When I moved to Vermont I wanted to do something to put my background in trauma chaplaincy to good use, so about a year ago I became the chaplain to my local fire department. Not long after I started attending the bi-weekly drills at the firehouse. It didn’t take me long to realize that standing with my back against the wall, looking “chaplain-ish” while the volunteer firefighters rolled hoses and refilled air tanks wasn’t doing anyone much good. So, with the chief’s permission, I started learning my way around firefighting.
Last night I washed one of our fire engines, and I thought about Advent. Washing a fire truck probably doesn’t sound all that exciting. That’s because it’s not. It’s like washing your own car, if your own car was about ten times its size. And yet, there is something about it that I find deeply peaceful. The water hits the truck, and the dirt and dust and grime from our last call comes off, runs onto the concrete floor below, and gets carried away from the firehouse by the grates. And washing the wheel wells, the doors, the lights, and everything else because oddly satisfying.
Christians sometimes have a tendency to stand content in our beliefs, without actually doing any work to help the world. We claim to serve a loving God, yet we do not live lives of service to God’s people. In the end we become about as useful as a person standing against the wall while everyone else does all of the hard work. But, when we join in, and when we serve others by actually doing something, that’s when our faith really comes to life.
If Advent is really about preparing our hearts to hear Christ’s teaching, then learning how to listen has a lot to do with learning how to serve. Christ never preached a Gospel of self-service or religious contentment. He preached a Gospel of active love and concern for the others. When Christians spend Advent content with our own theological navel gazing, we’ve missed the chance to truly prepare ourselves for what Christ will ask of us. But if we see this season as a chance to truly do good work, we are that much closer to Christmas and what the coming of Christ means. And, in a way, the joy we find in the smallest things, like a clean fire truck, can be a Christmas gift that we can give ourselves.