December 1, 2016 Rainmaker

Art of Neighborliness

written by Bryan Gower



The season of Advent is upon us once again. For those from the Christian tradition, this is a time to prepare for the coming of the Messiah – a deliverer, who would fulfill the long awaited promise to make all things new. We celebrate the coming of Christ in our retelling of the birth of Jesus, the Prince of Peace who brings good news for all people of the world that the Kingdom of God is with us. For the Christian, practicing steadfast love, justice and righteousness as Christ did, gives life.

As I think about this season of Advent, in what strikes me as a particularly troubled year marked by a growing economic isolation, increased reports of violence and political divisiveness, I wonder, ‘where are the signs that the Kingdom of God is with us?’ As a suburb dweller, it would be easy to allow the season to be nothing more than a tightrope walk between an obligatory religious observance and an opportunity to acquire more stuff because building community is time consuming. I am busy with My family, My work, My entertainment , My life – distractions from the problems in the world I cannot control. We risk becoming the Rich Young Rulers of our age, becoming ever more lonely and dissatisfied the more unwilling we are to care for our neighbor – the oppressed, the poor and the marginalized.

I continually come back to the question of ‘whether my practices provide evidence of my values and calling to live out the principles of the Kingdom of God?’ If I intend to be more than a consumer of religious goods and services that treats Advent as an observance between Black Friday and Christmas, I must choose to be intentional about practicing the values of the Kingdom of God – steadfast love, justice and righteousness – with my neighbor.  My practices declare what I value, not my word, blog posts, or Facebook proclamations.

 “Jesus Christ was not born that human beings would spend December shopping or saying, “Merry Christmas.” Jesus was born to confront the rulers of this world with the love and justice of the God of Abraham — that Jesus, the same Jesus who preached the  poor and marginalized were blessed, is the King of kings and Lord of lords. All earthly powers pale before him, the humble born one who will die a political traitor to Rome.”

Butler-Bass, Diana; Fox News’ War on Advent

Huffington Post

Our values can be explicitly identified, but unless they are manifest in practices or daily rhythms, they are no more than words. The early followers of Jesus knew this:

“Let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.” 1 John 3:18 

In his book: Art of Community Charles Vogl suggests that community is more than a common interest or cause.  “Communities are created when at least two people begin to feel concern for each other’s welfare.“  Spiritual practices are activities that reinforce spiritual values and lead to a deepening of one’s faith. Likewise, community practices are activities that reinforce our communal values and deepen our sense of care for the community. Community will not happen by itself, but the benefits intentionally integrating community practices that reinforce the values we celebrate in Advent are truly life giving. This season, let our generosity be more than a mere financial transaction, let our  care for our neighbor be more than a well wishing, and let our values be more than words on our tongues.