I always struggle a bit with Thanksgiving. I love family and friends and food and combining all of those things together never seems to be a bad idea. I love traditions and celebrations and time off of work or school and excuses to get together. But I’m really bad at knowing how to be thankful. You can chalk it up to my uncanny ability to overthink everything, but I struggle to decipher between thanksgiving and pride or balance gratefulness with humility. I worry that too often our prayers of gratitude for homes and food and good educations sound too much like the Pharisee’s (“I thank you, Lord, that I am not like these people without these things…) and not enough like the publican’s (“Have mercy on me, Lord, a sinner”). It seems to me that it’s hard to be thankful for what you have without drawing a line between yourself and the “have nots”
Yet it is not just in terms of things that I think we are tempted to pray this prayer. I find my own Pharisee-like prayer often has more to do with my actions or the things I believe I do so much better than others. I thank you Lord that I am not like the people unwilling to move to Mississippi. I thank you Lord that I am not a Christian who doesn’t understand the social implications of the Gospel. I thank you Lord that I am so much better than the people that just don’t get it. I fear that pride finds a sneaky way of working its way into just about all of our thoughts.
But perhaps part of the problem comes from always identifying ourselves by what we are not, rather than what we are. I read an article a month of so back by a self-described post-conservative evangelical. I suppose his intent was to separate himself from a type of Christianity that is often seen as restrictive and hateful, maintaining the good parts and throwing out the bad.
I thank you Lord that I am no longer what I was. That I have evolved beyond the people I have left behind. That I am so much better now.
And probably in some ways that’s true. And to be honest, I agreed with a lot of what the post-conservative author had to say. But the Pharisee probably also tithed and fasted and did all of the righteous things he claimed he did in his prayer, but when we only look at the sins we aren’t committing, perhaps we forget to look at the ones we are.
We are entering the season of Advent, which, despite all of the so-called Advent albums out there that consist of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” and then a bunch of Christmas songs, is actually a season of penitence. It is a season where we say over and over again “Lord, have mercy on me a sinner,” as we acknowledge how deeply we are in need of a savior to come. It is a season where together as the church we recognize the sin deeply embedded in our world and our systems and our complacent culture that allows systemic injustice to grow and go unnoticed and eventually be considered just the way we do things.
Advent is a season of humility, where we prepare for the most humbling example of love we have ever been shown. Where God became a baby, and I refuse to apologize that I get giddy like an excited ten year-old thinking about it (shout-out to Nathan Groenewold and that newly revived Chimes Article from last year). Over my past six months in Jackson, I have been reminded again and again and again of my own sense of pride, my inability to humbly ask for help when I need it, my notion that I always know better, my refusal to submit myself to ideas that are different than my own, my tendency to make justifications for my mistakes rather than accepting responsibility that I’ve done something wrong. I find myself daily supported, prayed for, and loved by people whose Christianity looks very different than mine both back in Michigan and here in Jackson, and yet so often my first reaction is to disassociate, rather than embrace those who are a little too evangelical, a little too conservative, or a little too complacent for me.
As we embark on this new year, I pray that I will continue to find myself daily humbled by the many, diverse people caring for me, that I will begin more prayers crying, Lord, have mercy on me a sinner, and find ways to be grateful due to the overwhelming goodness of our God, rather than as a means of putting myself above others. To those who have ever been hurt by my own lack of humility, consider this my confession and apology to you. Your continued love when I have acted in ways that seem unloveable is more than I could ask for.
P.S. Here’s the Advent Playlist for those who have been asking. This is the best means I have for making it public because most of this isn’t on Spotify. There’s a paragraph of notes at the bottom if you find them helpful!
- Come O Come Emmanuel–The Civil Wars
- Oh My God–Jars of Clay (N)
- Long Way Off–Gungor
- This Night Is Dark–Tom Wuest
- Wait for the Lord–Taize
- Veni, Veni Emmanuel–David McKee (N)
- Creation Song–Josh Garrels
- Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence—Holy City Hymns (N)
- Run–Josh Garrels
- Sing And Rejoice–Tom Wuest
- Mother of God–The Brilliance
- Magnify–Tom Wuest
- Basque Carol–David McKee (N)
- Hope–The Brilliance
- Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus–Holy City Hymns (N)
- Come, Thou Long–Cross the Boat, Cross the Bridge (N)
- Come, Thou along Expected Jesus–Page CXVI
- Show Us the King–The Brilliance
- Prepare the Way-Taize
- Comfort, Comfort Now My People–Page CXVI
- Advent of our God (All Glory)–The Calendar Years (N)
- Wonderful Counselor–Tom Wuest
- God in Flesh Our Hope Divine–The Brilliance
- In the Bleak Midwinter–David McKee (N)
- A Light–The Brilliance
- Creator of the Stars of Night–Holy City Hymns (N)
- Oh Gracious Light–The Brilliance
- Light Will Arise–Tom Wuest
- May You Find a Light–The Brilliance
- Open Up–The Brilliance
- Blessed Is He–Josh Garrels
- Awake My Soul, Awake My Tongue–Page CXVI
- Lo! He Comes–Cross the Boat, Cross the Bridge (N)
- Hope for Soon–The Calendar Years (N)
- Beyond the Blue–Josh Garrels
- When the Glory of the Lord Descends–Tom Wuest
A few notes: I understand that this list relies heavily on The Brilliance and Tom Wuest due to the lack of good Advent music out there, and this may not be helpful for you. If you’d like any of the stuff from The Brilliance, it’s all fairly accessible on itunes and such. I think you can only get Tom’s stuff off of his Bandcamp. However, he is incredible, and it is worth spending a few dollars on his music; it’s just a bit of a process. This link will get you there: http://brasstrumpetpublishing.com/. The songs marked with (N), however, have recently been downloaded off of Noisetrade onto my computer, so they are very easily accessible. If you are unable to find much of the music, however, you can fill in your own songs to fit the basic framework of the playlist, which is, lament, longing of creation, the annunciation/magnificat, waiting for the Christ child, theme of light in the darkness (debatable placement within list), anticipating the second coming. In addition, having three versions of Come Thou Long Expected Jesus is unnecessary. I couldn’t decide which one I liked best. Also, Beyond the Blue is debatable . It’s more about new creation than second advent, but I just really like it, so it’s staying on mine. Enjoy!