What are we to do with this poor season of Advent? Our world, driven by commercial interests, is in full Christmas-mode. There is no waiting until the evening of the 24th. The trees are trimmed, there are presents under them, the carols and banal secular Christmas songs have become the backdrop to all our shopping. Advent has been steamrolled, at least in much of the lives which our people live. I encourage you to carve out that space for Advent through Advent services, devotional life in homes, and other salutary traditions of the season.
But I also believe that culture might start to help us. Recently, the health and other benefits community have been noticed in the psychological and medical professions. (Look here for an article from the CDC.) Lonely people suffer from more diseases of the body. Lonely people are far less resilient when stress comes their way. Lonely people are unhappy people. Modern society, however, has spent the last half a century and more ridiculing and tearing down the social fabric of our society, holding up the independent human being as the one who is truly valorous and worthy of praise. This has had deleterious effects on churches, you have surely noticed, but also all sorts of places where friends have met and had healthy social interactions. We may snicker at the closure of the Masonic lodges, but we need to lament the ending of bowling leagues, Rotary clubs, and other opportunities for people to express friendship.
Jesus healed the sick in His Galilean ministry. People flocked to Him as they later flocked to Peter and the rest of Apostles (Acts 5:12-17.) Were they there to commune with the ineffable divine? Did they have their theology straight and true? Were they seeking Jesus for all the “right” reasons? Of course not. They were there because sin had made their lives dark and miserable through sickness, demonic possession, and ailments of every sort. They sought relief. They encountered Christ and for some, a minority, that encounter was a life-transformative encounter (see Luke 17:11-19.) Every week your congregation gathers and sings songs. You probably share a cup of coffee after the service. You do things together. You have a community, a treasure which all your neighbors might be looking for. Advent falls in a time of year when many people feel their isolation acutely. It is dark and people are lonely. How can we be the community of Jesus’ people for the lonely folks of this world?