+ You may notice that I am a bit…well, a bit “off,” shall we say? OK. More “off” than usual. The reason for my being off has nothing to do with the fact that I just got here after doing a baptism this morning at Gethsemane Cathedral. My reason for being off this morning is because I am going through major withdrawal.
No, not withdrawal from alcohol or drugs. Well, unless you consider aspartame a drug (which some people do, I suppose).
I am now four days into withdrawal from Diet Coke. For anyone who has ever been around me for any period of time, you know of my horrible addiction to Diet Coke. It was pretty awful. Well, after reading some interesting things about diet soda, and as part of my attempt to live a healthier vegetarian lifestyle, I decided to give it up on Wednesday. As in cold turkey. And, let me tell you, it has been rough. Very rough.
I have been drinking Diet Coke at least since I was sixteen years old. To be honest, I drank soda ever since I can remember. And not just a little here and little there. I drank a lot of it. In these last twenty or so years, we’re talking at least three every day. Usually more. Certainly much more these past three or four years. Not pleasant to give up an addiction that strong.
And if anybody thinks it is not an addiction—I stand here before you as living proof, that yes, it is an addiction. What’s been sobering for me about it all has been the fact that Diet Coke, until very recently, seemed so innocuous. It was DIET Coke, as opposed to sugary regular Coke. What harm could it do? What harm could it do, indeed?
But luckily, whenever I decide to do something like this—you know, like being a vegetarian or anything else like this—I really do it. I don’t cheat. I don’t sneak it. If I say I’m off it, I’m off it. No weaning. No gradual reduction. I am done.
So, pray for me. Please. It’s not been easy. And I imagine it won’t be any time soon.
For some reason, our scripture reading from Paul’s letter to the Romans this morning reminds me so much of this withdrawal I’m going through. We find Paul saying to us: “You know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep.”
I get that this morning. And so do any of us who have overcome something pretty major in our lives. For me, that realization that this seemingly innocuous drink that was so much a part of my life for so long wasn’t so innocent. Rather, it was quite bad for me. Let tell you, echoing Paul, I know what time it was. It is definitely the moment for me to wake from sleep.
Just a bit later Paul 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…”
Again, a great image in my current situation, and for any of us who are survivors, who have overcomes obstacles.
But on this First Sunday of Advent—the beginning of the Church Year—there is no better image for us that this. This season of Advent is all about realizing that we, for the most part, are living in that hazy world. Advent is all about 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, addictions, anything that separates us from God and the health God intends for us—and put on light. For us, this Advent season is a time for us to look into that place—that future—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. Our job during Advent season is to “put on” the Lord Jesus. 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. Madeline Elizabeth Alsop, the baby I baptized this morning at Gethsemane Cathedral, put him on this morning. 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 times 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. 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.
A few months I ago I shared with you this quote from 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 physical event in which we were spiritually clothed with Christ, in which we “took on” the Lord Jesus—essentially translates 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 this physical experience. It is a wonderful experience, despite all the heartache, despite all the pains, despite all the set-backs and frustrations. Despite the physical and sometimes spiritual withdrawal we occasionally go through from things we once enjoyed so much, but which were ultimately not good for us.
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 there in the future. Let us look and see that that person who is standing there, the one we have been looking for all along. That person is the person we have been searching for all along. 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, we are crying.
Come quickly, Lord Jesus.