed world. And it’s encased in a kind of glass-like transparency. In fact, throughout the film, we find Barry accidentally walking into glass doors, and at one point, when he is pressured to the breaking point by his seven, overbearing, nagging sisters at a birthday party, he, in pent-up anger, breaks the glass patio doors of his sister’s home.

So, into this sterile, colorless, glass-encased life comes the harmonium (with its potential for soothing music) and. more importantly, Lena Leonard. Throughout the film, Lena is seen always wearing vibrant red. As he is drawn more and more to her, this color red keeps coming into his life. At one point, as Barry chases Lena to Hawai’i (where she is on a business trip), there’s a scene in which Barry is walking down a corridor at the airport toward two flight attendants, dressed in red.

But one of the best scenes for symbolism in the film is a scene early on, when Barry, shortly after meeting Lena, is in the supermarket. As he goes from aisle to aisle, trying to find Healthy Choice products that he realizes he could buy up and redeem for Frequent Flier Miles, he is seen walking through the store, searching. At one point, he asks himself, “What am I looking for?”

At the moment, on the far side of the aisles, on the other side of the store, just out of focus we (not he) can make out a blurry figure of a woman in red following him. If you’re not looking for her, you’ll miss her. But there she is, just as he asks himself that question, “What am I looking for?”

Of course, he’s not at that point in his life in which he can recognize the answer is right there, just out of focus, just on the other end of the aisle. But it is an incredible scene when we start realizing how the symbolism works to bring out the layers of this wonderful story. And I’ll also admit, it took me a while to figure what some of the symbolism in this film meant (and there are a few other symbols in this film that I still haven’t got).

For some reason, our scripture reading from Paul’s letter to the Romans this morning reminds me so much of that scene from Punch-Drunk Love. We find Paul saying to us: “You know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep.” And just a bit later he gives us that wonderful image, “”…the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light…” There is no better image for us that this on this First Sunday of Advent.

This season of Advent is all about realizing that we, for the most part, are living in that hazy world. Advent is all realizing that we are living in that sleepy, fuzzy, half-world. Advent is all about recognizing that we must put aside darkness—spiritual darkness, intellectual darkness, personal darkness—and put on light. We realize that our world is often very much like Barry Egen’s world—a dry, colorless, lonely, sterile place in which we just can’t quite seem to focus. And Advent is that time when we find ourselves frantically looking for something, and asking ourselves, “What am I looking for?” And there, just out of focus, just out on the other side, is what we are looking for.

For us, this Advent season is a time for us to look into that place that’s kind of out of focus, and to focus ourselves again I love the image that Paul puts forth this morning of “putting on the Lord Jesus Christ.” That is perfect and precisely to the point of what this Advent season is all about. The “theme” of every Advent season is “Come quickly, Lord Jesus.” And, in a sense, we make that prayer a reality when we “put on” Jesus. But how do we do this? How do we put on Jesus, as though he were some sweatshirt or fancy vestment?

The fact is, we have already put him on. We put him on that wonderful day we were baptized. We were clothed in Jesus on that day and we remained clothed in him to this day.

Still, even clothed in Jesus as we may be, we still occasionally fail to recognize this reality in our lives. This moment of spiritual agitation and seeking after something more has been called the “Advent situation” by the great Anglican theologian Reginald Fuller.
The “Advent situation” is recognizing the reality of our present situation. We are living now—in this present moment. At moments this present moment does seem almost surreal. This moment is defined by the trials and frustration and tedium as well as the joys and all the other range of emotions and feelings that living entails.

But, for the most part, we don’t feel like it “fits” for some reason. It seems like there must be more than just this. Instinctively, spiritually, we yearn for something more, though we aren’t certain exactly what that might be. And that might possibly be the worst part of this situation. We don’t know what it is we want. Or in the words of Barry Egan, “What am I looking for?”

The Advent situation of Reginald Fuller reminds us that yes, this is the reality. Yes, we are here. But we are conditioned by (and for) what comes after this—the age to come. Or as the great Jesuit priest and paleontologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin once said, “We are not physical beings having spiritual experiences; we are spirits having a physical experience.”

Baptism—that event in which we were clothed with Christ—essentially translated us into this Advent situation. And the Baptismal life—a life in which we are constantly reminded that we are clothed with Jesus—is one in which we realize that are constantly striving through this physical experience toward our ultimate fulfillment.

We are spirits having a physical experience. It is a wonderful experience, despite all the heartache, despite all the pains, despite all the set-backs and frustrations. And this physical experience is making our spirits stronger. It is sharpening our vision as we proceed so that we can see clearly what was once out of focus.

In this Advent season, in which we are in that transparent, glass-like world, trying to break out, let us turn and look and see who it is who is following us. Let us look and see that that person who is standing there, dressed in a vibrant color, just out focus, is the one we have been looking for all along. That person is the person we have been searching for. That person is, in fact, the very person we have clothed ourselves with, but have been unable to recognize.

Advent is here. Night is nearly over. Day is about dawn. He whom we are longing for and searching for is just within reach. Our response to this Advent situation is simply a furtive cry in this blue season.

Come quickly.

Come quickly, Lord Jesus.

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