I know, I know – Lent is the season when we’re supposed to give things up to help us understand the nature of sacrifice and self-denial, so we forego chocolate or swearing and feel that much more holy for forty days. Advent is the time when we are supposed to prepare our hearts to receive the Christ child once again. It is a time for contemplation, reflection, but not sacrifice or self-denial.
Pish-posh, I say.
Allow me to explain.
At the congregation I serve we have chosen “Joy” as our theme for Advent. Yes, I know that joy is supposed to be the theme of one of the Sundays of Advent (the Sunday with the pink candle), but as our Director of Music reminded us, there is a palpable lack of joy in the world right now. I confess that as I start to think about my sermon for the first Sunday of Advent, to preach on joy feels a bit callous. How can we talk about joy when we spray tear gas on children whose parents are seeking asylum in the U.S.? How unfeeling is it to talk about joy when hundreds of people are still unaccounted for in the remains of the Camp Fire? I could go on. You could too.
But since, as Teilhard de Chardin once said, “Joy is the surest sign of the presence of God”, and since Advent is the season in which we prepare to receive the gift of the Incarnation, God-with-us, then joy will have its way this Advent. And that has led me to giving up Facebook.
I don’t know if you do Facebook; chances are if you’re reading this blog, you may have found it because I posted it on Facebook. So there’s that – if I’m off Facebook, you won’t know if I’ve written a few hundred words about my musings. If I’m off Facebook, I will need to let my pastor colleagues know, because I do learn about pastoral care needs on social media.
But if I’m to be about joy this Advent, then I will give up Facebook because Facebook does not bring me joy. It entertains, it infuriates, it updates, but it does not bring me joy. I relish the number of comments I get; I envy friends and acquaintances whose lives are so much more beautiful than my own; I long to live closer to family and old friends.
Facebook is the emblem for a deeper dis-ease. I fear my world is starting to revolve around “likes” and “views”, around how many hearts I receive on an Instagram posts, around the approval I receive when I post something. That is not life. Those things do not bring joy. Having a popular brand will not make my life complete.
Nothing will make my life complete this side of the grave, but many things will bring joy. My beloved husband and daughter are the source of much joy in my life. Having work that is meaningful and fulfilling, work that I think adds some good to the world brings me joy. An email or a phone call or an in-person visit from an old friend brings me far more joy than any pithy Facebook post ever could.
In the conversations around the spiritual practice of giving up something for Lent, some have suggested that rather than give something up, one should take up a practice that is sustainable for only about forty days. So I wonder what I will take up for these twenty-four days of Advent – in giving up Facebook, is there something that I can take up, some way to spend that now free time, something that might bring me or the world some joy?
According to my phone, I spent four hours and forty-five minutes this past week looking at Facebook. Perhaps I will use that time to pray. I could write an actual letter to an old friend. I could call my siblings. I could write some liturgy. I could make some art. I could make a meal for this family I love so much. I could meditate. I could do so many things that would lead me down the path to joy, and in knowing joy, I might deepen my appreciation of God and the Incarnate Christ Child.
I’ll let you know – but not till after December 25.
A joyful Advent to you.