As I work on my own spiritual life (note: miles to go), and as I talk with congregations about their work in this regard, I’m spending a lot of time thinking about what it means to be a disciple. What are authentic contemporary expressions of discipleship? What does it look like these days?
The word “disciple” means different things to different people. For some, it seems to be a high calling, a holy aspiration. For others, it seems like a way-too-high bar, something that doesn’t sound like a whole lot of fun, an unattainable ought that implies that we’re not quite good enough. What do you make of the word?
Advent, a season which began yesterday, is a season that can help us think about discipleship. I’m grateful to find myself reading a book called Being Disciples by Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury. It came at a good time for me. (The older I get, the less I believe in coincidence.) As he writes about discipleship, his language echoes Advent themes.
Advent, the four weeks before Christmas, is a whole lot more than counting the shopping days left. It is a season of preparation for sure, but so much more than fulfilling a gift list or getting holiday cards in the mail. Advent is meant to be a contemplative season, a season of mindfulness, an invitation/exhortation to pay attention, to stay awake, to get ready, to expect something to happen. For those who take the season to heart, it’s swimming against the stream, a counter-cultural movement. I generally find I need some help to maintain focus on the reason for the season.
Which is why I was glad to run across Rowan Williams’ thoughts on what it means to be a disciple. So I’ll shut up and let you listen to him. He writes:
Disciples are expectant in the sense that they take it for granted that there is always something about to break through from the Master, the Teacher, something about to burst through the ordinary and uncover a new light on the landscape.
So let me ask, as Advent begins, are you expecting anything new, or will it be same old/same old? Do you have a sense that in the coming of Christ, the goal of the season, God will have something new to teach you? Are you ready for it? Are you open to it?
Disciples watch; they remain alert, attentive, watching for symbolic acts as well as listening for instructive words, watching the actions that give the clue to how reality is being reorganized around Jesus.
So let me ask, as Advent begins, can you imagine that reality is being reorganized around Jesus? What do you think that would look like? Would you know it if you saw it? Are you watching?
A disciple is simply a learner, and this is what the disciple learns: how to be a place in the world where the act of God can come alive.
So let me ask, as Advent begins, can you think of yourself as a disciple who is always a learner? Are you open to the idea that you might just be a place where the act of God can come alive? In the second century, a Christian named Irenaeus said that the glory of God is a human being fully alive. Can you expect that kind of revival in your own life? Disciples apparently expect that to happen. Let this season of Advent be a time to focus on your discipleship, and see what happens.
Come, thou long expected Jesus,
born to set thy people free;
from our fears and sins release us,
let us find our rest in thee.
Israel’s strength and consolation,
hope of all the earth thou art;
dear desire of every nation,
joy of every longing heart.
Born thy people to deliver,
born a child and yet a King,
born to reign in us forever,
now thy gracious kingdom bring.
By thine own eternal spirit
rule in all our hearts alone;
by thine all sufficient merit,
raise us to thy glorious throne
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