The Lutheran Outdoor Ministries summer camp curriculum for 2014 is titled “Living in God’s Time.” Camps will be guiding the campers and staff through the Bible study by way of the liturgical church calendar, focusing the daily themes on Advent, Christmas/Epiphany, Lent, Easter, and Pentecost. In many ways, camp is the ideal place to reconceptualize liturgical practices because of its role as theological playground. The liturgy is meant to be participatory and experiential, creating space for the movement of the Holy Spirit. It is unfortunate that liturgy has become associated with stale, unemotional, institutionalized religion. As a place of imagining new possibilities, camp provides fertile ground to reconsider the richness of liturgical practices. Faith formation at camp includes smells, sounds, experiences, and ritualistic practices. Focusing the Bible study on the liturgical church calendar connects these formative experiences of camp explicitly with the historical practices of Christianity and has the potential to infuse new meaning into these practices for young people who may view church as dull and devoid of meaning.
Advent is probably the most misunderstood season of the church year. Most often, people use Advent as preparation for Christmas, and this has the effect of subsuming the significance of the season into the joy of Christmas. I think this view of Advent is unhelpful. Focusing on Advent allows us to regain Christian hope. Through hope, we recognize that the world is not yet what it was created to be, and we long for the wrong to be made right. The season of Advent is about recognizing the injustice and imperfection of this world and living in hope of something better.
Oftentimes, when Christians talk about hoping for something better, they are referring to heaven. Advent is not about heaven. Advent is about the coming of God into the world. Jesus’ opening proclamation in the gospel of Mark is that “the Kingdom of God has come near” (1:15). In Matthew, this is also the opening message of John the Baptist (Matt. 3:2). It is not that we are looking forward to some future appearance of the Kingdom of God or glorification in heaven. The Kingdom of God is breaking into the present world. As disciples of Christ, we are called to participate in this inbreaking, to be workers for the Kingdom. Camp is an ideal time and place to participate in “Kingdom living.”
Advent is about expectant (that is, active) waiting. The Kingdom of God coming near means that we live in a time of “already, but not yet.” The time is at hand and is even now breaking into the present, but it is not yet complete. “Living in God’s Time” is about Advent living. Prepare the way of the Lord. As disciples of Christ, make the Kingdom a reality here on earth. This is not our work alone but rather Christ’s work through us, Christ’s body.
A classic Advent text begins, “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down!” (Isaiah 64:1). The prophecy proclaimed by Elijah and the rest of the prophets, including John the Baptist, is that God will intervene amidst the injustice of the world. The vision is one of peace and justice coming here on earth. The blind will see, the deaf will hear, and the lame will “leap like a deer!” (Isaiah 35:5-6). Swords and spears will be beaten into plows and pruning hooks, and people will “study war no more” (Isaiah 2:4). Then will be the time of Immanuel, God with us (Isaiah 7:14). Advent is the expectant hope that God does not sit exalted in some heaven lightyears away but is even now intervening in this imperfect world.
Imagine beginning your summer camp week with this theme and then participating in “Kingdom living” throughout the week. Imagine gathering with campers around a rotting stump with a green branch growing from the roots and proclaiming the hope of new life or reading the Advent text, “A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse” (Isaiah 11:1). Imagine sitting with the campers on a dark night and lighting a single candle as you say, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it!” (John 1:5). Our role as camp ministers is the role of John the Baptist: to proclaim in the wilderness the coming of God in the world and to “testify to the light” (John 1:8). As we light their candles at camp, we prepare them for lives of discipleship when they go home, as they bring the light of Christ to a world in darkness.